Arguing for the rights of California Court Interpreters

By Marianne Pripps

On June 30th, I received a call late at night informing me of what I had been dreading for some time. As a Court Interpreter Pro Tem (CIPT), I was going on strike the next morning for four days. I knew then that something had gone wrong during the last negotiation session our union conducted, and my heart sank in dismay. The next morning, I scrambled to get ready and report to the chosen venue but was not able to make it for logistical reasons. I then spent the rest of the morning contacting colleagues in sister organizations such as NCTA and ATA to ask for their support and solidarity. Why did this have to happen?

I have been a full-time court interpreter since 1993, when I first gained my state certification. For most of those years I was classified as an independent contractor with no rights or protections at work. I worked on a day-to-day basis with no benefits of any kind and no pay increases for a decade. Although such circumstances can certainly come with the territory of being an independent contractor, the difference was that I had no control over what I did; the courts did. Without my input and expertise, this was a situation that was simply unacceptable to me. Then in 2003 California legislation made interpreters employees of the court (in effect, the state) and granted us collective bargaining rights.

Contract negotiations started in earnest over a year ago. California was divided into four negotiating regions for purposes of simplicity and leverage. Region 1 (Los Angeles) was the first and remains the region that consistently makes the most progress. The other regions, in contrast—including Northern California—have suffered from a lack of seriousness and desire on the part of the courts’ representatives as to the basic fundamentals of interpreters’ rights.

From the beginning, these representatives of the courts have sought to undermine the law, subsequently refusing to concede anything beyond the most basic of employee benefits. As a union, we were faced with the animosity of some members of the court administrations who have never liked having interpreters in their midst, for reasons that are entirely unclear to me.

But we are fighting back. We feel that team interpreting and a raise in pay, as well as seniority and other job perks, are absolutely necessary to retain, recruit, and motivate skilled professionals to perform a job that is, at best, very challenging and at worst, extremely stressful. Our expertise, after all, plays an important part in ensuring a person’s due process under the law.

During the strike, we as interpreters were able to realize several things. For the past two years, we had been somewhat demoralized by the lack of incentives we had to remain employees. This changed when we saw how hard our union and colleagues had been working, united for the common good of our profession. The strike brought us together in a kind of solidarity never before achieved, and demonstrated to the court administrations the importance of our profession.

It is also true that the strike was effective only as an informational tool; it did not bring the courts to a complete halt. We were disappointed that many of our OTS (Other Than Spanish) colleagues crossed the picket lines, and even some interpreter employees did so as well. However, our spirits were lifted by the support that the legal community gave us, where court bilingual staff members refused to interpret—imperiling their own bilingual pay—and attorneys refused to use the services of non-certified interpreters.

As I write, Region 1 has ratified a contract and we are elated for our Southern California colleagues. Our strike may have had clear resonance in that area because the agreement came within a week after the end of our action. In the Northern California and San Diego regions, the situation is quite different, as both regions will enter mediation. In our own area, we may yet have to resort to further action. We hope that this does not come to pass but we are ready and willing to do so. We will need the help and support of all of our colleagues, sister organizations, and corporate members because, in the end, fair and respectful treatment and working conditions for all interpreters benefit everyone.

In my view, people should have the right to choose to be an independent contractor, along with its attendant risks; I did it for many years. But people should also have the right to be a full or part-time employee, with all its ensuing benefits, rights, and privileges. Ultimately, how interpreters stick together and fight for what is fair and just is what will decide the advancement of a noble profession.

The Taboo of Rate Discussion

By Chantal Wilford

Every so often, someone asks about translation rates in NCTA’s online discussion group and, predictably, the debate about whether or not we are permitted to discuss rates in public resumes. This debate is healthy, and, more than that, necessary. Here, in an occasional series of opinion pieces on subjects of relevance to our association, NCTA member Chantal Wilford weighs in on the subject. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of Translorial, or NCTA. Cited documents relating to the Federal Trade Commission investigation and conclusions can be found at

A number of translators are unwilling to mention their rates in public or even participate in a general discussion of translation rates. This reticence stems from a presumed fear of the Federal Trade Commission, which once investigated the ATA for providing rate guidelines. The issue involved in that case was alleged price fixing at the association level, which is indeed illegal.

But what of a simple mention of rates in answer to someone’s legitimate question? This, in my view, is clearly a separate matter. Some communication on the subject is important. How else are translators to advertise our services? How can clients know if they are paying a fair price … or not? How can newcomers to the profession have any idea of what reasonable rates for translation are? And how to value their own services against them? Nonetheless, some translators fear that if they mention their rates in public, they may be found in violation of U.S. antitrust laws.

What are antitrust laws?

Antitrust laws protect trade and commerce from unlawful restraints, price fixing, and monopolies. In the eyes of the law, freelancers are independent businesses that are in competition with each other. We may not collude to fix prices to customers or collectively bargain for higher pay. In the past, groups of independent professionals have adopted anti-competitive practices through their trade associations. Indeed, The Chronicle of April 1990 published the State Department Schedule of Rates for translation: $80 per 1,000 words for general material, $86 for semi-technical material, and $92 for technical material. That was about the last time The Chronicle published rates, as the FTC started to take note shortly after that. Such publication of rate schedules could be seen as price fixing, which is in violation of antitrust laws.

What constitutes price fixing?

Price fixing is the cooperative setting of price levels or range by competing firms, which would otherwise be set by natural market forces. So in the most extreme case, if we competitors all agree to sell our services at a specified price, and we receive profits from such an agreement, we could be found in violation of price fixing laws.

The ATA voluntarily adopted antitrust policies and included the following wording in its Procedures Relating to Gathering and Publishing Information on Rates, which was approved by the ATA Board of Directors on March 24, 1990:

“Members should be encouraged to take seriously the antitrust risks of rate discussions and the risks of other actions that might be seen to encourage rate fixing. For example, distributions by members to other members of comments/observations/suggestions on rate issues present a risk of antitrust violation. Members should recognize that because of antitrust laws, the subject of translation rates is one issue that simply should not be discussed among members of ATA.”

The ATA’s rates guidelines program thus ceased and a strict policy of neutrality and objectivity in matters pertaining to rates was initiated, mere months before the FTC began its investigation in December 1990. The 3½-year investigation closed in 1994, primarily because the ATA had “adopted an unequivocal policy never to resume such [alleged price fixing] activities.” The inquiry cost the ATA around $250,000 in legal fees alone.

Understandably, it seems some people have interpreted these events to mean that under no circumstances should translators be allowed to mention their rates, except presumably to their own clients. Indeed, I believe the FTC investigation (which was neither a lawsuit nor an indictment) has made people overly cautious and very quick to try to silence those who dare question the issue.

The ATA is not the only translators’ association to draw scrutiny from the FTC. The FTC found that the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) had violated US antitrust laws in 1997 by engaging in a “comprehensive scheme to eliminate price competition in virtually all aspects of conference interpreting.” However, some translators’ associations in other countries issue rate guidelines every year. In today’s translation market, where jobs are sent around the globe at the click of a mouse to take advantage of price differences, time differences and other factors, we need to be aware of these and other factors that contribute to the range of translation rates—and ultimately to our own bottom line.

So what can we discuss?

I believe there is a significant difference between mentioning rates and fixing prices. We are, after all, free to advertise our rates wherever we choose, whether it be on our websites, in our email signatures, or in ads we may take out in Translorial—or, of course, in The Chronicle. I therefore do not see any wrong in telling colleagues about my rates when I’m asked. I do not advocate that everyone charge similarly to me, only that they try to charge what they need to charge to make their business profitable, taking into account all their business and living expenses.

I openly advertise my rates on my website. These are based on my own personal circumstances, specialization, and language combinations and vary according to a number of project-specific factors. So for me, there is no “standard” rate even within my own language combinations. At best, I have an average rate. In my opinion, what you charge should be what the market can bear and what you feel your time and work are worth. As for what you earn, that depends entirely on your own circumstances and motivations. That, I can understand, is nobody’s business.

Interculturalism: A New Path for the Translator and Interpreter?

By Marianne Pripps-Huertas

What is interculturalism? As globalization moves to the fore as one of the most powerful socio-economic influences of the new century, communication and understanding across cultures become ever more important. Are our well-practiced services of translation and interpretation enough to help the peoples of a shrinking world understand each other? In this article, NCTA member and interculturalism expert Marianne Pripps-Huertas sheds light on this emerging field.

When I first discovered the world of intercultural communication back in 1986, it confirmed for me many of the ideas I had had for several years, especially after arriving at Stanford University, where I did my Master’s thesis in Applied Communication Research. At the time, I went through a difficult, and unexpected, period of culture shock: professors didn’t look out for their students; teaching assistants taught most of the classes; and, with the exception of a fellow student named Shining Chen, from Taiwan (to whom I shall always remain grateful for her constant help), students wouldn’t share their notes or provide assistance to their peers because of competition – all of which was completely unheard of, and even unacceptable, in my country.

Origins and practices

What is intercultural communication? What defines interculturalism? And more to the point, what role does it play in the life of a translator/interpreter? Noted anthropologist Dr. Edward T. Hall was the first to define the field and provided solid scholarship. Culture as such is now defined in several (and hotly contested) ways, but one of the simplest and most straightforward is the traditions, customs, norms, beliefs, values, and thought-patterning passed down from generation to generation. Communication is an element of culture. Godwin C. Chu observed that every cultural pattern and every single act of social behavior involves communication. Thus, to be understood, both concepts must be studied together. Intercultural communication generally refers to face-to-face interactions among people of diverse cultures, a slightly different concept from cross-cultural communication, which refers to comparing phenomena across cultures.

Consider the following exchange, excerpted from a court transcript:

Magistrate: Can you read and write?
Defendant: Yes.
Magistrate: Can you sign your name?
Defendant: Yes.
Magistrate: Did you say you cannot read?
Defendant: Hm.
Magistrate: Can you read or not?!
Defendant: No.
Magistrate: [Reads statement.] Do you recall making that statement?
Defendant: Yes.

As a court interpreter, I encounter similar exchanges frequently. Yet my duties as an interpreter forbid me to intervene to help clear things up. It would be in my role as an interculturalist that I could help unravel this obvious miscommunication. Permission to do so depends on the relationships the interpreter has developed with the parties involved. Personally, I have a very good and longstanding relationship with the judges, attorneys (on both sides of the equation), and others at my courthouse. They have understood and supported my intervention as a cultural specialist when they have recognized that there was an obvious issue. Indeed, many experts now believe that the traditional interpreter or translator role will give way to one where the professional in both fields will become a cultural mediator.

Beyond such courtroom intervention, what does an interculturalist do, exactly? On any given day, interculturalists may train a group of businesspeople on the finer points of a country’s business practices. Or help a businessperson and his family with the social issues involved with re-entering their native culture after a long sojourn abroad. Some interculturalists like myself do research on different aspects of culture. In my case, I’m interested in acting and media, and also the development of cooking. Yet, we might be teaching students who will be going abroad, or taking Rotarians on a virtual cultural tour of a country they will visit with the organization.

In many ways the saying “know thyself” is not well said. It is more practical to say “know other people!”
-Menander, Greek poet (343-292 B.C.)

Skills for the global community

Interculturalism as a field has been growing, most especially with the advent of globalization, as companies recognize the need to understand the cultures in which they do business. An example of this is the creation of Global Teams, a collection of specialists who work together virtually to resolve specific problems within a company. One of the first institutions to hire interculturalists was the U.S. Army, after it started opening up bases all over the world and needed to assess readiness to serve overseas. Today, many different types of companies, institutions, and individuals have a need for intercultural expertise.

Although it may at first seem counterintuitive, this expertise doesn’t necessarily involve language all the time. A question we’re asked often, in fact, is whether a monolingual person who’s never lived abroad can be an intercultural expert. My answer is always a resounding “Absolutely!” I work with quite a few trainers who are monolingual and excellent interculturalists because they share specific skills or traits that are necessary to perform competent training and intercultural work. These include the acceptance and respect of differences, an open-mindedness to new ideas, and the ability to listen carefully.

Dr. Fred Jandt, a researcher in intercultural issues, notes that good intercultural communicators have personality strength, communication skills (verbal and nonverbal), psychological adjustment, and cultural awareness?not all of which, obviously, automatically come with being bi-or multilingual. The mere fact of speaking more than one language, or having lived in another country, in and of itself does not make us instant cultural experts. Even though I grew up bilingual and bicultural, I had to acquire and practice some of these traits, just as I had to learn translation and interpreting skills that did not come easily. In fact, I know of interpreter colleagues who possess none of these traits and would not make good interculturalists. As unique aspects of each culture are reflected through its language, the translator/interpreter is well served if he can leverage these aspects – indeed if he can apply the very principles of interculturalism – to help in his work of the accurate transmission of thoughts and ideas.

Schools and programs

How can a translator/interpreter become an interculturalist? While, as noted above, such expertise is not automatic, what we do have is the base on which to build, and the way to achieve such expertise is through training. There are several places in the USA and Canada that offer training in intercultural work. I have personally done extensive training for several years at the Intercultural Communication Institute, located in Portland, Oregon. ICI conducts one-, two-, and three-week intensive training courses during the summer, led by leaders in the field at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. ICI also offers three distinct certifications and a Master’s program with The University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. At present, I’m working on two new face-to-face seminars for interpreters and translators which will be submitted to the Judicial Council of California and ATA for continuing education credit. I also plan to establish a website from which I will offer online seminars for the benefit of colleagues who are unable to attend live seminars. This information will be available through the associations.

In addition, the Society for Intercultural Education, Training & Research (SIETAR), to which I belong, promotes and facilitates intercultural learning and work through professional interchange. SIETAR-USA is a membership organization for people from many cultural and professional backgrounds, who work within many environments and professions, including business and industry, consulting, training, K-12 and higher education, counseling, and all aspects of the media and arts, to name a few.

Regarding compensation, I can say only that one shouldn’t expect to become wealthy by doing intercultural work. As with translation and interpreting, the best-trained practitioners don’t necessarily work all the time or receive excellent compensation. However, a trained interculturalist/interpreter/translator who can market his skills successfully will get work and even have a niche that others don’t serve.

Interculturalism is an opportunity for translators and interpreters to go beyond our traditional framework. Gaining intercultural competence is something that I strive for every day; I hope that each year and every new encounter will get me there. In the meantime, I enjoy the ride.


Books on interculturalism:

  • Hall, Edward T. (1959) The Silent Language Greenwich, CT: Fawcett.
  • Jandt, Fred E. (1998) Intercultural Communication: An Introduction (Second Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Katan, David (1999) Translating Cultures, An Introduction for Translators, Interpreters and Mediators. Manchester, England; St Jerome Publishing.

Many books, monographs, and other resources may be obtained through:

The author gratefully acknowledges the work of Dr. Fred E. Jandt and Professor David Katan as source and inspiration for parts of this article.  

Letter to the ATA Board of Directors and Certification Committee

The purpose of this letter is to reflect the main concerns expressed by many ATA members about the new hours-of-credit system underlying the Continuing Education Requirements now applicable to formerly accredited members.

We respectfully ask the Board and the Certification Committee to consider the following points:

1) These requirements do not apply to all, since those who will be 60 plus in 2007 are exempt, and they seem therefore discriminatory and unfair for the younger members of our community.

2) Some members work in very specific cutting edge domains and cannot learn much from the programs approved by the ATA. They have to rely on specialized publications and/or seminars to stay abreast of the changes occurring in their discipline.

3) Considering the current economic situation of the translation industry in this country, many members cannot afford to travel to the places where seminars and conferences are held. Some members also have family, health or other kinds of problems that prevent them from attending ATA approved events.

4) Assuming that the proposed hours of credit are accessible to every member, they still raise questions. Why limit them to 10 points per year? Continuous education is not always evenly distributed in a translator’s life. Also, many certifying bodies test their members regularly to verify that they have actually learned something new. How can the ATA be sure that its certified members have become better professionals after attending approved conferences, courses and/or seminars?

5) Members who comply with the prerequisite conditions and pass a difficult, rigorously graded exam, deserve this credential. There should be simpler ways of insuring they are still worthy of it over time. If they are still ATA members, employed full time years after passing the exam, chances are they are competent enough to stay certified. Besides, many members have attended classes or followed courses to improve their training before taking the exam; are they supposed to do it again to obtain the necessary points?

—Michèle F. Landis, Language Chair for the English>French examinations.

Continuing Education – Easy & Inexpensive

 By Tuomas Kostiainen 

As you probably know by now, ATA’s continuing education requirement took effect at the beginning of this year. All ATA-certified translators need to accrue 20 Continuing Education (CE) points during each three-year period, with a maximum of 10 points per year, in order to maintain their certification. For further information, see ATA’s website at

This new requirement provides NCTA with an opportunity to organize more workshops, since more people are likely to participate in them, but it also means that we’ll have an even greater obligation to organize workshops and other educational events so that our members have as many different options as possible available to fulfill the requirement. Naturally, this wider selection of offerings will also benefit all the non-certified members. You don’t have to be a certified translator in order to enjoy the increasing selection of our workshops. After all, the point of CE points is not to collect points for points’ sake but to learn and become a better translator.

Obviously, the easiest way to fulfill the CE requirement is to attend the ATA Annual Conference two out of three years. You can earn 10 points with each annual conference, which means that two conferences in three years would be enough. Unfortunately, the cost can be relatively high, particularly if the conference locations happen to be far away.

However, the CE requirement doesn’t have to break your bank, since the credit grid also offers many other, less costly options. As an example, I wanted to show you a low-cost way to collect your required CE points with the help of NCTA. Our General Meetings, workshops and other educational events are the key to a versatile, affordable and local way to accomplish this. The table below gives an example where the only additional cost (in addition to your ATA membership fee) is the cost of one workshop in three years (generally only about $40!).

Naturally, you can mix & match various items depending on your preferences. If you can’t come to every General Meeting, take a workshop or two each year. Two 4-hour workshops each year already give you more than enough points at less than $100 a year—all tax-deductible.

Also, remember that local colleges and other organizations offer many interesting and useful courses that will give you CE points. However, if you feel that you can’t find suitable courses or workshops anywhere, let us know what you would like to learn. We are constantly looking for new workshop ideas.

As you can see from the table above, fulfilling your CE requirements does not necessarily mean long trips, expensive hotels and high conference fees. You can do it all here locally and affordably.

ATA membership – 2 points –  Maximum allowed per 3 years is 2 points.
NCTA General Meetings – 1 point  – Maximum allowed per 3 years is 12 points.
Published article on translation/interpreting (e.g. in Translorial) – 2 points – Maximum allowed per 3 years is 4 points.
NCTA workshop – 4 or more points – Maximum allowed per year is 10 points.


By Steve Vitek

“Hello, my name is Steve and I am a WordPerfect user.” A thundering response from other WP users: “Hello Steve.”


We, WordPerfect users, supreme masters of the universe only a few short years ago, are now becoming almost as rare as an honest politician. I know, everybody wants to have a file in Microsoft Word these days because Bill Gates owns 80% of the market for operating systems, as well as 80% of the market for word processors. He is also getting close to 80% in the market for Internet browsers and soon will own 80% of everything from TV stations to garage door openers. He is coming to our house any way he can.

But I like WordPerfect. I think it’s a nifty program and besides, I hate to learn new software. I can’t help myself. I started using WordPerfect thirteen years ago, when WP 4.2 would still fit on a single 360 kB floppy along with the file I was working on. My Leading Edge computer had no hard disk and no modem either. Those were the days. I was possibly an even mole unsophisticated user back then. Once I plugged my vacuum cleaner into that little power socket on the back of the CPU because no other socket was nearby and promptly burned out the power source. I still think computers should come with a socket for vacuum cleaners don’t you? Better still, they should also come with a built-in shower. (Rumor has it that the next version of the iMac will have a built-in shower in five matching, translucent colors for the CPU, monitor, shower and tiles.)

The world was a better place to live in when you could still print by pressing Alt+F7 and then “p” for page or “f” for the whole file. You do it for a couple of years and never forget how once you get the hang of it. It’s like riding a bike. I miss you, Alt+F7. Is there an Alt-Control-Shift key combination heaven for old key combination commands when they die? Where do they go if there is no heaven for them? The world was full of competing word processors back then. Some translators used to swear by Nota Bene. You could open up as many files as you liked at the same time, and you could type in Russian or Hebrew or any language you wanted, they said, full of admiration for this incredible level of sophistication in a piece of software. I was tempted, but remained faithful to WordPerfect. Because WordPerfect used to treat people like people. When you got stuck on something you could call the guys and girls in Utah on a toll-free number, and they would tell you what the problem was. They were so pleasant and human back then. Times sure have changed. If you call now, you will get a runaround in an endless voice mail system, and if a human voice answers at all, they will ask you for your credit card number first. The world was a better place to live in when you could talk to a person instead of an answering machine and when this person did not ask for your money first before deciding whether to speak with you at all.

But humans who dare to challenge the notion that one standard for everything is “gooood” while two or more standards are “baaaad” may finally be starting to fight back. Red Hat Software is selling the Linux operating system, an alternative to Windows. They have two powerful incentives for you to buy what they are selling. Number 1: Bill Gates hates them. Number 2: Linux does not crash nearly as often as Windows. My WordPerfect spelling checker does not yet recognize the word Linux but WordPerfect has already issued a special version that is bundled with Linux, and they also have a Linux-compatible version of the new WordPerfect Office 2000, the only other game in town.

By the time you read this, I will have WordPerfect Office 2000 installed on my computer, if there is one. You can count on it because we WordPerfect users are not a cowardly bunch. We do not chicken out quite as easily as the gutless users of Ami, WordStar, Nota Bene, etc. and those other cowards who defected to Bill’s camp years ago. We know better than to listen to what the crowds want to dictate us to use. We will let nature be our guide-and we have found that WordPerfect is a much more natural fit when our fingers slide, with such an abundance of creative elegance, from one key to another. And that is why we will fight Microsoft Word with all our might.

We will fight MS Word on our main office computer. We may keep it on the hard disk to check conversions from WordPerfect for obstinate customers who insist on a conversion, but we will never use MS Word for real work. It’s not fit for real work. The best thing that can be said about MS Word is that its word count is usually about 3% higher than WordPerfect’s. (I give credit where credit is due, even when an evil force is involved.) That is also the real reason why we still keep MS Word on our hard disk.

We will fight MS Word on our home computers, the ones that are used mostly by our kids to play Doom, Quake and Mortal Kombat. This is our Mortal Kombat against the forces of evil! And just like our kids-we shall prevail!

We professional freelance people-watchers will fight MS Word on our laptops-the ones we bring to Café Aroma and Starbucks when we can’t stand the isolation of our office any more-to bang away on the keyboard someplace else, pretending we aren’t watching the people who pretend they aren’t watching us. We shall never surrender! Never!!!

We are pro-choice and pro-life at the same time, because we know that one standard is no choice, and no choice means death. We may not have a choice when it comes to dying, but we insist on a choice when it comes to typing! If you are a customer who is more interested in the format of my file than in my translation even though I am willing to convert the file into MS Word for you, since you insist, l am saying unto you that you are not a customer of mine any more. l have not lived my life and paid taxes all these years so that I could fit easily somebody else’s format. You’ll have to do the fitting part, my friend.

Besides, we know that we cannot lose this fight for a higher standard in everything. The most powerful force in this world, or at least in this country, is on our side, because most lawyers still use WP 5.1 for DOS. Only a few very sophisticated lawyers have graduated to WordPerfect 6.0 for Windows. The lawyers are working for us WordPerfect users, and so far they are not even charging us for it. Not even Bill Gates can make them do that. Need I say more?