New Spanish Course Translates into Bilingual Community Experiences

Spanish and Italian department lecturer Patricia Gonzalez's new course--Court Interpretation: English/Spanish--which debuts this semester, is training fifteen students in interpreting and oral translation skills through practice in the classroom, lab, and community.

"Bilingual and bicultural students have been clamoring for and need a way to improve and use their Spanish beyond literature studies," Gonzalez explains. "There are many jobs which require better spoken Spanish than they've learned at home. This class offers them the opportunity to be fully conscious of how the two languages function, provides massive improvements to their vocabulary, and exposes them to Spanish from regions and cultures beyond their own. Spanish 210 is going to provide them with the tools to use and think about two languages in a professional context." Gonzalez, who also works as a certified court interpreter, was able to make arrangements for this community-based learning course through her professional contacts in the court system.

Starting this week, groups of three students will travel every morning to Holyoke to work in the district court. They will be closely supervised as they provide bilingual services to Spanish-speaking clients in the court's probation department. Students will help in the reception area, answer phones, and assist the department clerks with clients as well as those in the Victim Witness Program. Later in the semester, they will observe professional interpreters working in court.

On campus, students are already at work learning the art and science of interpretation and shaping their own interpreting techniques. "We're watching videotapes of court procedures, and videotaping and tape recording ourselves doing simultaneous translation exercises," says Milena Uribe '98. "We're working on speed and concentration as well as accuracy, which is the interpreter's most important job."

Uribe, a Colombian-born psychology and Spanish major who moved to the U.S. at age four, is very excited by this unique opportunity. "I'll be working on vocabulary and technique and learning the interpreter's code of conduct and ethics at the same time that we provide something benefiting Holyoke District Court and its clients." Uribe also sees Gonzalez as a role model. "I look to her as a teacher, a professional woman, and as a woman who shares a background similar to mine." California-born Sylvia Roldan '00, of Ecuadorian and Guatemalan heritage, is very interested in languages and hopes "to gain interpreting skills, memory enhancement, and vocabulary expansion" from the course. An international relations major, she sees enhancing her language skills as a useful step toward her career goal of teaching and working abroad.