December 17, 2010
Puget Sound area offers plenty of opportunities for bilingual speakers
Special to NWjobs
King County is a cultural goldmine for interpreters. The U.S. English Foundation tallies 118 languages spoken here, making it the nation’s second-most linguistically diverse county after Los Angeles.
As one of 47 staff interpreters at Harborview Medical Center, Spanish-language interpreter Jose Fernando Mayorga keeps busy. The Seattle hospital provided 130,000 hours of interpreter services last year.
Whether he’s interpreting for patients in radiology, physical therapy or the operating room, Mayorga’s job is to bridge the language gap between a patient and health-care provider. “You have to convey a meaning that is understandable for the patient and the provider,” says Mayorga, a native of Colombia.
With so many languages spoken locally — and access to legal and some medical interpretation services required under federal and state laws — “we don’t have enough interpreters to meet the demand,” says Katrin Johnson, coordinator of the Washington Court Interpreter Program.
The pay can draw some to the field. Medical and social-service interpreters make $20-$25 an hour and court interpreters can earn $45-$50 an hour, says René Siegenthaler, director of the World Languages Institute at Bellevue College Continuing Education. Highly qualified interpreters at conferences can earn from $600 to $900 a day, he says.
Interpreting vs. translating
What’s the difference? An interpreter works with the spoken word, while a translator deals with the written word. Interpreters provide highly localized services, but translators can work for anyone in the world who needs documents translated from one language to another.
That might make anyone who is bilingual take notice. But being a professional interpreter requires more than fluency in a second language. Besides having a solid knowledge of both languages, interpreters need good memory, information-processing and note-taking skills, and knowledge of legal and medical terminology.
Simultaneous interpreting, commonly used in courts, requires listening and speaking while another person is talking, Johnson says. Consecutive interpreting, common in medical situations, involves relaying information after someone is finished speaking.
“Once you start doing it, you learn that it’s harder than you even thought it would be,” says Nancy Leveson, a Spanish-language court and medical interpreter from Des Moines.
The job has rewards, though. “[Interpreters] like to feel like they’re a catalyst between two cultures or two people or two languages,” says Jamie Lucero, director of the Bellevue College Translation and Interpretation Certificate Program. “It helps people feel very satisfied. It will definitely keep you mentally stimulated, but you probably want to have passion for the language.”
Bellevue College Translation and Interpretation Certificate Program: continuingeducation.bellevuecollege.edu/ translation/
Cross Cultural Health Care Program: xculture.org/index.php
DSHS Language Testing and Certification Program: dshs.wa.gov/ltc/index.shtml
Washington State Court Interpreter Program: courts.wa.gov/programs_orgs/pos_interpret
Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society: notisnet.org
Washington State Court Interpreters and Translators Society: witsnet.org
Training helps interpreters learn protocol and ethics, says Leveson, who completed Bellevue College’s Translation and Interpretation Certificate Program. Credentials help them get the best jobs.
The state Department of Social and Health Services offers medical and social-service interpreter credentials, required by many health-care providers. Court interpreters can earn credentials from the Washington Court Interpreter Program (federal courts issue their own certification).
Like Leveson, many interpreters work as independent contractors, finding work through agencies, networking or inquiries.
The language helps determine the demand for work. Those who can speak Arabic, Somali, Vietnamese, Korean and Samoan are especially needed in courts, Johnson says.
For those considering an interpreting career, Leveson recommends volunteering for a nonprofit organization such as the American Red Cross Language Bank in Seattle. “It’s a great opportunity to try it out and see how it feels,” she says.
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