ORIGINALLY POSTED 10/01/2017 |
FROM THE FALL 2017 ISSUE
Graduate student Maga Shelledy has worked in hospitals as a trained intrepreter for years, helping Spanish-speaking patients and their English-speaking physicians communicate. After moving to San Antonio from Chicago, Shelledy realized she didn’t want to give up what had become a passion.
Now getting a master’s in Spanish at UTSA, Shelledy discovered the small but growing graduate certificate program in Spanish translation and interpreting studies in the modern languages and literatures department, and she’s tackling certification as part of her studies.
In addition to health care settings, trained interpreters and translators are also in demand in such areas as legal courts. In fact, it’s this latter area that helps to make UTSA’s program so unique. The interpreter program is one of only four university programs in the state listed by the Texas Judicial Branch Certification Commission as sites offering possible training.
"This UTSA program is unique because there are very few translation and interpreting programs like it in the country."
“This UTSA program is unique because there are very few translation and interpreting programs like it in the country,” says professor Melissa Wallace, who is the certificate program adviser. “As time goes by, there may be more classes, but we still live in a country that doesn’t recognize translation and interpreting as an academic discipline. There are only two universities in the country where you can get a Ph.D. in translation studies, and those don’t deal with the day-to-day work people do in the community.”
As part of her practicum experience, Shelledy was placed at the UT Health Cancer Center, part of UT Health San Antonio to interpret for patient advising in the genetics clinic. “For patients, understanding the intricacies of cancer genetics is extremely hard,” says Virginia Kaklamani, medical oncologist and leader of the breast cancer program at the cancer center. “When you add a language barrier to this it becomes almost impossible. With help from the interpreting and translation students at UTSA our Spanish-speaking patients are able to receive state-of-the-art genetic counseling.”
UTSA’s certificate program consists of 15 semester credit hours, beginning with introductory coursework to the theory and practice of both translation and interpreting, in addition to education in specific fields, such as medical or legal interpreting, ethics, and best practices in the business world. Guest trainers who are translation and interpreting professionals in the “real” world are frequent guests in Wallace’s classes. Wallace, who was selected as a Fulbright Scholar in 2016 and conducted research on judicial interpreting testing models in Finland, says UTSA’s program may be small, but it has grown quickly through word-of-mouth. Currently, there are about 20 students—roughly the same number as in the master’s degree for Spanish. Wallace hopes the certificate program will grow to a master’s or even Ph.D. program.
The students often want to use what’s learned in an interdisciplinary setting and the certificate accommodates that, especially in the capstone course, which is the practicum that helped Shelledy land at UT Health. Through the program, UTSA also has placed student interpreters at UT Health as well as student translators at the Kendall County Women’s Shelter; the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services; and American Gateways, where students translate narratives to accompany applications for asylum.
The students are certainly filling a skills gap. The demand for bilingual workers in the U.S. more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, according to the report Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market. But Wallace stresses that being bilingual isn’t the same as being a trained interpreter. “In the medical field, for example, somebody who is trained and skilled can help navigate or alert the provider to specific breakdowns in the communication,” she says. “You really do have to be trained to be able to do that in order to respect role boundaries and to communicate information in a medical context.”
Carlos Iván Hernández ’12, who is also a recent St. Mary’s Law School graduate, has seen how the work of UTSA students has affected the immigrant community in San Antonio. He helped establish a semiformal relationship between the nonprofit RAICES and the graduate certificate students. This came about after he too became a student of the program. “Most if not all of our cases require some sort of legal translations, which are often submitted to immigration court. Before establishing a relationship with UTSA, volunteer translators at RAICES were, although well-intentioned, bilingual people with scant knowledge about what executing a professional translation entails.” At times, Hernández adds, attorneys and legal assistants had to spend hours reviewing and revising translations because any minor mistranslation could result in a wrongful deportation. When the students from the graduate program began to provide their services, the RAICES staff were able to rely on their accurate and professional work, knowing that their translations were always pristine and well-executed.
The certificate isn’t just about real-world experience. Students have presented research at some of the top conferences in the U.S. and internationally. Hernández has presented both nationally and internationally with Wallace. The two also co¬wrote a paper for the prestigious Journal of Language and Law.
Wallace also points to graduate student Yeni Dávila, who has made a splash with her research on interpreters in schools and has translated materials used for standardized testing in Texas. What she’s found is that, without proper benchmarks for translation, students have missed answers to some questions. Her hypothesis is that better translation could increase the scores of bilingual students. “If I can reach two or three bilingual directors to participate by providing me with some samples of benchmarks to complete my research,” Dávila says, “hopefully the findings will be eye-opening not only for them but for other districts as well. The certificate program in addition to working with Dr. Wallace helps you learn so much about the science of translation and its practice, preparing you to present your findings at conferences.”
“Before establishing a relationship with UTSA, volunteer translators [had] scant knowledge about what executing a professional translation entails.”
UTSA’s program also helps the public. This is the third year that Wallace will host an International Translation Day symposium that is free for anyone who wants to attend. The event includes a variety of speakers and panel discussions on translation and interpreting issues, with an emphasis on the medical field and health disparities caused by a lack of language access.
Following his law school graduation, becoming a citizen, and passing the bar, Hernández is now working for the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Asylum Representation Children’s Project, assisting unaccompanied migrant children who’ve fled Central America for the U.S. because of gang-related violence. “The field of translation and interpreting studies is both highly underresearched—at least in the U.S.—and undervalued as a whole,” he says. “I’m very excited at the fact that my very own alma mater offers one of the very few translation and certificate programs in the United States.”