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InforMATIon Blog

The MATI blog features articles pertaining to translation and interpretation. Subject matter includes issues pertaining to the field in the form of explorations into language, methodology and technology, book reviews, biographies, notes on presenters and meeting summaries. The views, opinions and statements expressed within each posting do not necessarily reflect the position of MATI as a whole.
  • 02/03/2017 11:51 AM | Meghan McCallum (Administrator)

    ATA Certification Exam Undergoes Changes

    By Thaís Passos, MATI Director

    Becoming ATA certified requires passing a translation exam consisting of two passages of roughly 250 words each. The ATA Certification Program is going through some changes intended to improve accessibility and enhance the value of the ATA Certification Exam. Four major changes went into effect on January 1, 2017:

    1. There are no longer any education or experience requirements. The only requirements are ATA membership and agreement to the ATA Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.
    2. There are only general passages. Candidates are presented with three general passages and must choose two to translate. These are typically commentaries or essay-type articles. The exam will no longer include any medical, technical, or scientific texts or texts on legal, commercial, or financial subjects.
    3. More computerized exam sittings will be offered. Several computerized sittings have already been scheduled for 2017. On computerized exams, candidates can use their own laptops and non-interactive Internet resources, such as electronic dictionaries and glossaries. Candidates may not use CAT tools, translation memories, email, chat rooms, forums, or machine translation tools such as Google Translate. Candidates will save their translations on an ATA-supplied USB drive with grammar and spell check utilities disabled. Candidates may still bring and use their own print resources, and can also opt to handwrite their exam.
    4. Candidates will have more opportunities and accessibility for preparation and practice. In the near future, the ATA Certification Program will make the practice tests available for downloading (practice tests cost $80 per passage for ATA members and $120 per passage for non-members). In addition, the ATA Certification Committee is working to increase the availability of Candidate Preparation Workshops as both live sessions and webinars.

    For an up-to-date list of upcoming exam sittings, please visit


  • 02/02/2017 2:41 PM | Meghan McCallum (Administrator)

    Hello and Happy New Year!

    As you may have noticed, MATI’s Board of Directors underwent some changes early this year. Until the installment this summer of officers elected this spring, I will be serving as the MATI President and Meghan McCallum will be serving as the MATI Vice President.

    Together, Meghan and I, in conjunction with your MATI board, will work hard to continue serving you, the members. Exciting plans are in the works for MATI this year, including quarterly social hours for us to get out and talk with you, as well as a great webinar lineup. And, of course, we will host our annual conference this autumn.

    If you have not done so already, please be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook so you’re in the loop when we announce our upcoming social gatherings near you.

    If you have any questions or suggestions for MATI activities, please feel free to contact me at

    Wishing you a prosperous and happy new year,

    Joseph Wojowski
    MATI President

  • 11/23/2016 5:24 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Call for Proposals: 2017 Webinar Series

    MATI is pleased to announce the Research & Practice in Translation and Interpreting webinar series upcoming in 2017.

    Webinars in this series will explore how academic research and professional practices support working translators and interpreters.

    Interested presenters can submit abstracts until Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

    Please note that presenters can be researchers, graduate students, professionals, and administrators from anywhere in the U.S. or other countries.

    No travel is required to present. All web support will be provided.

    Collaborative presentations are also welcome.

    More information can be found on the MATI website.

    Questions regarding submissions should be addressed to MATI at

  • 11/23/2016 5:21 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca
    Going Back to School through ATA’s School Outreach Program

    By Meghan McCallum, MATI Director


    When was the last time you stepped inside a school? For some of us, it may have been a while. If you teach or have kids, perhaps you’re a regular at a local school. No matter how long it’s been, it’s time to get out those school supplies and take on a new assignment: School Outreach!


    ATA’s School Outreach Program encourages translators and interpreters to visit their local schools and talk to students about their exciting careers. With over ten years under its belt, the program has helped countless language professionals around the world make the trip back to school by providing presentation materials, speaking tips and information about how to schedule school visits. Ready-to-use presentations and activities can be downloaded directly from the ATA website and adapted for each specific visit.


    During School Outreach visits, translators and interpreters speak to students at all levels, emphasizing the benefits of foreign language study and outlining the specialized skills needed to become a translator or interpreter. Activities can be catered to all age levels and interests, from young children just starting a second language to students in specialized translation graduate programs.


    In recent years, School Outreach has even gone virtual thanks to modern technology. With videoconferencing programs such as Skype, translators and interpreters can virtually visit with students across the globe. All it takes is simple software skills and coordination with time zone differences—familiar territory for all of us!


    As an added incentive, the ATA School Outreach Program also holds an annual contest based on photo submissions from translators and interpreters who have made school visits. By submitting a winning shot of him/herself in the classroom, one person each year is awarded the grand prize of free registration to the ATA conference. Now that’s a big payoff! The winner also receives recognition at the awards presentation during the ATA conference and in the ATA Chronicle.


    To learn more about the School Outreach Program, access resource materials, read stories from previous school visits, and get details about the School Outreach Contest, visit


    Have you made a school visit recently to talk to students about translation and interpreting? Tell us about it! Send a message to School Outreach Program Coordinator Meghan McCallum at


  • 11/23/2016 5:09 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Translation Events in Madison, WI

    By Thaís Passos, MATI Director and Erin Woodard, MATI Member

    Translator and interpreter Margie Franzen recently coordinated two days of events celebrating translation in Madison, WI.

    On September 17, “Superheroic? Feats of Translation!” featured re-writing graphic novels, comic captions in different languages, and a translation slam. The day started with a workshop where kids learned how to write comic book captions in languages that use different writing systems like Hindi, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian, facilitated by language teachers from Madison-area high schools and language schools. The evening included a translation slam event, in which translators shared excerpts of Michael Chabon’s book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (originally written in English) translated from other languages back into English. Afterward, translators Daniel Youd (from Mandarin Chinese), Ben Kearney (from Dutch), and Fred Svensson (from Swedish) discussed how they conducted their translations and the impact that the translated texts had on the overall context of the book. An interesting discussion ensued, involving the entire audience.

    On September 29, the second T&T Open Mic event of this year was held in Madison. This fun get-together is meant for people to share readings in English translation. In the words of organizer Margie Franzen, it is “a friendly space for language-interested folks to gather and get ideas about what the great big world of translations has to offer.” The event is open to the public, and anyone may read or simply enjoy listening to the readings and discussing the topic of translation with the group. Readers choose whatever they want to read, so long as it’s a translation (into English). People are also encouraged to read anything they have translated themselves, published or unpublished. The next T&T Open Mic will likely be in February 2017. Stay tuned!

    Erin Woodard is a French into English translator with specialization in International Development, Life Sciences, and Sustainable Development.

    Thaís Passos is a English and Spanish into Portuguese translator with specialization in Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, Environment, and Sustainability.



  • 11/23/2016 5:06 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Beginner Linguists Find Useful Resources at UW-Madison Language Institute

    By Thaís Passos, MATI Director


    For those getting started or considering a career in translation or interpreting, the Language Institute ( and the College of Letters and Science of the University of Wisconsin-Madison can be a great resource. This fall, the Language Institute hosted a workshop series to help people learn how to gain experience, build expertise, and find work in these fields.


    The series of three workshops, called “Use Your Words: Careers in Translation and Interpreting”, was presented by UW-Madison alumni working as translators or interpreters. The first workshop, presented by MATI board member Amanda Bickel, focused on freelance translation. The second, led by Anne Plesh, manager of interpreter services for the Wisconsin region of SSM Health and Laura Puls, a medical interpreter at SSM Heath, addressed medical interpreting. Lynn Leazer, who has been working as a court interpreter for nearly 15 years, led a third workshop on legal interpreting.


    Another event fostering students’ exploration of their future language careers was the “International Career Connections: Alumni Mentoring”. On November 17, UW-Madison alumni with international experiences talked about their careers to inspire students planning their own. By networking with alumni in a broad range of career areas, students learned about their paths and glean advice for their own next steps. For more information, visit:

  • 11/23/2016 4:59 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Marian Greenfield on “Ramping up Your Freelance Business”

    By Thaís Passos, MATI Director

    In her presentation “Ramping up Your Freelance Business” at the 13th Annual MATI Conference, Marian Greenfield emphasized freelancers are business owners and must think like business owners.

    She talked about the importance of having a business plan to set earning goals, forecast required purchases, choose targeted specializations (or “verticals”), develop marketing strategies, set work hours, and, of course, to set prices.

    According to Marian, some differentiating factors that should help your potential clients decide to hire you instead of another translator/interpreter are: specialization in your language pairs and subject matter, keeping your language skills up-to-date by staying in close contact with all your languages, making use of top-notch research skills and resources, solving your clients’ problems by doing whatever it takes to get the job done well (including referring colleagues if you are not best qualified to do the job), using top-of-the-line hardware and software, and leveraging CAT tools to increase the quality of your translations.

    Greenfield reminded us to be more efficient by knowing our strengths and weaknesses and outsourcing tasks that others can do better, cheaper or faster than us, such as: accounting, bookkeeping, technology support, project management, sales, editing, formatting, and marketing.

    One of the highlights of the presentation was the importance of marketing effectively. Greenfield said that making use of virtual networking is crucial, but “having a face makes a huge difference”. Good examples of how to put our face out there are: networking in online communities, participating in professional associations, presenting seminars and webinars, attending trade shows, reaching out to chambers of commerce, having a good website, and volunteering in general.

    Greenfield’s final message was for us to focus on service and good client relations by maintaining a positive attitude and cultivating a healthy business atmosphere.


    Thaís Passos translates from English and Spanish into Brazilian Portuguese. She holds a Master of Arts in Latin American, Caribbean & Iberian Studies with a focus in Translation and a Master of Science in Agroecology, both from the University of Wisconsin. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Medicine from the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil.

  • 11/23/2016 4:55 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Anthony Perez, “Humanizing Machine Translation”

    By Abigail Wright


    Anthony Perez, Vice President of Global Sales at, gave a presentation at MATI 13 titled “Humanizing Machine Translation,” dedicated to clearing up misconceptions concerning Machine Translation (MT) and shedding light on how we human translators can make it work for us. Perez affirmed that while MT is here to stay, clients still want a human face, because “people buy from people.” While some translation jobs have been lost to MT, on the whole, demand for human translation has actually increased with the winds of rapid technological change.


    Perez dubbed 2016 the “Era of Mass Translation,” explaining that in any given minute, millions of posts appear online and billions of messages are sent across the globe. The majority of users of such top Internet properties such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo! are international. Smartphone use in Asia has skyrocketed. This has all come together to create a global “on-demand economy.” In a world of Snapchat, GrubHub, and Uber, people want translations instantly—just like everything else.


    In accordance with this demand, Perez explained, MT has evolved from a rules-based approach that generated translations based only on word-to-word matches and naturally required heavy human correction to its present statistics-based model. Current MT works with phrases instead of words, taking its cue from bilingual glossaries, translation memories, and feedback from its users. The future of MT, however, lies in a deep-learning, neural model based on the human brain itself. This model, which is still in development, relies on a main engine which processes an entire sentence, paragraph, or document, while a subnetwork processes source sentences, keywords, grammar, and word meaning.


    The goal, of course, is to create the best possible raw MT output. Post-editors use their knowledge base for everything from correcting minor punctuation and capitalization errors to retranslating whole words and expressions. The Translation Automation User Society (TAUS) advises post-editors to use all the raw MT they can while aiming for a semantically correct text, never adding or omitting anything, editing offensive or inappropriate content, and leaving their clients with no stylistic worries. Human translation is still necessary, Perez acknowledged, particularly for advertising, legal texts, contracts, marketing materials, and human resources documents.


    Perez closed out his presentation with a Wizard of Oz analogy and several pieces of advice for human translators in the age of MT. We can choose, he explained, to be the Scarecrow, carrying on as usual; the Cowardly Lion, skeptically (and hopelessly) wishing for MT to die; or Dorothy, pursuing opportunities and learning from the journey. To help make Dorothys out of us, Perez advised the following courses of action: move fast, create new business models around MT, be open to learning new platforms, and give feedback on MT quality to language service providers to help improve MT engines. We should also invest in networking, find new ways to make money, and above all, laugh, because “life is short.”


    Abigail Wright is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator. She is a 2016 graduate of the Master of Arts in Translation and Interpreting program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and recently started her own company, Wright Translations, LLC. She has been a MATI member since 2015.

  • 11/23/2016 4:53 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Martin Mirza, “Contract Linguists Using Language Proficiency and Cultural Expertise in the FBI”

    By Abigail Wright


    Closing out the 13th Annual MATI Conference was Martin Mirza, Supervisory Foreign Language Program Coordinator at the FBI. Mirza gave an overview of the role of contract linguists in the FBI and the rigorous selection process to become one.


    The first major expansion in the FBI’s contract linguist hiring came at the end of the Cold War, when various countries that had conducted government business in Russian while part of the USSR promptly reverted to their own native languages, thus increasing the need for linguists in those languages. Since 9/11, the Bureau has seen a second revolution in language needs, and it now employs hundreds of linguists who work in the various dialects of Arabic and the various languages of Afghanistan, among others.


    Mirza explained that contract linguists work on a part-time, as-needed basis, with the possibility of eventually becoming full-time “language analysts.” Like FBI agents, their mission is to defend the USA. Language analysts work on the 6th floor of the FBI, which Mirza referred to as the “Tower of Babel,” characterized by the sounds of many different languages and the fragrances of various cuisines.


    Mirza enumerated the manifold duties of an FBI contract linguist: analyzing and translating audio, interpreting crucial suspect interviews, testifying as to the accuracy of information in investigations, monitoring live wiretaps, and providing agents with cultural knowledge based on their lived experience. Mirza regretted he could give no examples, but promised that, should any audience members join the FBI, they would be rewarded with many. He did relate one particular challenge contract linguists face, which is that FBI agents sometimes lack the cultural knowledge needed to even identify the language for which they require assistance. For example, Arabic linguists have been summoned to lend their expertise, only to discover that the language the subjects are speaking is actually Farsi.


    The requirements to be an FBI contract linguist are stringent. According to Mirza, they are lucky if three out of every 100 candidates they evaluate prove to be suitable. To serve in this position, one must be a US citizen, have lived in the US for three of the last five years (unless employed by the US government overseas), and be willing to undergo language proficiency testing and a background check. Immediate disqualifiers include a felony conviction, default on a government-backed student loan, drug test failure, drug use, low language proficiency, limited availability of work in the applicant’s language, and an unwillingness to travel and work a minimum of 30 hours a week.


    While contract linguists are assigned to one office, they may have to travel to another to assist there, particularly if their language or dialect is scarce in that region. Mirza gave the examples of Chicago, which has a greater number of Iraqi Arabic linguists, and Boston, which has more Lebanese Arabic linguists. They assist each other regularly.


    The application process is intense and costs the FBI approximately $50,000 per applicant. With at best only three successful applications out of every 100, Mirza joked, “Is it any wonder why we don't have money?” Further complicating matters, the process can take years, at the end of which, even if a candidate is offered work, he or she may not still be free to accept it. Mirza himself waited three years for hiring approval.


    Applicants who make it through the process and accept the offer receive six months of training, including a two-week class at Quantico and, if needed, further language instruction to improve the linguist’s Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) conversation level. When dual citizens become FBI contract linguists–or join the FBI in any position–they are required to surrender their non-US passports to the FBI for the duration of their employment.


    Upon Mirza’s conclusion, the audience was immediately full of questions, and if the long line surrounding him at the post-conference reception was any indication, also full of aspirations. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, we may see familiar faces at the FBI table at ATA.


    Abigail Wright is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator. She is a 2016 graduate of the Master of Arts in Translation and Interpreting program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and recently started her own company, Wright Translations, LLC. She has been a MATI member since 2015.


  • 11/23/2016 4:50 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

    Dr. Enrica Ardemagni, “The Changing Interpreting Landscape in the United States”

    By Abigail Wright


    For the third session of the 13th Annual MATI Conference, we had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Enrica Ardemagni, interpreter, translator, and professor emeritus at Indiana University and Purdue University. Dr. Ardemagni is a founding member and past president of MATI, and current president of the National Council on Interpreters in Health Care (NCIHC). Dr. Ardemagni asked her audience to make scorecards and to assign ourselves points throughout her presentation, based on our awareness of information she would highlight. In a clear illustration of the need for such highlighting, the best score in the room was 16 points...out of a possible 30.


    Dr. Ardemagni described the former interpreting landscape as “dreary,” citing deficiencies in areas of consumer knowledge, education and training, industry standards, payment standards, and, in the case of less commonly spoken languages, employability. She asserted that there has, however, been more progress in these areas than is generally assumed.


    Historically, these problems have manifested themselves in the use of ad hoc interpreters, who often aren’t really interpreters at all, but a patient or client’s friends or family, or perhaps students whose training remains woefully incomplete. This is the result of, among other things, a lack of hiring criteria and poor performance measurement systems. If, for example, patient satisfaction surveys are the only measure, they can be misleading. A patient will certainly rate his or her Spanish-speaking brother highly, but that does not mean he is actually a good interpreter. This lack of standardization and accountability could lead, and has led, to disastrous consequences, from patient deaths to incorrect verdicts and inappropriate sentencing in court.


    However, as Dr. Ardemagni explained, there has been improvement, with both external regulation and internal professionalization bringing slow but certain change. External regulation has come in the form of legislation, beginning with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to a 2004 mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that requires patients of limited English proficiency to be notified of available interpreters, to 2010’s landmark Affordable Care Act.


    Within the profession, improvements have come in the form of codes of ethics, standards of practice, an increase in curricula and training programs, and the creation of numerous organizations: the American Translators Association (ATA), the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), the aforementioned NCIHC, the Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association and the International Medical Interpreters Association (MMIA and IMIA), the California Healthcare Interpreting Association (CHIA), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS), the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), Federal Court Interpreter Certification (FCIC), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), National Interpreter Certification (NIC), the newly created Center for the Assessment of Sign Language Interpretation (CASLI), and the Court Interpreter Training Institute (CITI).


    For each of these organizations, Dr. Ardemagni provided first the abbreviation or acronym, then instructed audience members who knew the full name to assign themselves one point. Those who were members of the associations and/or certified by them earned an additional point for this. Naturally, with so much variation and specialization, no one was going to earn that additional point for all of them, but now, thanks to Dr. Ardemagni, individual audience members of greatly varying specialties and niches all have a better idea of where to go to receive their proper qualifications and find their community.


    Abigail Wright is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator. She is a 2016 graduate of the Master of Arts in Translation and Interpreting program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and recently started her own company, Wright Translations, LLC. She has been a MATI member since 2015.


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