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School Outreach Profiles


Linda Pollack-Johnson

Career Day at Girls High

I returned to my Alma Mater, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, to participate in their annual Career Day. Girls High is, as its name implies, a single-sex school educating over 1,200 students from very diverse backgrounds. The school offers a full range of academic courses including French, Spanish, Latin, and Mandarin. At home, many of the students speak a language other than English with their families.

I gave a total of three talks—each one lasting about 50 minutes. Each time, my audience consisted of 30 students who had selected my topic from a list of presenters.

My presentation was an interactive one, touching on the difference between translating and interpreting and involving the students in role playing in a doctor's office where an interpreter was present. I pointed out that even if they don’t end up pursuing a career as a translator or interpreter, I want them to know how best to use our services once they enter their respective fields. I wrote some short role play scenes in order to highlight the importance of using a professional interpreter (and not a family member) for medical appointments. The role plays sparked discussions about the Interpreter Code of Ethics, which I reviewed briefly.

Since you can never assume you will have access to the internet or other technology to show a PowerPoint presentation, I brought a tri-fold display board where I had written some key words and phrases. I reviewed these by asking them to guess the definitions: source language, target language, machine translation, back translation, consecutive, simultaneous and sight translation.

I also showed a salary range and some forecasts about the growth in language related jobs. I gave each student a handout with resources they can use to find out more information, including the ATA website.

We ended with an oral exercise that gave the students a feel for simultaneous interpreting. I played a recording of my voice reading single words in English with pauses between each word. The students worked in unison and were encouraged to wait for the pause after the second word to insert the first word (in English). I had three lists with about 12-15 words in each list: fruits/vegetables, body parts, and prepositions. This is also a great exercise to build memory skills.

One tip that I learned from a previous presenter was to bring along a bag of individually wrapped candy, just in case. This gives you a way to offer a small "reward" to the brave souls who offer definitions of the keywords. It works well to get the conversation started and is usually not needed after the first 5-10 minutes.

Another "treat" I had in my bag was a copy of the book Sign Spotting which shows many humorous examples of mangled translations from signs around the world. I let that book circulate through the classroom as I did my presentation to reinforce the importance of using professional translators.

I would definitely recommend leaving some time for questions at the end!