Narrator: 00:00 Hello, and thank you for listening to subject to interpretation, hosted by Augustine de la Mora. My name is Claudia. And my name’s Kayla. And we are the producers of this program. And before we get into the interview with today’s special guest, Holly Mikkelson, professor of professional practice who specializes in Spanish and English legal translation and court interpreting, she’s been practicing since 1976 and is certified in state and federal interpreting. Most of you probably know her as the coauthor of the renowned book, Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy, and Practice, which I’m sure, once again, most of you do own a copy yourselves. We wanted to bring you the latest announcements from de la Mora Interpreter Training. If you found us on Facebook, we would like to remind you that you may download us directly to your phone wherever podcasts are found. Now onto some more exciting news. As the year’s coming to an end, we are happy to announce our last courses for the year, including our Advanced Consec and Simultaneous course.
Narrator: 01:06 So this course begins September 11th, and it’s the perfect tool to help you hone your skills and earn CEU’s for the states following, such as Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and many more. And all the course information will be included in the description, and as a kind of end of the year bonus for you guys, you may use the code promo “10”, for a 10 percent discount off of that course. Also, if you haven’t already hear d the bus, we have started our membership program for legal interpreters to have the ability to take courses required for CEU’s, where we host our monthly webinars directly from the best instructors in the field. It’s also a place to network and a tool where a library of educational resources can be found. We have three different membership levels. The very first one, which is a free level. Our webinar this month, at the end of this month, will be hosted by Claudia Villalba, and she’ll be giving a class on note taking for the consecutive mode of interpretation.
Narrator: 02:10 So to learn more about it, once again, we will leave the link in the description. Don’t miss this great opportunity to hone your note taking skills and to become part of a community. Stay tuned for next week’s podcast featuring Natalya Mytareva. She’s the executive director over at CCHI. So for anyone who is interested in becoming a medical interpreter or already is, this is an episode not to miss. We appreciate all of you for listening in. We pride ourselves in being one of the very few podcasts for professional interpreters out there, so please share us with all of your colleagues. We would love to hear your feedback or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office and you will most likely speak to one of us. Until next week. Now enjoy the interview with Holly Mikkelson. Bye!
Agustin: 03:00 Good morning everyone. Welcome to Subject to Interpretation, our space for us to share with you, and the opportunity to hear from and get to know a little better, many people that are involved in the interpreting field here in the United States. And hopefully one of these days we’ll get international and we have designed this so we all can talk and hear from people who have been our guests before, but not in this platform. So today I have the big pleasure and honor to have with me, Professor Holly Mikkelson and I’m sure that if you’re in the field of interpretation, in the United States, you’ve heard of Holly or about Holly, forever. I have to say that Holly was my first formal instructor as far as court interpretation goes, many years ago. I’ll try to get into that in a few to see Holly remembers, but just let me give you a very brief introduction and bio about Holly.
Agustin: 04:11 Of course, if I were to do the whole thing, I will take half an hour just to talk about her, but I’ll just say that Holly was introduced to me as a person who was the most important author in court interpretation in the United States many years ago when I started in this business, because she was one of the authors of Fundamentals of Interpretation. And at that time, the person that was training me told me that’s the Bible of court interpretation, so, I had to go buy it. And that’s when I first heard the name Holly Mikkelson. Holly Mikkelson is the coauthor, she’s the author of Introduction to Court Interpreting. She, very importantly to me, was the creator of ACEBO, and because when I started training as an interpreter, those tapes were very, very important to me as far as learning how to interpret. She’s a professor, she’s a professor that was at Monterey Institute of International Studies, as I think it’s called now Middlebury, and I could go on and on. She’s published articles in numerous peer reviewed journals. She has been presenting in NAJIT and ATA and other conferences around the world. And she’s a gold medal winner. I’ll let holly tell us about that medal. But without any further ado, here’s Holly. Good morning, Holly.
Holly: 05:38 Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Agustin: 05:40 How are you doing today?
Holly: 05:43 I’m just fine. I’m looking out the window and we have blue sky here, unlike the rest of California, which is shrouded in smoke.
Agustin: 05:52 Yeah, it’s pretty, it’s pretty smoky. I’ve heard some people in California, they’re looking out at smoke, everywhere they look at.
Agustin: 06:01 So Holly, tell us a little bit, how did you get interested in this interpreting profession, especially because when you started it was kind of completely new here in the states, right?
Holly: 06:10 Court interpreting was, yes. I graduated from college with a B.A. in Sociology, and I didn’t want to be a social worker, I didn’t want to be a teacher, although, yeah. But I knew that I was interested in using language for practical purposes rather than studying literature. And I heard about this tiny little place called the Monterey Institute. Um, and they did have a Master’s program in translating and interpreting. And I had no idea. I didn’t really know what the difference between translating and interpreting was, but I knew that it was a way of putting into practice knowledge of a language. Um, so I went there and I discovered that I didn’t speak Spanish or French nearly as well as I thought I did. So I dropped French and focused on Spanish because it was more useful in the United States, and um, went through a trial by fire because my Spanish really wasn’t that good and I spent a lot of time practicing in the language lab. Um, I went to Guatemala to take some classes and improve my fluency. Um, and so I did manage by the skin of my teeth to graduate from that program. This was back in the days when you translated on typewriters and interpreting was just whispering to people in court or wherever. Um, nobody really knew about court interpreting. The program was set up for conference interpreters and it was very European oriented, um, and I didn’t really want to be a conference interpreter. I didn’t think that I was good enough for that and I didn’t want to live out of a suitcase traveling all over the world. Plus I was married so I wanted to stick around. Um, and I still am married by the way. Um, and there was this thing called court interpreting. And at the time they were organizing the farm workers unions in California. This was in the mid seventies and they started having hearings for this new organization called the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. So I was asked to interpret at those hearings and it was terrifying. Um, a lot of the attorneys were bilingual and I got challenged about every other sentence, so I learned a lot. What I knew before that was book Spanish, school Spanish. And I began to become much more familiar with the Spanish spoken by farm workers, who were mostly Mexicans. The only trouble is when I learned a new term, I didn’t know if that was just a Mexicanismo or if that was standard Spanish. So sometimes when I used it elsewhere, people laughed at me, but, um, I kinda got used to being laughed at. Anyway, so, those first few years were pretty harrowing. But, um, I really was fascinated by the whole process. I love translating also, and I always have. I like being in an office by myself surrounded by dictionaries and finding just the right way of phrasing something. But there was something about interpreting that really appealed to me. I’m kind of vicariously living other people’s lives. Suddenly being somebody else for a few minutes was kind of neat and um, so that’s what kept me motivated to, to become a better interpreter.
Speaker 2: 10:18 Yeah, I remember it. It’s really interesting that you say that because the first time I went to court and I was asked to interpret it in a court of law, I figured man, and they even pay you to hear the very interesting things that are going on around you, but I also, I think discovered just like you, “boy, I really don’t know what I’m saying,” or “I don’t understand what’s going on,” but it was super interesting. I think that’s what attracted me to interpretation, that I could be a voyeur of people’s lives and like I said, do you even get paid, which was even better.
Speaker 3: 10:54 Yeah.
Speaker 2: 10:56 So how did you go from there to then all of a sudden now “I’m going to become an interpreter full time.” Is that what you decided to do?
Speaker 3: 11:03 Uh, not really. As soon as I graduated, the Monterey Institute was still a very tiny place and they had a hard time finding people who could teach in the program there. Um, they had four languages at the time, Spanish being one, and probably, unfortunately for the students there, they asked me to teach part time and I had just graduated, it was the blind leading the blind. So as I began teaching interpreting part time, I was also interpreting in court and translating. I started to think, well, our students are going to need to learn how to be court interpreters if they’re going to stay in the United States and not go off to Europe. So I began introducing some aspects of court interpreting into my classes and that was the origin of the ACEBO materials. But um, I was interpreting in the local municipal court almost every day, and doing different kinds of cases, and, as you know, in court a lot of the time, it’s just sitting there waiting for your case to be called.
Speaker 3: 12:27 So I would just listen to everything and jot down things that I didn’t understand and look them up. I checked out books from the library. There was no internet and um, I just was like a sponge. The whole thing was really fascinating. So as I learned, I started sharing that with students and helping them to learn, not the hard way, the way I had learned, but a little bit a year to become competent court interpreters.
Agustin: 13:02 Yeah. I often say that I wish I had my classes when I started. I think many of us started with the typical. “Do you speak Spanish?” “Yeah.” “Can you be here tomorrow?” “Yeah,” “you’re in.” I was hired in Tampa a long time ago because I was a Berlitz teacher of languages. And uh, one of my students was an attorney who hired me to do a deposition, which I have no idea what it was. And he told me, “oh, you did a great job.” What do you think about that, Holly? Have you heard that before?
Holly: 13:44 Yeah, if you will, in my case, I speak unaccented English. It’s my native language, and so all of the attorneys were very impressed. God knows what I was saying in Spanish. They didn’t know. And the, the defendant or the witness or whoever is not going to question you. So I got away with probably being less competent than I would’ve otherwise had to be, but um, I did learn enough to stop and say “the interpreter doesn’t understand this term” or “may the interpreter consult dictionary” and that kind of thing. So it was kind of a painful process, but eventually, well actually not eventually, I’m still learning things and needing to look things up all the time. You just never know everything. Yeah. I think that, that’s also another thing that attracted me to interpretation. It seems like it’s always priming that stairway about vocabulary and idioms and sayings that you will literally never stop learning. Plus the, uh, evolution of language never stops, because of new generations and new things coming out. Obviously I’ve never heard of a word processor when I started, because it just like you, I had a typewriter.
Agustin: 15:11 Yeah, and texting and things like that didn’t exist. Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. So then you, you’ve been interpreting for a while, but I know, that you were involved, early I think, with the process of the testing for the federal exam. Is that true? Were you part of that movement?
Holly: 15:31 Yes. Um, well I took the federal exam the very first time it was given. I think it was in late 1979. So by the time I got certified it was 1980, and I was the first generation. Um, so I didn’t develop that first exam. By the time I took it, I had been interpreting for about three years and so, plus, the federal exam was not that big a deal because nobody had ever heard of it. So I didn’t know what I was– I didn’t know enough to be nervous when I took it. The California certification exam had been given just one year before and again, I was lucky that I had been interpreting for a couple of years before anybody even thought of testing interpreters. So I had enough experience and confidence to be able to do it. Um, and with the California exam, I took the first one and then they asked me to be an examiner after that, which I did very briefly, but I didn’t like it very much. With the federal exam, I did work on the written exam early on. It wasn’t the second exam, it may have been the third one or something. In the eighties I did work to develop the written exam at one point. I never did work on developing the oral exam, but I was a rater at one point.
Agustin: 17:01 Yeah. I think you were the proctor, because if I remember correctly, maybe you were my proctor when I took the federal exam.
Holly: 17:10 I don’t remember that. I do remember you as one of the interpreters in Tampa when I gave a workshop there.
Agustin: 17:17 Oh yeah. That was epic. That was my first training as a court interpreter. This was many, many, many years ago and uh, several of my colleagues who are still in the business, who are now all over the country, were part of that.
Holly: 17:32 Yeah. I remember. I was impressed with you. And I’m not just saying that. I remembered you from then on, because I could see that you had a lot of talent and skill, and I knew you were going to pass the federal exam as soon as you took.
Agustin: 17:50 Yeah. I, I did. And I’m pretty sure you were one of my proctors, I’m not a hundred percent sure because it’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure, and can you imagine, I’m all nervous like everybody was and for some of our listeners who might not know this, but when we first did the federal exam, the proctors were present and where the readers of the tests were rating right there.
Holly: 18:15 Yeah. It was all live.
Agustin: 18:18 And I remember walking in, and there is Holly, and I was like “ahh!” It was nerve racking just to, to know that you were there and probably like many of us when we took the exam. You said you were not nervous when, when you took it because you didn’t know enough. I think I knew enough and I was already scared about like, “oh my God, now Holly’s gonna see what I’m doing.”
Speaker 3: 18:44 Well, it’s interesting that I don’t remember that. I just remember the workshop.
Speaker 2: 18:49 Yeah. But that workshop really, I mean, I had mentioned it before because, uh, that was my initiation and I have to tell everybody, you were my hero that day and I realized, Oh my God, this is what I want to do when I grow up. I had to share with interpreters because I noticed, I think that like maybe you did that there was a lot of us out there and maybe some of us were interpreting, some of us have been certified already, but there was not a lot in the, in the area of training interpreters, and you know, that’s where I went to school for and I thought maybe I can contribute a little bit by sharing what I’d been learning, but definitely your class inspired me to continue and go on and become a trainer of interpreters, which took me a while by the way, because I first wanted to be federally certified before I started training interpreters. And I mentioned several of my colleagues, I think James Plunkett who is now the director of Language Access, might have been in that class, you know, and others. So it was a lot of fun. So then you have been interpreting, you’re now certified. How did the Bible come about? How did you get involved with fundamentals?
Speaker 3: 20:10 Um, Roseann contacted me. I think what happened was I was teaching a short course of four weeks in court interpreting in the summer, in Montery, and it conflicted with the Agnese Haury Institute, which was a three week course. I think there were some people who wanted to take both or something. People started talking there in Tucson about going to Monterey. So Roseann heard about me, and she contacted me, and said, “would you like to work with us on this book?” So, um, I spent a long time in Tucson helping to write that book with Roseann Gonzalez and with Vicky Vasquez, and seems to me that I also taught a training of trainers there. The first time they did that in Arizona. I think I was there to work on the book, so I also did a training of trainers with Roseann. Um, so I did meet some of the icons of court interpreting and some of the people who took that training of trainers also went on to be, um, authors and teachers in their own right. So it was a seminal time for our profession.
Speaker 2: 21:39 Yeah, it certainly was. When was it first published?
Speaker 3: 21:42 1991, but we started working on it in like 86 or 87. These things take forever.
Speaker 2: 21:50 I would think so. I would think so because it is, to this day I tell people, you really want to learn about this profession. If you don’t have fundamentals, you’re missing a big part of it because everything that we talk about and everything we teach is still contained within the pages of fundamentals.
Holly: 22:09 The second edition came out in 2012, and I think we started working on that in 2009 or something. The first edition I was mailing manuscripts back and forth. I remember one of them got lost in the mail, but by the second edition we at least had email, and we were communicating electronically, which was a little bit more efficient.
Agustin: 22:34 Yeah, but you clearly saw also, yeah, The Theory and Practice of Court Interpretation, very important, and the book was essential to it, but you clearly saw that there was a need for actual practice exercises. And how did you come up with Cebo, acebo, how do you say it, by the way?
Holly: 22:57 I say ACEBO because it’s the Spanish word for holly. A lot of people don’t know that because they’ve never heard of the plant in Spanish. Well, as I say, I was teaching court interpreting. I started collecting materials from workshops that I took and I started developing things that were similar to what I had seen in those workshops to give to my students. And I was teaching those summer intensive courses for two or three years and people kept calling up afterwards and saying, “I lost my materials, can you send me a copy of everything?” Or, “my wife kicked me out and I can’t get access to what I had for that class. And now I want to take an exam,” or “I’ve been asked to teach a course. Could I use those materials?” So I started sending copies to people, like a sucker, and my husband said, “why are you doing this? You should make money off of this.” And then we bound The Interpreter’s Edge was the first thing. It was in a three ring binder. And he was a technical writer and illustrator. So he really was behind the production of the ACEBO manuals, and it was a two person operation. I was the brains and he was the uh, haha, um, so that’s how they came about. And we did develop more materials based on the original template. And people started asking us, do you have one in Korean or Russian or Japanese? And we said, no, would you like to develop one? So we do have them in many other languages now because people came to us and said, “could I use your template and develop one for my language?”
Agustin: 24:53 Oh, that’s very interesting. And there’s been, I mean you’ve been so prolific, it’s not only the practice, and I know that you have them for medical, too, because I think I have something that is quite old, but it says The Medical RX or something.
Holly: 25:09 Yes, The Interpreter’s RX. When California decided to certify medical interpreters, I developed something just for that exam and started teaching courses, so it’s really oriented towards, um, medical-legal evaluations more then clinical actual treatment of patients. So it’s, um, it’s useful, but I wouldn’t use it as the textbook in a course for healthcare interpreters,
Agustin: 25:40 Right, because it’s more kind of legal oriented, you say?
Holly: 25:43 Well, medical-legal, I mean it’s, it’s all medical terminology, but the kinds of things that, the questions that are asked in the dialogues and the sight translation. Most of those things are things you’d encounter if you were interpreting a medical evaluation in a lawsuit, or worker’s compensation.
Agustin: 26:06 Got It. And so are you still producing new materials for us?
Holly: 26:12 Well, that’s a good question. I’ve retired from teaching just this past May, and one of the things I hoped to do was work on new materials because the last new thing we did was 10 years ago or more than 10 years, 12 years ago, um, my son and daughter in law are now running ACEBO and um, they don’t have time to, to produce anything new. So no matter what I come up with, in the way of new consecutive scripts or sight translation texts or whatever, it still has to be printed and put into a book and sold. And right now I think they’re kind of overwhelmed. They’ve got two little kids, and, so I don’t know. Um, I do hope to develop new materials.
Agustin: 27:04 Yeah, we definitely need them. I mean, you know, it’s a sad thing to hear that you retired from teaching, but I guess it had to happen at one point.
Holly: 27:13 Yeah. I’m still interpreting and translating.
Agustin: 27:19 I was going to ask you, what are you doing these days, because I don’t know about you, but this idea of retirement and really just go sit in the front porch and watch life go by does not suit me and I’m going to guess maybe not you either.
Holly: 27:31 Uh, actually I do, haha, I like sitting on the front porch watching the world go by, but I also, um, I don’t want my brain to completely atrophy. So I, I do interpret a couple of days a week and try to get translation work as much as I can. And I still will give the occasional workshop so I’m not completely out of the picture
Agustin: 28:01 No, we don’t expect you to be. So this thing about teaching, it’s interesting you said, well, I didn’t want to be a teacher, and here you are a few years later.
Holly: 28:13 Well I didn’t want to be a language teacher, that’s the difference.
Agustin: 28:20 Got it. My father was a professor in a university and I remember thinking, oh my God, it must be boring for these people, you know, because it’s the same class over and over again. And boy, was I wrong. And funny enough, I’ve been teaching and training people for a long time. So I really didn’t know what my dad did. And oh, I guess this was not as boring as I thought it was going to be.
Holly: 28:45 Yeah. Well the actual classroom work is the fun part. Preparing for those classes is the drudgery.
Agustin: 28:55 That is so true. And this, actually working in this environment in this field, took you literally around the world doing this, right?
Holly: 29:05 Yes. I have been invited to speak around the world. Um, and it, it’s very flattering and honoring to be asked to speak somewhere. And it is weird that people are using some of my training materials in places like Argentina or Spain or Peru, where they have a completely different court system. So, plus, you know, the, all of the slang that people use in my consecutive scripts are totally inapplicable in other countries. So I’m surprised that they’re using them, but they still are.
Agustin: 29:47 Your publications and your training materials literally made their rounds. Why don’t you tell us, what is the place that surprised you the most when you got invited to speak? Because I’ve seen you, I’ve seen you in Montreal. I’ve seen you in many places as keynote speaker. What is a place that really surprised you when you got invited?
Holly: 30:10 Probably China. Someone contacted me. We have a lot of visiting professors coming to our school and the Chinese interpreting program in Monterey is pretty well known around the world. So there have been Chinese professors coming to observe us and see how we teach interpreting. And one of them asked if he could sit in on my court interpreting classes because he was a lawyer, and was interested in court interpreting. They don’t do very much of it in China. He invited me to his university at Wuhan, China, a few years ago. And he showed me a copy of Introduction to Court Interpreting with a Chinese cover. My first, my first thought was, oh my God, they’ve pirated it. I said, do you have permission to sell this? And he said, oh, of course. And actually it had not been translated into Chinese. Somebody just put the cover on it with the title in Chinese, but if you opened it up, it was the same old English book. Um, but anyway, they, they knew about me in China, too, and I was kind of thrilled. I’ve been to Taiwan and Hong Kong also. And a few countries in Europe and South America. Um, so it was kind of interesting.
Agustin: 31:44 Yeah. That’s awesome. And what is your advice for people who are starting in this field? I think that we’re at a point where people just hear about us, hear about the profession, and think hey, I’m bilingual, I can do this. What do you tell people that are just starting?
Holly: 32:03 Well, if they are Spanish speakers, um, I tell them to go observe in court and try to meet interpreters and ask if they can shadow them to get a sense of what the work is really like, because a lot of people want to go into court interpreting or medical interpreting because they want to help people. And they imagined themselves more being advocates than interpreters, and for some people that’s off putting. They don’t want to just be neutral and not explain what people are really trying to say. Um, they have trouble with that. So the first thing they need to do is know what the job is really like, what it really entails. Um, and then I tell them to get training and I tell them about your workshops and others, and my materials and the Agnese Haury Institute, and everything. Unfortunately, if they’re not Spanish speakers, it’s really hard to find anything. So I tell them about my materials and if they’re really, you know, they want to really be serious about it, I give them some more tips about how to develop materials for them to practice on their own.
Agustin: 33:31 Well, I’m going to share with everybody that when we contacted you and you said maybe you didn’t have anything to say for half an hour, I said we could stay half a day here, but believe it or not, we’ve been at it for more than half an hour now. And I really appreciate your time. I wanted to see if you wanted to tell us a funny anecdote or something that you remember in your many travels or when you were in court, that turned out to be a funny thing with these languages.
Holly: 34:03 A funny thing…well one thing is that I became known as someone who was willing to swear in court. So whenever there was a case that was kind of sensitive, they would call me, because they knew I was willing to use explicit terms about anatomy. I’ve always kinda liked the idea of swearing with impunity in court, all this, these formal people, the judge in the robe and everything, and you get to swear and that part of it, I always kind of liked.
Agustin: 34:44 That’s so funny. It’s true. I remember the first time I did it, and I looked around and I say something one time and I remember the clerk looking at me and covering her mouth and going (gasp), because the judge was a very strict judge and she assumed that the judge was gonna yell at me or kick me out of the courtroom, and he didn’t because I didn’t say it, somebody else said it. I was just interpreting. But it was funny that you mentioned that. Well, Holly, again, I want to thank you very much for spending all this time with us. I know you’re super busy watching life go by from the porch, so thank you so very much. And I’m sure we’ll see each other again sometime in the future.
Holly: 35:28 I’m sure we will. And good luck with your podcasts.
Agustin: 35:32 Thanks lot Holly.