skip to content



No matter how you say it, Rutgers is ready to train more interpreters

Thursday, February 19, 2009

By Bill Haduch Credit: Bill Haduch Miguel Jimenez is the newly appointed coordinator of the translating/interpreting program in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. In the past 10 years the demand for interpreters for proceedings in state Superior Court has doubled. The items on the walls of a small office in Carpender House on Douglass Campus say a lot about the multilingual life of Miguel Jimenez. There is a map of Spain where Jimenez grew up, studied, and became fluent in Spanish, French, Russian, and English. There is a poster from Moscow where he taught Spanish and translation skills to Russians. And there is a newspaper clipping explaining that an increasingly multilingual America is demanding more and more certified court interpreters to work in our nation's judicial system. Awareness of that demand, and the fact that Rutgers offers courses in translating and interpreting, bring phone calls and emails to Jimenez's dark-paneled office in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. Jimenez is the new assistant professor in translation and interpreting, and the newly appointed coordinator of the department's translating/interpreting program. Traditionally focused on Spanish interpreting during the school year, the program has filled demand for other languages like Korean and Ukrainian during recent summers by working with the World Language Institute. Currently, the program has 17 interns working in translation or interpreting in the medical or legal arena, and the figures are expected to rise in the coming years. According to the New Jersey Judiciary, Superior Court needed interpreters more than 45,000 times during the 1996-1997 session. By court-year 2006-2007, the need for interpreted proceedings almost doubled to 86,765 instances. Interpreters are key players in court, though ideally invisible ones, Jimenez said. "The role is to communicate, but not add or subtract any information. A bilingual 5-year-old can interpret what his parents said, but that's not the skill here. Court interpreters need to know how to conduct themselves in court and in meetings with lawyers. They need encyclopedic knowledge of the court system, all the court processes, and all the legal language. There's a difference between 'do you plead guilty' and 'are you guilty.'" Jimenez said translators work with written text; interpreting is oral. "For interpreting there are some skills that need to be acquired, like summarization," he said. "Basically that means to take words out, concentrate on the idea, and verbalize it in another language. Memory and speaking skills play extremely important roles." Jimenez grew up in the Andalusian town of Ubeda in southern Spain, about two hours from the University of Granada, where he earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in translation and interpreting. He also studied at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and at Moscow State Linguistic University in Russia, where he taught Spanish and translation. Before coming to Rutgers last fall, Jimenez spent six years at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he taught Russian and directed the Spanish study abroad program. "I've always had a love for languages," he said. "In high school was doing something like French, English, ancient Greek, and Latin - four languages. And I tried to do something that would be useful, to take an unusual approach. There are a lot of multilingual people in the world and it's a stepping stone. You can build a career on it." At Rutgers, Jimenez has a solid foundation on which to continue building the translating/interpreting program. For the past 22 years, the effort was coordinated by Phyllis Zatlin, who recently became professor emerita of the Spanish & Portuguese Department. "The original connection with court interpreting came in 1987," Zatlin said. "A state consortium of colleges and universities hoped to gear up to train people properly. To my knowledge, Rutgers is the only school from that group that has produced interpreters at a steady pace over the years, including the master's degree level." Robert Joe Lee, who also recently retired after managing the Judiciary's court interpreter program since its inception in 1985, called Zatlin "a godsend [who] was always open to exploring new ways of meeting the Judiciary's needs." In December, Lee arranged a transition meeting including his successor at the Judiciary, Zatlin, and Jimenez. "I wanted to plant the seeds for a continued collaboration that would help Rutgers grow its program in the direction that the Judiciary needed," Lee said. Also attending the meeting was Margot Revera, manager of Judiciary's criminal division and a longtime Rutgers court interpreting instructor, who holds a master's in translation from the university. "My connection with Rutgers and the Judiciary dates back more than 20 years," she said. Revera worked as a freelance interpreter and then a staff interpreter and supervisor with the Union County Superior Court. During the late 1990s, she became a court executive, but continued her involvement in interpreting issues and in providing equal access to the courts to linguistic minorities. Around this time, Rutgers contacted Revera about teaching and ever since she has taught Spanish-English translation at night, and interpreting classes in the past two summers. "In these classes, students learn the necessary skills to be good interpreters in various court settings," Revera said. What does Jimenez see for the future of translating/interpreting foundation at Rutgers? "My vision for the program is to try to professionalize it as much as possible and move toward technology," he said. Jimenez noted that he is a member of the American Translating and Interpreting Studies Association and is aware of practices and methodologies from all over the country. "From all around the message is 'we need interpreters,'" he said. "The field is growing tremendously."

Pro Bono and legal aid attorney resources - Pro Bono Net