MATI Member Spotlight: Meet Our Treasurer Kate Jankowski!
Kate Jankowski is an English to Polish translator and interpreter. She holds Master’s degrees in English Philology and in Public Administration, along with a Certificate in Paralegal Studies. Jankowski is also an ATA certified English to Polish translator and a Wisconsin State Certified Court Interpreter. She is MATI’s current treasurer as well and has been a member of the organization for over five years.
Where do you live and/or work?
I live in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I have a small office in Addison, IL, from where I run my company called PLUS Professional Translation Services, LLC (www.plustranslations.com).
How did you acquire your B language(s)?
I was not aware of it, but I was exposed to foreign languages from early childhood. I come from the part of Poland called Upper Silesia. My grandmother spoke Polish with a Silesian dialect and was fluent in German. I went to grade school in Poland at the time when Russian was the only foreign language taught at school. My neighbor found an English tutor but could not afford one-on-one lessons. Although reluctantly, my parents eventually allowed me to join the neighbor, and I started learning English when I was about 11. I was able to get into a high school that offered English and then graduated with a master’s degree in English from the Silesian University in Poland. Most of my instructors spoke British English, and the first English speaking country I visited was Ireland. I ended up getting a scholarship in the US. I was an exchange student at the Southwest Texas State University (now called Texas State U.) in San Marcos, TX. I went back to Poland to graduate and then returned to Chicago, where my husband was finishing his studies at that time.
I believe that keeping up with my native language is equally important to mastering my B language. Polish spoken in Chicago uses a lot of borrowings from English, so I travel to Poland at least once a year to get a booster of current Polish--only to find out that it assimilates more and more words from English, just in a different way.
How long have you worked in your field? How did you get started in the field of translation and/or interpretation?
I was still a student when I was hired as an in-house translator by a company which was in charge of a pesticide hazardous waste cleanup program. It was in the early 1990s and a lot of technology, equipment and procedures were new and coming to Poland from the Western countries--all written in English and needing to be translated into Polish. Some funding for the program was provided by the European Union. The sponsoring agency wanted to know how its money was used, so I also translated progress reports and communications with the agency. The field was new, but I had unlimited access to source texts and colleagues who had specialized knowledge in the scientific fields that I needed, including chemistry, hydrology, and environmental engineering.
I did not have a computer back then. I was handwriting the translations and giving them to a lady that would type them for me on a typewriter. No, she did not know English, so spelling mistakes were frequent and my handwriting had to be very neat and clear for her.
The advent of the Internet was another blessing for me. I was still able to work for the company while I was in the U.S. Our (mine and my husband’s) decision to return to Poland was taking longer than expected, so I decided to go back to school. Because of the field that I was working in, I went for the Public Administration Environmental Management program at Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL.
Long story short, we decided to stay in the U.S. The company was no longer my employer but became my client. I had to find more customers, but my field was very narrow, and I had to see where else I could offer my services.
While settling in Chicago, I was seeing doctors and attorneys and I figured these would be two groups of professionals for whom I could interpret. I remember doctors’ appointments being emotional and sad: every patient had a story to tell, but no one had the time to listen. I was once asked by a friend to come to a court hearing with her to interpret. I thought I got it, but oh my! Was I wrong! I did not know when to approach the judge, when to begin speaking, and when I finally figured it out, I understood what he was saying but did not have the Polish vocabulary to say it to my friend. Embarrassment only begins to describe how I felt. I began to look for courses in court interpreting in my language pair, but could not find any. I found paralegal studies to be the closest useful thing and decided to give it a try. I thought, if not interpreting, I would at least get familiar with the US legal system.
In the meantime I was also working on my professional credentials. In 2003, I became a “sworn translator” registered with the Ministry of Justice in Poland. In 2006, I was certified by the ATA and recently became a translator and interpreter for the U.S. Department of State, along with getting my court interpreter certification from the state of Wisconsin.
It took me a while,but I think I found my specialty in the legal field. My job offers quite an interesting mix: I do both translation and interpreting, go back in time, but also assist people with their present-day needs. My day usually consists of a court hearing or deposition, translating and meeting with people with fascinating stories. I work with Polish Consulates in the U.S. and help people to get their Polish citizenship, recognize their marriages, divorces, or register births in Poland. My typical customer is a third generation Polish-American, whose grandparents fled Poland during World War II, briefly stayed in another country and then immigrated into the U.S. Some families have documents from several foreign countries, so I collaborate with a lot of translators from other languages.
Throughout the years, I received a lot from others. It is time to give back. MATI is one of the organizations I volunteer for. I am also a member of the Leadership Council for the ATA’s Slavic Languages Division and have been the Board Secretary at a local Polish school for over a decade.
What continues to inspire you?
Those who have stuck through the toughest of times and continue to smile.