Interview Transcript: Desirée Avilés

Interview in English

The following text is a transcription of spoken speech. Spoken speech has certain features absent from written speech (pauses, repetitions, false starts, etc.). While we have tried to accurately transcribe the interview, there will be very slight differences between speech and text. 

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Janna Mack (J)

Desirée Avilés (DA)

J: Hello and welcome to another episode of the interview series made in collaboration with TermCoord, the European Parliament’s Terminology Coordination Unit and the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, in Spain. My name is Janna and every week I interview students and graduates of the Translation and Interpreting programme. The interviews are in either English or German.

Today I am here with Desirée Avilés. Desirée is 22 years old and she is a translation and interpreting student at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, which is also her hometown. She is studying for a 5-year degree in Translation and Interpreting in English and French and Humanities and she is currently in her last year of studies. It was while at university that she discovered her passion for sign language, and she has already gained some experience working in this field. She also presides over the University’s Association for Sign Language Studies, which aims to promote the visibility and diffusion of sign languages and supports the deaf community.

Thank you so much for being here today.

DA: Hi, I’m happy to be here.

J: Why did you decide to study translation and interpreting and why did you choose English and French?

DA: Since before starting University it was clear to me that I wanted to study some languages in the future, not only because of the job opportunities and to increase my job options, but specially because I really enjoy learning languages. I had studied English and French at secondary school and I wanted to continue with my languages training, but in a deeper way from then on. That’s why I decided to study translation and interpreting at university. I thought it would be a good opportunity to improve my language level, but also to learn about a field of study and prepare myself for a job that I find really interesting. My university offers several languages to study, but I chose English and French because I had already a little knowledge of both languages since I had studied them at school. I decided to take the opportunity to improve both languages and learn other languages in the future. It would have been a pity if I had forgotten what I knew of English and French.

J: And how was the experience studying translation?

DA: So far, my experience studying translation has been very rewarding. I must admit that, as well as many other people, I wasn’t totally aware of the difficulty that implies translation work. It is a truly complex activity, for it requires not only to be fluent in both the original language and the target language, but it is also necessary to put into practice several skills and it is essential also to know both the original culture and the target culture in order to elaborate a high quality translation. Documentation is very important too, and because of the different topics that appear in translation, translators gain a lot of cultural knowledge. It was a big surprise for me, not only the wide range of fields that exist in translation, but also the diversity of factors that determine a translation: for example, the target public, its purpose, the characteristics of each culture… I would like to quote one sentence that I read a little while ago: “A translation is never finished, but left.” Translations are determined by so many factors and it exists a broad range of possible results. Perfect translation doesn’t exist. That is why it is so interesting when we share our translations in class. We never stop learning either in the academic or the work world, and this is a key principle in translation.

J: Ok great. I definitely agree with you and I would say that people who don’t know a lot about professional translation can have a tendency to underestimate the different skillsets that translators have to combine and the variety of different factors that influence a translation.

And I also really like the quote you chose which I’m just going to repeat here: “a translation is never finished, but left” and that perfect translations don’t really exist. I was also told that if you give a text to five different translators to translate, you will most likely end up with five different translations.

J: Which field in translation do you like the most?

DA: All the fields of translation have appeal and all them present a challenge due to their characteristics at the same time. I am very interest in humanistic translation, in particular literary translation. I am studying a 5-year degree in Translation and Interpreting and Humanities, for I feel a great vocation for human sciences. Humanistic translation allows me to combine my passion for both humanities and translation. Audio-visual and localization, especially of videogames, appeal to me too. Another field of translation that I have discovered recently in class is transcreation. Actually, transcreation has always been present in translation, because texts are usually adapted to the target culture, but it has become especially relevant and notorious as concept very recently. The fields of translation that attract me the most are those in which I can use imagination and obtain a more free, original or personal translation. I am also very interested in the role of accessibility in translation, like subtitling or audio-description. We have the responsibility of making life easier for those who need it and translation is a way to achieve a more equal society.

J: So, you mentioned literary translation, audiovisual translation and localisation, as well as transcreation. Just to repeat to listeners who may not know what transcreation is, it’s a type of translation which aims to maintain the intent and style of the source text and which aims to evoke the same emotions in the target audience as the source text. Transcreations require that translators have a high degree of creativity and knowledge of the source culture.

And also, as someone like you, who is passionate about sign language I think it’s not surprising that you are interested in accessibility in translation, which is really very important.

And the next question is probably a question that you’ve been asked before: what do you think about machine translation?

DA: Actually, I believe that machine translation can be useful sometimes when someone who doesn’t know a language wants to understand a text of very low difficulty in a very short amount of time. However, a machine will never be able to replace a human being. Translation is a job that requires a mind that takes the necessary decisions every time.

J: Yes, and I think what you just said fits well with what you mentioned before, which is that translation is a very complex field with many different determining factors and influences, and machine translation is not yet able to navigate all those different factors and influences.

What do you think about specialized translation? Do you have experience with it?

DA: I believe that specialized translation training is very important, because so many texts have a high level of difficulty. It obviously demands an exhaustive process of documentation, but the resources and competences that can be acquired with academic training are really useful and will help you to obtain an optimal result. We have practised in class specialized translation in several fields such as medical, technical, juridical or sworn translation, and we have improved our work notably. Although I don’t think that we can be considered specialized translators yet, because in my opinion we need more experience, we do have faced specialized texts.

J: If you are still a student and coming into contact with different specialised fields is important for you to get to know where your strengths and where your interests lie.

What characteristics do you think should a specialized translator have? Can you imagine being a specialized translator yourself?

DA: In my opinion, it is not essential to have an extensive knowledge about its field of work, for there are texts so different that it is impossible to manage without documentation. I think, what is really important for a specialized translator is to know what resources are useful for each translation and will help to elaborate a high-quality translation in the shortest amount of time. Obviously, experience can be of great help, because an experienced translator will have faced many translation problems that would pose a challenge for an inexperienced one. However, I think to have academic training makes translation work much easier.

J: And since you have mentioned the use of resources: what terminology resources do you use? Do you know IATE?

DA: Most of the terminology resources I use are online and I have discovered them during the degree. Indeed, one of the resources I’ve been using the most lately has been IATE. As it includes all terminology databases created within European Union agencies. Another similar one is UNTERM, created by the United Nations, or the UNESCO Thesaurus. These terminology resources are really helpful as they belong to official institutions. Moreover, I find the language portal of Microsoft especially useful for software translation in any languages. The multilingual collection of proverbs from Centro Virtual Cervantes is an interesting tool to search equivalent proverbs in each language and the meaning of them. For medical translation, I usually use Cosnautas, or the Dictionnare de l’Académie de Médecine or Feneis. Other ressources are the OAS searchable trade glossaries and le Dictionnaire analytique de la distribution.

J: Yes so I can see that you are aware of the reliability of the resources that you use and I think it’s a good strategy to concentrate on those resources which have been produced by official international and national institutions.

The next question I think you already answered a bit previously, but I’m just going to ask you explicitly:

Do you think that it’s important to know the culture of the target language in order to be able translate a text well?

DA: As I said, it is fundamental that translators know the original and target languages so they can make the right decisions in order to elaborate a good translation. And the language knowledge includes cultural notions and abilities as well.

J: And now, because you do sign language interpreting, I wanted to ask you:

why did you decide to study sign language? What have you discovered during this process?

DA: I decided to study sign language because I find it fascinating and I believe that they have an important role in society. Sign languages are an important vehicle for communication to deaf people, that are a social group that suffers communication difficulties which affect their daily life. As a different group from the imposed normativity, deaf people are disfavored in different spheres of society. This happens due mainly to the lack of knowledge and awareness of the difficulties deaf people confront in their everyday life. Society is adapted to hearing people because most of us are, but deaf people have difficulties to communicate in it, which leads them to social isolation. They also have problems to access to essential rights such as education or healthcare. Sign language gives them the possibility to have equal opportunities and a dignified life. However, sign language faces equality lack as well as deaf people. It is not considered at the same level as oral languages, because oral languages are used by hearing people that are a privileged group. Sign languages are usually denigrated by considering it pure mimicry or a transposition of oral language. But in fact, sign languages have experimented their own development and have their own syntax, vocabulary… like any other official language and is worthy of the study. Unfortunately, Sign Language it is not imparted in most of universities, so whoever wants to learn this language has to pay a private academy or start a degree that has Sign Language subjects. For this reason, two years ago I decided to create a channel on YouTube to share what I had learnt in class. I strongly believe that Sign Language must be accessible to anybody who wants to study it, so I thought it would be a good idea to explain its grammar, vocabulary and syntax in a website that can reach so many people as YouTube. Its content comes from the subjects I’ve studied, but no one has to pay for it.

J: Thank you for sharing and especially for underlining the difficulties that people who are deaf or hard of hearing face and the importance that sign language has in building a more equal society for everyone. And thank you also for sharing some of your insight into the characteristics of sign language, I think this was very interesting and some things that you said, I think not many people know, for example, that sign language has its own vocabulary and syntax just like any other spoken language.

Could you tell us the name of your YouTube channel so that people who are interested in sign language can have a look at it?

DA: My YouTube channel is “LSE para todos.”  

J: Can you tell us about your experience as sign language interpreter? Is interpreting into sign language especially difficult in comparison to spoken languages?

I’m still in my last year of degree, but I do have some work experience as interpreter thanks to the Spanish Sign Language subjects that I’ve taken and to my role as a boarder. The knowledge that I’ve built while studying these subjects and researching as a boarder has given me the opportunity to interpret from oral Spanish to Spanish Sign Language. I’ve interpreted many lessons since some teacher from the area of sociology at my university were interested in make their classes more accessible. I’ve also collaborated with a scout group, which promotes positive social values, interpreting the songs they sang so their messages could reach deaf people. Next month I will be working as interpreter in seminar focussed on oenology at university. I think we must normalize the presence of interpreters in academic acts. Besides, I’ll collaborate in the interpreting of the catalogue of a Spanish water supply company. All digitalized information should be interpreted into sign language so deaf people can access this information with greater ease.

The work of a sign language interpreter is much more complex and challenging than a big part of society thinks. It is necessary, as in any interpreting in any languages, to have a great command of sign language in order to interpret automatically and without mistakes, regardless of the type of interpreting. Moreover, it is fundamental to know deaf culture well, so the meaning of the original text isn’t lost. As it happens when we interpret from any oral language to another one, there are idioms, concepts or cultural features that don’t exist in sign languages or that deaf people don’t understand. Therefore, we have to adapt them. Deafness isn’t a disease, but it is an essential part of the deaf person’s identity. As a group of speakers that uses mainly a language to communicate, deaf people have developed shared customs and values that have become tradition. After all, a deaf person is like a foreigner when it comes to interpreting a text from an oral language into a sign language. In order to make a good interpretation, a sign language interpreter has to consider the distinctive features of deaf culture as any interpreter would do with any other language. Besides, it is not only important for sign language interpreters so they can do good work, but it is also fundamental that hearing people learn about deaf culture in order to understand better the complexity that implies being a deaf person and that deafness is part of their identity.

J: Yes, you actually already have quite a lot of experience in sign language interpreting and you do a lot of work to make a difference for the deaf community.

I think it’s very important what you said and I have nothing to add so I’m just going to repeat again: deafness is not a disease, but it is an essential part of the deaf person’s identity. Just as a community of speakers develops their spoken language, the deaf community has developed shared customs and values. In that sense, like you said before, sign language needs to be treated like a foreign language, not like a lesser form of communication.

Now I’m going to ask you a few questions at once, but please feel free to just take them one at a time.

What do you think, how can we transmit a better awareness of deaf culture? How can we achieve better communication accessibility for people with disabilities? What problems can you see? Do you think that the EU can help in any way?

DA: In my opinion, normalization goes hand in hand with visibility. Both are usually preceded by a raising of awareness. Each type of disadvantage or even discrimination is frequently supported by ignorance and lack of knowledge of someone else’s circumstances. It is no coincidence that the number of deaf students at university is so low. In fact, the dropout rate among deaf people is much higher than among hearing people because throughout the different educational stages they don’t receive a proper education adapted to their needs. Sometimes they are diagnosed very late when they have already experienced an educational delay, some of them don’t receive an appropriate adaptation even after the diagnostic or administrations don’t provide educational centres with interpreters when they demand them. As a result, deaf students don’t receive a high-quality formation and tend to drop out of school. However, there are lots more fields in which deaf people have difficulties to live a normal life. Several daily actions such as seeing the doctor or going to a cinema are activities that deaf people can’t do with the same facilities as us. That’s why it is so necessary to spread how important sign languages are to integrate deaf people and achieve a more inclusive society.

For example, our university has a student association focused on sign language studies that holds activities to spread sign languages. We organised an event that included conferences, table discussions and workshops to approach sign language to university community. Several associations and organisations conformed by deaf people were invited, so this event was in the end a meeting point where hearing and deaf communities interacted. Workshops were a very satisfactory experience, as each member of our association prepared activities focused on different aspects of sing languages. That time, I talked about the diversity of sign languages. Sign language isn’t an international language, as there exists a wide variety of them: American Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, Catalonian Sign Language… As well as oral languages, sign languages have emerged in different places and developed. It was interesting to find out most people think sign language is just a single language and I taught them some signs in different languages. We also organise each year a workshop directed towards Erasmus students, so sign language can reach other countries.

There is an increasingly social awareness, but we still have a long way to go. Institutions such as the European Union can be of great help because of their influence and power, since they could be a good example and give visibility to sign languages through awareness-raising campaigns and making them part of their official acts. Our association has taken action whenever we noticed that an injustice was perpetrated against deaf people: some years ago, a university didn’t want to give the university degree to a deaf student because she didn’t have an English certificate because she couldn’t do the listening exam being deaf. We made a statement reporting this injustice and fortunately, in the end this student got her university degree.  We have also talked on a radio program about sign languages and the important role that associations have for its spread. Another important task could be propitiating the conversion of sign languages into official languages in each country, for this would increase their presence in society and drive the inclusion of sign languages in the early educative system. I imagine that children could really enjoy learning that language because it is very creative and intuitive, it can be fun for them and it would help them better understand people with disabilities and in other unfavorable situations.

J: Thank you very much, I really think that the insight you have into sign language and the deaf community is really important. Thank you for sharing it. Many people are just not aware of the hardships people who are deaf and hard of hearing face in their lives. As a result, there are many misconceptions, for example, people may not know that there are many different sign languages, like you just said, and there is a lack of accessibility. Like your example has shown, as a consequence many people who are deaf face injustice, like the student who almost could not graduate because she couldn’t take a listening exam.  

And I agree with your point that sign language could and should be included more in formal education, like you said before, most people when they want to learn sign language they mostly have to sign up for classes somewhere outside of their regular schooling and university courses.

Thank you again for sharing this.

To round up, I have two more questions about your personal expectations and experiences:

What do you think about translation and/or interpreting job opportunities?

DA: I don’t have professional experience in this field yet, so all I know about it comes from what my teachers and some classmates that have already finished their degree have told me. I have also read about the labour trajectory of other professionals in social networks and in the internet. As far as I’m concerned, young people are those who face more difficulties when it comes to gaining a foothold in the market, as happens in most of jobs. Translation companies and agencies require previous experience frequently and some of them offer unremunerated training. Besides, working as a freelance may be a little bit complicated at first because it is not easy to find the same number of clients as an experienced translator due to one’s lack of experience. In any case, I also hope to find my niche in the job market.

J: Has there been any personal experience that has helped you improve as a translator, interpreter or as a person?

Studying sign languages at university has helped me to improve as a person. In these subjects we had to work in groups and develop a project involving sign languages and the deaf community. The objective was to work outside university by holding workshop, visiting schools, signing songs and videos, cooperating with deaf associations, … We shared what we had learned with other people and contributed to society by spreading sign language. At the same time, it gave us the opportunity to learn in a different way from how we usually learn at university. We didn’t limit ourselves to reflect from a theorical point of view, but we did discover the status of sign language in society and how deaf people live in a more precise and real way. I improved as a professional but also as a person.

J: And it is all for a very worthwhile cause. Ok, thank you so much for having been here today and thank you especially for sharing your knowledge with me today. I’m very impressed with all the work you have done for the deaf community and I am certain that anyone who is listening could learn a lot from what you have said today.

Before we end, is there anything you wanted to say?

DA: I just want to say thank for the opportunity and to encourage people to study translation and of course sign language because it makes us better people

J: Today I was here with Desirée Avilés, final year student in English and French translation and interpreting and Humanities and president of Pablo de Olavide University’s Association for Sign Language Studies.