Newsbriefs: November 16, 2020

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ATA Professional Development for Everyone

With the pandemic disrupting the translation and interpreting markets, developing skills and expanding specialties has taken on a new importance for many translators and interpreters trying to adapt to the changes in the economy. Knowledge has become a critical resource, and ATA has stepped up the pace to provide members with additional professional development opportunities.

  • Upcoming Webinar
    Check out the final presentation in ATA’s 2020 webinar program.

    Post-Editing: How to Make Machine Translation Work for You (in Spanish)
    Presenter: Rubén de la Fuente
    Date: December 3, 2020
    Time: 12 noon Eastern Time
    Duration: 60 minutes
    Language: Spanish
    Level: Intermediate
    CE Point: 1 ATA-approved

    Is machine translation really the problem we think it is? What if we shift the narrative to “What work can I delegate to the machine so I have time to excel at what I do best”? Attend this webinar to learn how to effectively use machine translation to improve your efficiency and productivity. [more]

    Register now! ATA Member $45 Non-Member $60

  • Back to Business Basics
    A series of 45-minute webinars offering practical advice on common translation and interpreting business problems. Free to ATA members! Click to watch all three presentations now!
    • Handling the Holidays as a Freelancer
    • Diversification—A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times
    • Effective and Pitch-Perfect Marketing during and after COVID-19



Quality professional development is an invaluable benefit of your ATA membership. Make sure to take advantage of all your options to keep learning!




Industry News

Iraqis Who Served Alongside U.S. Military Fear Retaliation from Iran’s Allies in Iraq
Washington Post (11/09/20) Loveluck, Louisa; Ryan, Missy; Salim, Mustafa

Iraqi interpreters who worked closely with the U.S. military in their country have grown increasingly alarmed that they could be targeted for attack, fearing their personal identifying information has been obtained by Iranian-backed militias.

Iraqi authorities require the U.S. military to provide interpreters’ personal information—including names, addresses, and license plate numbers—to secure permission for the interpreters to travel around Iraq. But Iranian-backed militias have so permeated parts of Iraq’s security apparatus that the information has, in some cases, become accessible to groups that have taken up arms against the U.S. and their local support staff.

“It would be an easy mission to hunt us down,” said an interpreter from Baghdad. “They have all the information now. What if this information goes online?”

The threat facing interpreters has grown more intense in recent months. Many have been laid off as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its forces from the country, leaving the former contract workers unemployed and potentially unprotected.

Although Iranian-backed militias participated in the U.S.-supported campaign to oust the Islamic State, these armed groups have recently been escalating their attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq, especially after the U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January.

In late October, Ashab al-Kahf, a little-known militia group, addressed interpreters directly in a statement, suggesting that the group would be willing to “forgive” and even provide a salary to those who identified themselves as working on a U.S. military installation. “Today, we think it is beautiful to offer forgiveness to those who have insulted themselves, their religion, and their country, who have rendered services to the American, the English, and the rest of the enemies of Iraq,” the statement read.

A former interpreter in Baghdad said he saw the offer as a “trap,” adding, “Just like I predicted, the worst is yet to come.”

The mounting peril comes as the Trump administration announced in October that it would reduce the annual cap on refugee entries to a record low of 15,000. While that number allocates up to 4,000 spots for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis per year, Iraqi applicants have been processed slowly, partly because of heightened security vetting. According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), there is a backlog of over 100,000 Iraqi applicants.

Meanwhile, the U.S. no longer allows Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government in Iraq to apply for a Special Immigrant Visas program, which stopped accepting new applications in 2014. A parallel program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters remains open, but it is capped at 50 people per year.

“Pathways for humanitarian protection for refugees from Iraq have so narrowed that they are basically closed, ” said Sunil Varghese, IRAP’s policy director.

“I’m so proud of all the days I’ve been working with the greatest forces in the world,” said an interpreter who worked with the Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams. “But the problem is that after they are gone, their government doesn’t care about us. We are literally left behind.”

In the northern city of Irbil, a group of interpreters submitted a letter last month to the U.S. Consulate. “We are sure that you are well aware of the situation and the difficulties we face every day,” the letter stated. “For that, we are asking you kindly to reactivate [the visa] program that used to be provided for linguists just a few years ago.”

Hostile militias, the letter stated, are “capable and willing” to hunt down interpreters who have supported departing U.S. forces. “The situation for us is a matter of When rather than If.”


Cherokee Nation Supports Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act
Cherokee Phoenix (OK) (11/03/20)

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced his support of the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2020, a bipartisan measure proposed by Senators Tom Udall and Lisa Murkowski on the 30th anniversary of the Native American Language Act (NALA).

The bill would direct President Trump to review federal agencies’ compliance with NALA mandates and make recommendations to enhance interagency coordination supporting Native American languages. The bill would also authorize a federal survey every five years to assess Native American language use and the unmet needs of language revitalization programs. The surveys would allow Native American communities and Congress to improve the targeting of federal resources for Native American languages.

The bill is named in honor of the late Durbin Feeling, a renowned Cherokee Nation citizen and linguist. Feeling was instrumental in having the Cherokee syllabary added to word-processing technology in the 1980s. He also began the process of adding the Cherokee language on Unicode, which today allows smartphones to offer the syllabary. He also developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials that remain in use by speakers.

“The Cherokee Nation is honored to strongly support the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2020,” said Hoskin. “For decades, Durbin Feeling led the effort to not only save and preserve the Cherokee language, but breathe new life into it. His unwavering commitment to Cherokee language perpetuation will be the foundation upon which we teach future generations to honor and carry on our traditions.”

“The Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act is designed to hold the federal government accountable for its work to live up to the policies and principles set out by NALA over three decades ago,” said Senator Udall. “Congress must continue to do its part to support the advancement of community-driven Native American language use and revitalization.”

NALA, passed in 1990, for the first time in U.S. history implemented legislation that formally spurned past policies to suppress the use of Native American languages. It also acknowledged the rights and freedoms of Native Americans to use their traditional languages.

“Our bill will ensure that policies and procedures are compliant with NALA, improve interagency coordination, authorize funding to help gain a greater understanding of Native American languages, and more,” said Senator Murkowski. “I remain committed to maintaining and revitalizing the languages of Alaska’s Native American peoples to help strengthen and empower their communities for generations to come.”


How Advocates Connected Spanish Speakers to Health Care During the Pandemic
New Orleans Public Radio (LA) (11/02/20) Oliver, Marie Elizabeth

Advocates in the New Orleans area are helping the city’s Spanish-speaking population surmount barriers to access health care during the pandemic.

“The pandemic exacerbated the social and logistical barriers the Hispanic community faces when it comes to health care access,” said Claudia Medina, director of International and Language Services at Ochsner Health. After the lockdown in March, Medina knew Ochsner had to act fast to provide interpreting services remotely.

Medina worked with the hospital’s technology team to link Zoom to Ochsner’s emergency medical services. The challenge was that the system’s patient-facing portal was only in English, which meant that the people who needed language services didn’t know how to log in or navigate it. It also required doctors to manually invite interpreters to patient meetings.

So, Medina implemented an interpreter-controlled setup. Now, interpreters coordinate telemedicine appointments with doctors and patients. An interpreter checks in with patients prior to appointments to ensure they know what to expect and how to access Zoom and the patient portal.

“What the pandemic has done is show what is going well and what is not in the current system, because everything is under a pressure cooker,” said Adam Bradley, executive director at Luke’s House Clinic in Central City New Orleans. Bradley also serves on the board of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

Amid the pandemic, Luke’s House utilized its phone database to send out personalized texts in Spanish with health resources and practical advice about hand washing and social distancing. “We have the resources to make effective decisions, but we need to make sure the people who are most impacted have a say,” Bradley said.

Lindsey Navarro, founder and executive director of the financial literacy nonprofit El Centro, has spent her career advocating for the Hispanic community. She said that throughout the pandemic she has seen “a failure by government leaders to understand the importance of the social and cultural diversity of the Latino population.”

“I don’t think speaking to someone directly in Spanish is going to solve the issue or cause the community to directly trust that person,” Navarro said. “It takes more time and investment to understand the needs of the community.”

She said while churches, community organizations, and Spanish-language media are all crucial forms of outreach, nothing is more powerful than word of mouth.

“In the Latino community, if one person has a good experience, they tell five more,” she said. “One bad experience burns everything you’ve worked for to the ground.”

Medina emphasized that offering health care in someone’s preferred language is not only legally mandated but essential in engendering trust. “The language barrier is one of many. We have to understand, when we talk about Hispanics who are low-income, who are immigrants without papers, that they fear health care.”


In Many Asian Languages, ‘LGBTQ’ Doesn’t Translate
NBC News (NY) (10/10/20) Gandhi, Lakshmi

The struggle to find the right vocabulary to describe same-sex attraction or nonbinary identities is shared by many Americans whose families speak Asian or Middle Eastern languages at home. Many have said they are often at a loss to find terminology that is both accurate and affirming in their ancestral languages because the vocabulary is either stereotypical, offensive, or nonexistent.

Community advocates say that’s why they have been working to create more inclusive words and phrases that fully encompass the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) umbrella. For example, some in the Filipino transgender community have started using the words “transpinoy” and “transpinay”—which build off the words for “Filipino” and “Filipina” used by people in the Filipino diaspora—because the existing terminology is considered a slur.

“Oftentimes, people come out in very isolated little islands, and that isolation makes it very hard,” said Ameera Khan, an activist with the Muslim Youth Leadership Council, which works on LGBTQ, sexual health, and reproductive rights issues.

Khan, a Bangladeshi American who grew up speaking Bangla, Urdu, and Arabic in addition to English, said finding others who share a language and culture can often help break that isolation.

“Using only English words to describe one’s sexuality or gender identity when talking to relatives can reinforce this idea that queerness is a Western idea,” said Amina Mohammad, a member of the Muslim Youth Leadership Council. “That can be especially problematic because a lot of immigrant communities say things like ‘this is not part of our culture, this is an American thing,’ when a child comes out,” she said.

“While communities in Asia may change their language usage, immigrants usually use only what they learned before moving,” said Aruna Rao, founder of Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies, a South Asian American LGBTQ support organization. When the group’s members began translating materials into Hindi and other languages, they quickly realized how delicate the task could be.

“Many of the words we found were just really formal, literary terms that date back hundreds of years but are not in everyday use today,” said Rao, who was inspired to start Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies after her child came out as transgender. “There are words in Hindi that literally mean ‘attracted to the same sex,’ but those words made no sense to most people.”

Rao said another issue Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies had to navigate was how to best reflect the linguistic diversity of South Asia, because a word that makes sense in Hindi does not necessarily work well in other regional languages. The group is working on creating materials for posters and public service campaigns targeted to Indian American parents of LGBTQ children.

Roa said that after consulting with members of the community on the project, it was decided that phrases like “LGBTQ” and “gay” could be transliterated into Hindi and Punjabi scripts for the posters. She said this was done because the general population would already be familiar with those terms.

“I think that people are grateful to discard the older words and move toward English vocabulary that doesn’t carry negative connotations,” Rao said.


Amazon Bungles Its Launch in Sweden
The Guardian (10/30/20) Hern, Alex

Amazon’s launch of a Swedish retail site, its first in a Nordic country, has caused embarrassment at the e-commerce company after a series of errors led to confusing, nonsensical, and occasionally vulgar product listings.

Amazon mixed up the Argentine and Swedish flags, labelled frying pans as items for women, allowed the sale of a swastika-emblazoned shower curtain, and described a silicone baking mold as suitable for “chocolate, feces, goose water, and bread.”

The mistakes were so numerous that some Swedes began to speculate that they were a deliberate public relations stunt. However, many of the errors appear to have resulted from the use of a machine translation program that struggled to cope with the multiple meanings of English words such as “rape,” “trunks,” and “cock.” For example, the word valdtakt, which means “rape” in Swedish, was used in the descriptions of several products instead of raps, the correct Swedish word for a plant.

The errors drew additional criticism because of the high rate of English literacy in Sweden. “Clapping for everyone at Amazon involved in the genius decision of doing garbage machine translation for 95+% of the site from a language that most people in Sweden can understand,” tweeted Jake Shadle, a Stockholm-based games developer.

“We want to thank everyone for highlighting these issues and helping us make the changes and improve,” a spokesperson for the company said. “If anyone spots any issues with product pages, please use the link on the page to provide feedback and we will make the necessary changes.”





ATA News

Win a Free Registration to the ATA62 Annual Conference!

Did you attend the ATA61 Annual Conference? If so, then be sure to complete the overall conference survey by December 1 for a chance to win a free registration to ATA62 in Minneapolis. You can access the survey through the conference portal.


Board Meeting Summary: October 31-November 1

The ATA Board of Directors met October 31-November via Zoom. A summary of the meeting’s actions, discussions, and ongoing committee work is online in the Members Only area of the ATA website (login required). This is your opportunity to learn what the Association is doing for you. Take time to stay informed.

Read the latest ATA Board Meeting Summary now!


ATA Board of Directors 2020-2021


Top Row (from left): President-Elect Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, Secretary Karen Tkaczyk, Director Robert Sette.

Second Row: Director Veronika Demichelis, Executive Director Walter Bacak, Treasurer John Milan.

Third Row: Director Jamie Hartz, Director Cristina Helmerichs, Director Lorena Ortiz Schneider.

Fourth Row: Director Eve Bodeux, Director Megan Konkol, Director Alaina Brandt.

Fifth Row: Director Melinda Gonzalez-Hibner, President Ted Wozniak.


ATA to be Featured in National Museum of Language Presentation

ATA will be featured in the National Museum of Language (NML) Speaker Series on December 12 from 2:00pm – 4:00pm ET.

Rusty Shughart, chair of ATA’s Government Linguist Outreach Task Force (GLOTF) and member of the Government Division Leadership Council, will provide an overview of the Association and its development as The Voice of Interpreters and Translators.

NML is a U.S. not-for-profit organization that brings together people from diverse language circles—academic, governmental, social, business, scientific, literary, technological—and provides a public forum through which they can focus attention on languages within broad cultural settings. If you would like to support NML, please note that you can also sign up to be a member when you register for the presentation of December 12.

The virtual event is free. For details and to register, visit NML Speaker Series. For questions, please contact Rusty Shughart at


Scammers Don’t Take Time Off for the Holidays

The number of ways scammers try to separate you from your money typically increases in December. Make it your business to learn how scams work—watch ATA’s free webinar Don’t Fall for It! Scams Targeting Language Professionals.


ATA Calendar of T&I Events


In the November/December Issue of The ATA Chronicle

ATA Introduces Six New Awards at ATA61!
Attendees at ATA’s 61st Annual Conference came together virtually for a special awards presentation to recognize colleagues for their contributions to the Association and the translation and interpreting professions. ATA introduced six new ATA awards this year—Advocacy, Dynamo, Impact, Innovation, Mentoring, and Rising Star. Read on to find out who was honored!

Should I Market My Translation or Interpreting Services on Social Media?
Translators and interpreters raise this question pretty frequently. But here’s the thing. If you’re planning to market your business on social media, keep in mind that it’s a long-term strategy. The more you show up and the more authentically you engage, the more you’ll get out of the social media platform(s) you choose for your business. (Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo)

Six Remote Simultaneous Interpreting Platforms and Zoom
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) is the new reality. So, what are some of the RSI platforms out there and what features do they offer? What are the technical requirements to support these platforms on your workstation? Let’s get a better idea of what to look for in terms of functionality by comparing some of the more popular platforms on the market. (Natalia Fedorenkova)

Language for the Good of All: ATA Members Make a Difference in the National Language Service Corps
Volunteers for the National Language Service Corps (NLSC), a U.S. Department of Defense program authorized by Congress, provide linguistic expertise and cultural competencies across the entire federal government. Learn what three ATA members have to say about their experiences working with NLSC and why you should consider participating. (Rusty Shughart)

Women and Machine Translation
It has always bothered me that there seems to be a serious under-representation of women who are involved in the development of machine translation (MT). Since it didn’t make much sense for me, a man, to write and complain about that, I asked three women who are involved in MT in academics and development to discuss the topic. (Jost Zetzsche)

Access to The ATA Chronicle’s searchable archives is available online! And don’t forget to check out the latest issue of the Chronicle Online.


News summaries © copyright 2020 SmithBucklin

November 16, 2020

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