The NAJIT conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was a huge professional and social success. BY CURTIS DRAVES

The NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators) conference was held this year on the weekend of May 16-18 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and since I grew up in that area, I decided it was the perfect time to attend my first NAJIT annual gathering. I’ve been interpreting in state court for only a couple of years, and am continually amazed at how the more I learn, the limits of knowledge in this field just seem to keep receding into the distance. So I booked my flights, arranged to see my family still in the area, and soon found myself at the William Penn Hotel in the “Burgh”.

My colleague and I, Fanny Suarez, went to the conference together as representatives of CFI (California Federation of Interpreters). CFI is both a professional association and union for legal interpreters statewide. The NAJIT board asked us to bring our video of the Romero Senate Hearing from last fall (to view the video go to and enter “interpreter” and “strike” into the search box), so we set up a table with the video playing and handed out DVDs. A result of the strike in LA courts, the hearing is full of very articulate testimony from some key figures in Los Angeles legal circles about the importance of quality interpretation in the field of criminal justice. We were very well received by attendees, who were often eager to take a DVD back to their home state.

NAJIT scheduled long skills-building seminars on Friday, and had I booked a red-eye arriving early enough to attend the full day. Of course I had to pour coffee down my throat at regular intervals to keep functioning but it was worth it. Since I organize continuing education for CFI, I popped in to hear a few minutes of just about every session the whole weekend, checking out the speakers and topics. On Friday I spent most of my time at Agustín de la Mora’s seminar on consecutive note-taking, and he was a fantastic instructor that I hope we’ll be able to bring to California. Notably, language-specific instruction for several languages other than Spanish (Korean, Russian and Vietnamese) – a dire need in the world of court interpreting – was also provided.

Friday evening was the main social event: a dinner party with dance floor and DJ. Since everybody there is within about three degrees of separation and many hadn’t seen each other in a long time, it reminded me of a wedding. Just a couple of drinks on top of my exhaustion pretty much knocked me out. After a brief and lame attempt at socializing I headed for our room to crash, leaving a lively crew on the dance floor.

Saturday was a buzzing hive of activity, with four simultaneous sessions of one hour each throughout the day. NCTA’s own Jacki Noh gave a talk on “Interpreting in the Diplomatic Arena.” There was a harrowing slideshow on meth drug labs. Sandro Tomasi from New York gave a fascinating comparative analysis of criminal law and semantics for a variety of often debated terms like “plea bargain” and “probation.” Dennis McKenna from Los Angeles presented on Mexican Spanish. Alexander Rainoff, also from LA, spoke to a packed audience about paroemiology (the subject of proverbs). Dr. Rainoff gave a moving award-acceptance speech the night before; he has long been a pillar of the NAJIT community, and his daughter recently died tragically just before graduating from medical school.

Saturday night I made my getaway to visit with family and returned Sunday morning for the conference wrap-up. As I was heading back to the airport and saying goodbye to new acquaintances, I had the inkling that I would be seeing many of them again. The weekend had a friendly community feeling very much like our CFI conferences. I think Fanny and I were lucky to be the ones establishing a relationship between legal interpreters represented by CFI in California and our colleagues all over the country. The NAJIT conference was full of warm and dedicated interpreters, and I’m glad that I attended!