Eric Bishop, director of the Spanish-English branch of San Francisco State University’s interpretation program, vividly recounts his first day as a court interpreter after receiving his certification 16 years ago.
“I recall it was really nerve-racking appearing before a judge and having someone’s liberty depend on my interpreting,” said Bishop, who now works at the criminal courthouse on Bryant Street in San Francisco.
Bishop, who failed the certification test on his first try, says it takes considerable training and experience to become an effective interpreter. “One of the misconceptions is that just being bilingual is enough to be an interpreter,” he said.
The rigorous standards of interpreting is one reason Cañada College in Redwood City is establishing its own program in the fall — a campus with a student body that is 40 percent Latino. School and state court officials also say there is an “urgent” need for interpreters in hospitals, courts and the worker’s compensation system. With rising immigration, Bishop said, there is a rising demand for Spanish speakers in the Peninsula and South Bay courts.
Jeanne Gross, dean of Cañada’s University Center, felt that exact dire need for an interpreter when she was in an emergency room with her son.
“There was no one that night in the hospital able to speak Spanish,” Gross said. “So I’ve witnessed that there are not always translators when people need them.”
Cañada officials hope to recruit about 22 students for the program. The college will hold an open house at 6 p.m. today at the University Center for interested bilingual students. Students must be fluent in Spanish and four of the six classes will be transferable toward a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at San Francisco State University.
Bishop described the job as an honorable duty that appealed to him because of the bridging of cultures. However, interpreting is more than just translating. A code of ethics guides interpreters who must also convey the tone, expression and demeanor of whomever is talking.
In California, there are 12 officially registered languages certified by the state, with Spanish, Punjabi, Russian and Mandarin among the most popular. Certification exams come in two parts: written and oral. About a third of the students pass, said Lucy Smallsreed, supervisor of the state Court Interpreters’ program.
“We have needs in the courts every day,” she said. “It’s not uncommon that proceedings are delayed because they can’t locate an interpreter.”