ATA Members and the CARES Act

Update: ATA Supports Senate Bill 3612

Notice to PPP Recipients: Business Expenses Paid with PPP Funds May Not Be Deductible

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-32 to provide guidance on the deductibility of business expenses for income tax purposes with respect to expenses that are paid by a covered loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The Notice clarifies that, since the amount of a PPP loan that is forgiven is nontaxable income, under section 265 (a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, otherwise allowable deductions are not allowed if the deduction is allocable to tax-exempt income (i.e., prevents a double tax benefit).

Normally, forgiven debt results in taxable income as the release from repayment of a legally binding debt obligation results in a financial benefit that should be taxed. The Notice cites existing case law, and the lack of provisions to the contrary in the CARES Act, to justify its guidance.

While it’s logical that the IRS would not grant a dual benefit (i.e., nontaxable income and tax-deductible expenses), some members of Congress disapprove of the IRS’s decision. Senator John Cornyn has sponsored the Small Business Expense Protection Act, which would clarify that business expenses paid with forgiven PPP loans would be tax-deductible.

ATA members who have received PPP funds should keep careful track of the uses for which such funds are used. Even if the proposed relief is approved by Congress, recipients must be able to demonstrate to the Small Business Association (SBA) that the loan proceeds were used for covered expenses during the covered period. (There is also discussion in Congress about amending this provision of the CARES Act by extending the covered period and/or revising the SBA rule on the proportion of the loan proceeds that must be used for payroll (which is not in the CARES Act).

ATA members are encouraged to contact their congressional representatives and senators in support of the Small Business Expense Protection Act.

Ted R. Wozniak
ATA President


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. It’s intended to mitigate the impact of the nationwide economic shutdown.

The provisions that are pertinent to ATA members are summarized below for your information. As with all such legislation, some of the implementation details must still be worked out by the relevant agencies.

The CARES Act is 880 pages long and contains many more provisions than can be covered here. The focus below is on the provisions that are most likely to affect ATA members, both individual and corporate.

This overview is for information only and does not constitute business, financial, or legal advice. You should consult with an accountant, financial advisor, or the appropriate federal or state authority on your eligibility for any of these relief measures before making concrete decisions.

But don’t delay too long. It’s not inconceivable that demand for some of these funds, such as Small Business Administration loans, may be rapid and strong.

Major Provisions of Interest to ATA Members

  • The tax credits should apply to most of our individual members; top earners, or those with significant other income, not so much.
  • The social security tax deferrals will help all members a bit.
  • The unemployment provisions will help anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has had to care for a stricken family member.
  • The student loan deferrals will help members with such loans.
  • The loans will help company owners, including single-person companies who pay themselves a salary, and independent contractors.
  • There is also the option for an employer, including an owner/employee, to pay up to $5,250 in 2020 on an employee’s student loan, with the payment being tax-free to the employee and the total payment going to principal.

Unemployment Insurance: Beneficiaries will receive an additional $600 per week for up to four months. Benefits are extended to self-employed workers and independent contractors.

  • Check with your state unemployment benefits agency for details on how to apply. This does not apply to individuals who have the ability to telework with pay or individuals receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.

Recovery Rebate: Provides a $1,200 refundable tax credit for individuals ($2,400 for joint filers), plus $500 per child. The rebate is not taxable income as it’s a credit against tax liability and is refundable for taxpayers with no tax liability.

  • Income phases out starting at $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint filers.
  • The amount of the rebate will be recalculated based on 2020 income when 2020 tax returns are filed. Current payments will be based on 2019 tax returns (or 2018 returns if 2019 returns have not yet been filed).
  • If the calculation in 2020 results in an underpayment, the taxpayer can claim the difference on their 2020 tax return. Overpayments will (probably) be forgiven (taxpayers will not be required to pay it back).

Charitable Deductions: Creates a $300 “above the line” deduction for cash contributions to certain charities for taxpayers using the standard deduction. For itemizers, contributions may be temporarily deducted up to 100% of adjusted gross income, with any excess carried over to the next five years.

IRA Withdrawals: Waves the 10% early withdrawal penalty on certain retirement account distributions for taxpayers facing virus-related challenges.

  • The waiver only applies if the taxpayer meets specified virus-related conditions. The withdrawals are still subject to regular income taxes but may be spread out over a three-year period. Amounts withdrawn may be repaid without regard to the annual cap on contributions.

Student Loans: Payments and interest on all federal loans held by the Department of Education are suspended until September 30, 2020. This allows an employer to pay up to $5,250 in 2020 on an employee’s student loan debt, with the payments being tax-free to the employee.

  • Does not apply to Federal Family Education Loans and Perkins federal loans or loans that are not held by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Payments made during this period should be counted in full as principal repayments, resulting in a faster reduction of the principal balance and lower interest costs.

Delayed Payment of Employer Payroll Tax and Self-Employment Tax:

  • The employer share of the 6.2% Social Security tax due through December 31, 2020 can be paid on December 31, 2021 (50%) and December 31, 2022 (50%).
  • Self-employed taxpayers can defer paying 50% of the self-employment tax due through the end of 2020 until the end of 2021 (25%) and 2022 (25%).
  • Not available to businesses receiving forgiveness of a payroll protection loan.

Changes to Net Operating Loss Rules: Temporarily reverses the changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on loss carrybacks and carryforwards.

  • Losses from 2018, 2019, and 2020 may be carried back for up to five years. Taxpayer may forgo the carryback and carry the loss forward instead.
  • Losses carried forward to 2019 and 2020 will be permitted to offset 100% of taxable income, instead of 80% as under TCJA.

Small Business Loans (Paycheck Protection Loans) for Certain Small Businesses, Including Self-Employed Individuals During the Period from February 15 to June 30, 2020:

  • May be eligible to obtain loans to cover payroll, group health benefits, employee salaries and other compensation, interest on mortgages, rent, utilities, and interest on other debt obligations previously incurred.
  • “Payroll” includes wages, commissions, salary, or similar compensation to an employee or independent contractor.
  • A separate section allows a portion of these loans to be forgiven tax free.

Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Grants of Up to $10,000 for Small Businesses, Nonprofits, Independent Contractors, and Self-Employed Individuals:

  • Similar to the small business loans above, the interest rate on these loans is 3.75%. They are repayable over a period of up to 30 years. Loan applicants may apply for an advance of up to $10,000, which need not be repaid if the loan is not granted.

Employee Retention Credit: Creates a one-year credit against the employer’s 6.2% share of Social Security payroll taxes for businesses that were forced to suspend or close operations due to the pandemic but continue to pay their employees during the shutdown.

Businesses are eligible if:

  • Operations were fully or partially suspended during any calendar quarter in 2020 due to orders from a government authority as a result of the pandemic, or​
  • Business remained open but gross receipts during any quarter in 2020 were less than 50% of what they were in the same quarter in 2019.

To read the full text of the CARES Act, visit:

We Are a Community—Share and Connect

COVID-19 has disrupted the translation and interpreting marketplace in ways we could not have imagined a few months ago. This is going to be a real challenge.

As an ATA member, you don’t have to go it alone. Please do not hesitate to let your association know how it can support you in your professional life.

Questions? Need More Information?

ATA staff are available 9:00 to 5:00 EDT! Call us at +1-703-683-6100, extension 3001, or email Need to get in touch with someone about membership? Send an email to Trish Boward at

ATA’s Statement on California Senate Bill 900 Amending AB 5

Update: California Senate Labor Committee Shelves SB 900

California’s Senate Bill 900, an amendment which would have exempted specified translators and interpreters from the ABC test under the state’s Assembly Bill 5, was shelved by the Senate Labor Committee on May 14.

The Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC) stated that the withdrawal of the bill “… reinforces how little lawmakers know about and appreciate the work of translators and interpreters, even as they use the profession to do their work (interpreting at COVID-19 briefings and events) and keep their jobs (translation of ballots and voting info).” Click here to read CoPTIC’s comments on Twitter.

California Senate Bill SB 9001 creates an exemption for the relationship between a “service provider that provides . . . certified interpretation or translation services” and a “referral agency” in the application of the ABC test under AB 5. In its place, SB 900 mandates the application of the multifactor Borello test.2

While SB 900 is an improvement on the status quo under AB 5, there are several issues of varying degrees of importance from ATA’s perspective that should be addressed and resolved before ATA can fully support the bill.

Positive Aspects of SB 900

  • Exempts many translators and interpreters (T&I) from application of the ABC test, thus allowing their classification as independent contractors.
  • Expressly includes sole proprietors as a permissible business entity for a service provider.
  • Expressly recognizes ATA as one of several professional associations for purposes of SB 900.

Areas in SB 900 that Need Revision, Improvement, or Clarification

  • Exemption under referral agency rather than professional services

Translation and interpretation services would be included in Section 2781 of the California Labor Code, which addresses relationships between service providers and “referral agencies,” including companies connecting service providers for minor home repair, home cleaning, errands, pet sitting, picture hanging, etc.

As highly-educated and experienced professionals, translators and interpreters should be included under Section 2777, which deals with “professional services.”

This characterization of the role of language services companies and agencies (LSCs) as mere “referral agencies” flies in the face of reality. Additional services, such as project management, editing, and proofreading, are essential components to the quality provision of T&I services. The overwhelming majority of LSCs provide other value-added services to the end client, such as desktop publishing and localization in addition to any “matching of” translators and interpreters with end clients.

  • Delivery in one’s own name

Section 2781 (a) (4) will be extremely problematic from the LSC perspective in that it requires the service provider (translator or interpreter) to deliver services to the (end) client under their own name, and not under the name of the LSC. This, too, flies in the face of reality as many LSCs shield the names of translators and interpreters to prevent losing hard-earned business. While some may argue this may be desirable, it should not be a prerequisite for classification as an independent contractor.

  • Meaning error?

Section 2781 (b) (3), which specifies the type of service providers for which the referral agency acts as a broker, uses the phrase “certified interpretation or translation services.” It is currently unknown if “non-certified” T&I services, which comprise the vast majority of T&I services, would also be covered by SB 900. This appears to be a drafting error: the services provided in our field are not certified, but rather the actual people providing the services are sometimes certified.

The use of the term “certified,” be it in reference to the service or the service provider, entails a number of problems that have long been issues in the T&I profession.

  • Certification

Section 2775 (b) (7) states “Certified interpretation or translation services means a person who…” and then lists several organizations of which the service provider must be a member in good standing, or which has provided the service provider with a certification or credential.

Aside from the issue about people, and not “services,” being certified, as previously mentioned, the list omits existing professional T&I credentials that should legitimately be included. Using the word “certified” also may create unintended consequences for practitioners of our profession.

Summary and Call to Action

While still a work in progress, SB 900 is an acceptable starting point for obtaining the desired exemption for translators and interpreters from the ABC test under AB 5.

California translators and interpreters should contact their state legislators3 and demand that the problems outlined above be fixed. ATA also encourages all translators and interpreters to continue to support the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California4 in its efforts to improve the language of this bill.

ATA Position Statements and Updates on AB 5

ATA Position on California Assembly Bill 5

ATA Statement on AB 5 and Mandatory Employee Classification

Take Action: Download ATA Template on Mandatory Employee Classification Legislation

Take Action: What Can I Do about Mandatory Employee Classification Legislation in My State?

ATA Statement on California SB 875 (Exemption to AB 5 for Translators and Interpreters)

ATA Podcast Episode 42: California Assembly Bill 5: What Now? with Ted Wozniak, Lorena Ortiz Schneider, and Marion Rhodes

Wozniak, Ted. “AB 5: It’s Not Just in California,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 2,

Additional Resources

Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California

Joint National Committee for Languages

  1. California Senate Bill SB 900,
  2. To find out more about the ABC test and Borello test, see “Independent Contractor versus Employee” on the State of California Department of Industrial Relations website,
  3. Find Your California Representative,
  4. Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California,

Marketing Services during a Pandemic and Economic Crisis: Why You Should Do It and How to Get It Right

There’s a way to market your business and not be salesy. There’s a way to market your business and still be compassionate. There’s a way to market your business and serve your clients where they are right now.

Lately, you may be asking yourself, “How do I market my translation or interpreting services during a global health and economic crisis?” or “Should I be marketing at all?” You’re not alone. This question has landed in my inbox so many times during the past few weeks from colleagues asking what they should do.

How you decide to market your business during the COVID-19 pandemic is a very personal decision. You may be of the mindset that outbound marketing (actively marketing by sending your marketing message to clients) is inappropriate right now. While I’ll admit I thought this myself, especially during those first days when things seemed to shift by the hour, I quickly changed my mind. Why? Because our clients still need us, and their clients need us. Plain and simple.

While I’ll touch on inbound marketing later, I would like to ask you to consider two things before deciding that you absolutely will not do any outbound marketing during this crisis.

  1. Do you have work landing in your inbox consistently right now?
  2. Are you sure that you’ll continue to have enough consistent work coming in throughout this crisis?

If your answer is “no” to either of these questions (most of the colleagues I talk to would answer “no” to at least one) and you don’t have another source of cash flow in your household to rely on in uncertain times, you may need to rethink what you will and won’t do.

I get it. No one wants to appear out of touch or opportunistic, especially when there’s so much suffering. But rather than continue to worry that you might turn clients off or bother them during what is a very stressful time for everyone, have you considered that your clients might very well need your services as a solution to one of many problems they’re experiencing?

While continuing to work and earn money, you can continue to contribute to the economy. You can continue to provide clients incredibly useful services during a time when their challenges are great and their resources are potentially very few.

To be clear, there’s a way to market your business and not be salesy. There’s a way to market your business and still be compassionate. There’s a way to market your business and serve your clients where they are right now. If incoming work has slowed down, or if it’s come to a complete standstill, you might be experiencing a lot of doubt when it comes to marketing at all. But trust me. Just because some of your clients don’t seem to be spending money right now doesn’t mean no one is.

Yes, some industries and companies are experiencing a huge downturn, but others are not. Even those that are struggling are looking for ways to be creative when it comes to their own marketing. So, why not build a partnership to help them revive their businesses? By marketing your business appropriately now, you can not only show up for your clients when everyone could use some additional support, but you can set your translation or interpreting business on the path to forming and maintaining long-term stability.

Hone Your Messaging First

Messaging is always key when it comes to marketing, but now, more than ever, it’s absolutely essential to get it right. If your messaging is appropriate and you’re coming from a place of service, clients will see you as a helping hand, not as an opportunist. While we surely all want to be the former, proper messaging is vital to avoid being the latter.

During a time when everyone is struggling, the best way we can help our clients—both now and all the time—is by solving problems. The key to your messaging lies in how you solve problems for those you serve. Only you know what messaging is appropriate for your ideal clients. Only you can determine the right messaging for a scenario like the current crisis.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to recognize the current situation. Don’t avoid mentioning COVID-19. Instead, call it out. Everybody is thinking about this right now. And while your messaging should not focus solely on COVID-19, acknowledge it while keeping in mind that you have something of value to offer that’s relevant.

Current Client Approach

Craft a brief, but sincere, email to clients.

  • Ask how they’re doing.
  • Let them know that you’re available to help with anything urgent. If they have something related to COVID-19 messaging to send their clients, colleagues, or employees, tell them that you’ll put it at the front of the project queue.
  • Avoid a direct sales pitch of any sort unless what you’re offering is relevant and can help them right now.

Pretty simple, right?

When you write to clients, don’t do so expecting a response. That said, I would be willing to bet that you’ll receive at least a few. Even if there’s no offer or mention of projects or assignments in the pipeline, your clients will be happy to hear from you, to experience some normalcy and a friendly face in their inbox. I mean, couldn’t we all do with a kind message in our inbox these days?

It’s important to remember that everyone is stressed and working double-time in fewer hours right now. My own work dried up for about a week or so, but once clients seemed to get settled in their new remote routines, my project flow picked up again. Of course, my messaging helped. Here are two messages I sent to clients and their responses:

Outbound message #1:
Good morning, XXX and YYY!

I hope you are both well. I know things are a little unpredictable right now related to the ever-changing situation of COVID-19 in different areas, so I just wanted to let you know I am thinking of you and hoping your organization is remaining relatively unaffected.

If there is anything I can do to help regarding translations pertaining to COVID-19 (or in general), please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll be happy to put any related projects at the front of the queue.

Stay safe and healthy! I know we are looking forward to returning to “normal” whenever possible, and I imagine you are as well.

Take care!

Client Response:
Thanks! We really appreciate the check-in and hope you are staying safe and healthy, too.

We actually have two COVID-related items we’ll need translated relatively quickly as soon as we get internal content approved. Thank you for moving those to the front of your queue when they come—we’re working frantically on them ourselves.

Wishing you and yours all the best,

Outbound Message #2:
Hi, XXX!

I hope you and your family, as well as the entire ABC team and their families, are well and staying healthy. Since we just wrapped up next quarter’s content, I wanted to check in to see how you’re getting along in this hectic time.

I saw that you were able to reuse the content from the blog post I provided on XYZ. Wonderful! I was curious to know if it would be helpful for me to write a few blog posts a month for the next few months.

The goal would be to drive more traffic to ABC’s site, as well as to take some work off your plates. I know that most people’s schedules have been thrown for a loop these days, and I would be happy to work on them for you. If I can be of help to you all and remove any added stress that content creation might be causing during this time, when I know there is so much else going on in addition to routine business, please don’t hesitate to let me know.


Client Response:
Hi Madalena,

Thanks for checking in! We are all doing well at ABC, just adjusting to this new normal we are in. I hope you and your family are doing well and staying healthy as well.

Yes, that blog post has been great content for us to use elsewhere. Thank you again for turning it around so quickly! I’ll definitely check in with YYY and ZZZ on your offer to write more blog posts for us. I really appreciate your offer to help out during this time!

I’ll be in touch soon!

While both messages resulted in positive outcomes, there’s the possibility that there may not be a specific assignment for you at the time you send current clients a message like this. On the other hand, it could very well be the case that your email is well-timed and that you could take something off your clients’ overly full plates, either now or a month from now. You’ll never know if you don’t reach out.

New Client Approach

Once you’ve had a chance to craft your pandemic-related messaging to your current clients, it’s time to think about new clients. Yes, it’s easier to market to existing clients than new ones, but that doesn’t make it impossible, nor does it make you tone-deaf. Consider your area(s) of specialization and the clients you have the ability to serve. Then ask yourself these questions.

  • What potential clients could you reach out to who are in a similar position as your current clients and who could truly use a professional translator or interpreter right now?
  • What gap(s) do you fill in the market right now?
  • Are you willing to offer services at a discount to those who may not have an ideal budget due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19?
  • Can you serve another industry by using the skills and experience you have?
  • Who most definitely needs professional and prompt language services during a time like this? Who will need them long after this crisis has ended?

Craft a message similar to the ones in the examples I shared earlier and tweak them to fit potential clients who would value your services and appreciate some help to overcome language-related challenges. Again, just remember to:

  • Ask how they’re doing.
  • Tell them you’re available to help with anything urgent and that you’ll put anything related to the COVID-19 messaging for their clients, colleagues, or employees at the top of the list.
  • Avoid a direct sales pitch of any sort unless what you’re offering is relevant and can help them immediately.

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that everyone has been impacted in some way. We’re seeing industries and companies suffering losses like never before. But at the same time, they’re working on their own messaging and communications—both to survive the current crisis and to prepare for the future. They have to be ready to meet their customers where they are when people are ready to spend money on their products and services.

Decide If a Pivot—Even a Temporary One—Is Necessary

Small and large businesses and organizations are showing just how creative and determined they can be right now. As I write this, restaurants are offering take-out and delivery options so they can remain open. Schools are taking to online instruction on an unprecedented scale to allow students to finish out the school year with some semblance of order. Fitness studios are offering remote group classes to pay the rent while their employees and patrons have been ordered to stay home.

As you consider the current and future state of your business, don’t be afraid to rule out a pivot, even if it’s a temporary one. For example, perhaps you work for one of the harder hit industries, let’s say travel and tourism. Take some time to look at previous projects and assignments you’ve successfully completed.

  • Are there any projects you’ve handled that could relate to another specialization or field?
  • What can you provide for an industry that might be booming right now?
  • How can you show up for your travel and tourism clients to help them finesse their current messaging, as well as their post-COVID-19 messaging when customers are ready to travel again?

While a complete pivot may not be necessary, it’s important to stay open to possibilities you might not have considered previously. If you’re not sure where to start with your new-client messaging, go back to the idea of looking for a gap that you might fill right now. You can find a lot of these if you’re paying attention!

If you’re a health care interpreter, for example, consider contacting all of the local doctors and dentists offices that have patients in areas with large populations of speakers of other languages and offer your services. A lot of them are still cancelling and rescheduling appointments via phone calls, text messages, and emails, as well as conducting virtual “office visits” with their patients by utilizing remote interpreting methods.

If you’re a translator, could you offer those same doctors and dentists a way to notify their clients about new procedures and healthy practices by translating email content for patients? Many offices will be sending COVID-19-related notifications for the next several months, maybe longer. How can you offer your services to help?

Consider Offering Short-Term, Pro Bono Relief to Those Most in Need

You may have considered offering some free translations related to the pandemic within your specializations. Or perhaps you’re willing to volunteer as an interpreter for a situation that requires critical communication. If you have the ability to give something for free during this chaotic time, you can serve a current need while planting a seed for the future—when clients do have the cash flow to allocate part of their budget to professional translation or interpreting.

If you’re not in a position to volunteer your services, is there anything you could create or pass along to clients who you know are currently facing challenging situations? If you’re drawing a blank, consider sending something useful but meaningful such as:

  • An article or resource that might be timely and relevant.
  • A simple message in one of your working languages that lets your client’s customers know how long they will be closed or when they plan to reopen.
  • An uplifting message (this can seem like a very small gesture, but you never know who needs to receive one).

Whatever you offer, make sure you can relate it back to your brand and services in some way, but be sensitive about the language you use when you deliver. What I’ve found most effective is to simply acknowledge the hardship and share what you can offer as a small contribution to helping clients in a tough time.

Don’t Forget Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

This is probably rather obvious. After all, if you have extra time on your hands due to a slow trickle of incoming work, you can put that time to use by marketing your business in ways other than those mentioned here.

  • First and foremost, make sure your website is updated so the copy and design appeal to your ideal clients. If you’ve been meaning to create a new website, now is the time.
  • If your clients and leads are active on social media, engage with them regularly. You can still market your services indirectly by being helpful and available to them online.
  • Update any directory profiles you have on association websites. Make sure the profile leads back to your website.
  • Polish your résumé. Add any new experience or training and remove anything that doesn’t reflect the work you want to attract going forward.
  • Make a list of companies, organizations, or agencies where you would like to apply or market your services once people are going back to work.

I could go on and on. Bottom line: there’s plenty of marketing work you can do to look to the future and prepare your business for better times to come.

Start Small and Market Your Services with Care

If you’ve been on the fence about marketing your business during the COVID-19 crisis, start small. Perhaps a happy medium of both outbound and inbound marketing is the right fit for you. Work on your inbound marketing first so that when you’re ready, you have a place (e.g., website) where you can lead clients. When you figure out the outbound marketing techniques that are most appropriate for your ideal customers, be ready to put your plan into action. So, get to work. Make this time count. No matter what, don’t simply wait for the work to come to you.

After dusting yourself off from the initial shock of all this, take proactive steps and consider the fact that this is a perfect time to be planting seeds. The economy will turn around, people will go back to work, and when they do, they will remember you for their future translation or interpreting needs—but only if you reach out now.

Whatever your specializations are, there is work for you. There are people who need your services, and there are many who needed them yesterday! It’s time to step up, pivot your message with care, and contribute value by solving problems.

If your project pipeline has dried up, or even if it’s just barely flowing at a trickle, you have the gift of time right now. And if it hasn’t yet slowed down, count yourself lucky. But think twice about putting off all marketing efforts until another time. You never know when crises like COVID-19 will happen. As quickly as this virus has taken hold of our communities, bringing many to their knees, your current project load could slow down tomorrow. No one is immune to the effects of “here today, gone tomorrow.” But take comfort in the fact that you have incredibly important skills that are valuable to others.

Even if your clients or leads cannot afford your services at your normal rates right now, they will remember that you reached out to them when they were struggling. This does not go unnoticed. What does go unnoticed is if you stay silent and don’t find a way to be relevant by offering your support and incredibly valuable services when everyone can use an extra hand.

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is ATA president-elect and chairs the Membership Committee and Governance and Communications Committee. She is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions and a Spanish>English and Portuguese>English translator. She served as chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee (2014–2018) and administrator of ATA’s Medical Division (2011–2015). She has a BA in Spanish from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MA in Spanish from the University of Louisville. She is also a consultant for the University of Louisville Graduate Certificate in Translation. You can read more of her articles on her blog at Contact:

What the Business Practices Education Committee Is Doing for ATA Members

ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee offers many opportunities for members to get involved, give back to the Association, work with fellow members, and broaden their professional network.

Have you ever asked yourself what the Business Practices Education Committee is up to these days? Probably not. In fact, you’re more likely wondering: “What is the Business Practices Education Committee?” For the uninitiated, the Business Practices Education Committee was established in 2005 to provide ATA members with information about sound business practices for the translation and interpreting industry. Fine, you say, but what has it done for me lately? That’s a good question, so let’s elaborate.

Business Practices Listserv: To begin with, the committee’s core project remains the Business Practices listserv, which recently migrated to under the name ATA-Business-Practices. As of the end of April 2020, the group had 847 members, who typically submit anywhere from several dozen to several hundred posts per month. Discussions are moderated with a light touch primarily by Paul Merriam. The archives contain nearly 3,400 topics dating back to 2005, with the very first post by ATA Past President Dorothee Racette welcoming subscribers to a group intended for the discussion of topics related to conducting business in the translation and interpreting industry. Not surprisingly, California Assembly Bill 5 and “Sons of AB 5” have provided a seemingly endless source of discussion in recent months along with a wide variety of other topics ranging, for example, from language services providers and machine translation to nondisclosure agreements, client/project management software, unpaid translations tests, and much more. To join the group, send an email to The moderator will contact you with further instructions to complete your subscription.

Brainstorm Networking: In addition, the committee has hosted a one-hour Brainstorm Networking event at every ATA Annual Conference since 2014. ATA Past President David Rumsey, who was president-elect at the time, first came up with the idea for the Chicago conference to replace the former speed networking event. Participants in the brainstorming event join a group of typically between four and six people around a table and have a few minutes to introduce themselves, after which they discuss a scenario provided for them involving an ethical issue or some other sort of business-related problem. When time is called, everyone moves to a different table and starts over with a new group and a new scenario.

Online Resources: The committee is also responsible for compiling, editing, and updating the resources available on ATA’s website under Resources > Business Practices. This material is listed under the general headings “Getting Started,” “Taking Care of Business,” and “Tools and Resources.” Topics include “Finding Jobs, Getting Hired,” “Determining Rates,” “Getting Paid,” “Apply Best Practices,” and “ATA Certification,” among others. If you haven’t visited the page recently, check it out. There’s bound to be something of interest to you.

ATA Mentoring Program: The Mentoring Program was originally conceived by former ATA Secretary Courtney Searls-Ridge, who administered the program alone for roughly 10 years before Susanne van Eyl took charge in 2011 and tweaked the format to boost participation. This ATA member benefit was recently brought under the umbrella of the Business Practices Education Committee, where it is once again being revamped.

The Mentoring Program pairs translators and interpreters seeking to learn a new skill with ATA members possessing more experience in the relevant area. Mentees are typically industry newcomers, although students and linguists with less than one year of experience are directed to The Savvy Newcomers blog (more on this below). Even longtime ATA members can benefit from the mentee experience if they would like to learn something new; for example, adding a new specialty, marketing to direct clients, becoming a better proofreader, or fine-tuning their business skills. Key to the mentee’s success over the course of the program is the articulation of clear and actionable goals at the outset. For more information, visit

The program begins each year on April 1 with an application deadline in early March. Previously, it ran for 12 months, but beginning this year the program will run for six months, after which the mentor-mentee pair will have the option of extending for an additional six months. The application process is more streamlined if you have paired up with a mentor and agreed on your objectives. But if you haven’t already found one, the Mentoring Committee can pair you with a suitable mentor. Mentees and mentors generally meet about once per month, typically via Skype or a similar platform for Q&A or other discussion. It’s also worth noting that certified translators earn continuing education points for participating. If this sounds intriguing and you think you would like to be a mentor or a mentee, please contact the Mentoring Committee at and mark your calendar for the 2021 program year!

Masterminds Program: The committee also has a Masterminds program in the works. The idea is to bring together independent groups of around a half-dozen self-guided professional peers of approximately the same level of experience to discuss opportunities and things they have struggled with in their business. These peer groups will typically meet for six to 12 months in a venue of their choosing to brainstorm solutions and set goals, as well as to encourage and hold each other accountable for attaining their goals. This is conceived as a supplement to the Mentoring Program and other ATA continuing education offerings. The program is expected to be launched later this year at the ATA’s 61st Annual Conference in Boston—yet another reason to attend!

The Savvy Newcomer Blog: Always popular, The Savvy Newcomer blog aims to provide high-quality, peer-reviewed content directed at newcomers to the industry, although the information is often also relevant for more experienced practitioners. The blog began as an independent activity, yet always collaborated informally with the Business Practices Education Committee and looked to the Business Practices listserv as a source of inspiration for blog topics. So, it seemed a natural fit for the Practices Education Committee when ATA decided a few years ago that it was time to bring the blog under the umbrella of a committee; nevertheless, it remains essentially an autonomous operation. The Savvy Newcomer was founded by Spanish Language Division members Helen Eby, Jamie Hartz, and Daniela Guanipa in 2013, but was ultimately the product of a broader effort by ATA to assist students and newcomers to the profession that went through several stages of development before taking on its current form. Meanwhile, the founding members are part of a whole team of volunteers working to provide fresh and reposted content on a weekly basis. Topics include “So You Want to Be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Starting from Scratch,” “Questions to Ask Before You Accept a Translation Project,” “Attending Your Clients’ Conferences,” and “Translating for Pharma.” Of course, this barely scratches the surface of what the blog has to offer, so if you haven’t visited lately, check it out under

A New Blog for Experienced Translators/Interpreters: Finally, the committee is busy developing another blog to be geared toward more experienced translators and interpreters, with content to be added initially on a monthly basis. The name of this new blog was recently determined by vote in a poll posted to the Business Practices listserv. Henceforth, it will be known by popular demand as… (drumroll please)… The ATA Business Practices Blog. A launch date has not been set, but look to this blog for guidance on next level business practices later this year when it is expected to go live.

What Can You Do to Help?

Now that we’ve answered the question of what the Business Practices Education Committee is doing for ATA members, you may find yourself wondering what you can do for the committee. As a matter of fact, the committee is currently looking for a social media manager to coordinate and promote its blog content on social media. This would be a great way for a gregarious newcomer to raise their profile or for any ATA member who enjoys social media to give back to the profession. Complete the form online at if you are interested in becoming the committee’s social media manager. And if you have any questions, you can contact Sarah Symons Glegorio at for more information.

Michael Engley, CT is currently a member of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee. Previously, he served as administrator and assistant administrator of the German Language Division (GLD), as well as the dictionary review coordinator for the GLD’s newsletter interaktiv. He is an ATA-certified German>English translator specializing in corporate communications and financial translation. Contact:

Going Institutional: A Primer on Translation for International Organizations

Many experienced translators consider a shift toward international organizations, either as part of the staff or as freelancers. But how is translating for an international organization different from commercial translation? This overview will consider what matters most when translating for an international organization.

Many translators consider translating for an international organization as a next step in their career, possibly leading to greater stability, better pay, and more interesting assignments. Things don’t always work out that way, and institutional translation is not for everyone, but if you want to give it a try, here’s a summary of what to expect.

How Is Institutional Translation Different?

There may be several reasons why an international organization needs translation services, but the main one is that many of them have official languages, defined as such in their charters. Some organizations differentiate between official and working languages, although there are differences in what each term means: in some institutions, working languages are a subset of official languages, and vice versa. The key idea, however, is that some organizations are mandated to make at least some of their documents available in more than one language. Depending on the size of the organization, they may have an in-house team of translators, revisers, and other language specialists, or rely on subcontractors, or use a combination of both.

A lot of the documents that are translated in an institutional setting consist of parliamentary documentation, which means documents that are circulated before a meeting and then discussed, negotiated, and voted on. Obviously, the different language versions must match exactly, including all nuances and formal structure. Otherwise, imagine the delegate from Narnia saying, “I will only vote in favor if we remove the bracketed phrase in paragraph 47,” and the delegate from Lalaland responding, “there is no bracketed phrase in paragraph 47 of my document.” It doesn’t matter if the translation was otherwise correct and the expression was set between commas. If the meeting has to stop because of a translation issue, the credibility of the entire document is compromised, and that might impact the flow of negotiation. Sure, replacing parentheses with commas may be fine in other contexts, but not in institutional translation.

So, how is institutional translation different from other types of translation? The truth is, it’s not that different from translating for a large company. There will be glossaries, style guides, and conventions or “house rules.” There will also be many reference documents that may be similar or almost identical to the text at hand. There will be humongous databases and parallel corpora that will be both a blessing (the answer to your terminology question is probably a few clicks away) and a curse (sometimes you must reuse previous language, unchanged). In both settings, corporate and institutional, translation is an inside job that’s carried out collectively.

Characteristics of Successful Institutional Translation

To be successful, the institutional translator must:

Lose Their Individual Voice: A salient characteristic of institutional translation is the need for the final product to be entirely anonymous, without a trace of the personal voice of an individual translator. Think of it as a chorus singing in perfect harmony, where the result is the sum of multiple voices, but each of them must be indiscernible. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is that the translated document, just like the original, belongs to the institution, which is its sole author, but there are other practical, very compelling considerations, such as the need for consistency.

Be Stylistically Consistent: One reason for stylistic consistency is that many originals are broken down into two, three, or maybe 20 pieces, each going to a different translator. Everybody agrees that splitting a document is not ideal, but there simply is no other way to handle a report that’s over 200 pages long and needs to be formatted and circulated in a week. To complicate matters, there’s often no time for a final, unifying round of revision. In another setting this would be a recipe for a Frankenstein monster, but institutional translators are used to following “the house style,” which may be stilted and sometimes awkward but highly consistent. And consistent writing lends itself very much to a seamless outcome.

Adopt the Institution’s Working Methods: Splitting a source document among several translators is not the only counter-intuitive practice in institutional language services. Another one that’s sure to puzzle newcomers is the nonlinear processing of documents, which means working on an interim version of the source while it’s still being negotiated or refined. This requires working on the assignment twice, first with the draft and then with the final version, not counting the multiple corrections and minor updates that may materialize along the way. Nobody likes to work like that, but, again, sometimes it’s the only way to meet deadlines. And sometimes the translator updating the interim translation is not the same one who worked on it in the first place, which showcases the relevance of uniformity and adherence to conventions.

Learn to Write Like Everyone Else: Another reason for stylistic consistency is that most assignments involve some degree of recycled text from a similar original. Again, if the translator gave in to the temptation to show off their talent and knack for elegant prose, the result would be a messy patchwork. The ability to write just like everybody else is one of the most valued strengths of an institutional translator. Mastering it requires a great deal of attention and humility, but it’s worth cultivating.

Adhere to Vetted Terminology: Strict adherence to vetted terminology is another way to achieve consistency within and across documents. Most institutions have their own terminology databases, which are living organisms that grow and evolve daily. These databases are maintained by terminologists who are themselves translators, or at least work in close proximity to translators.

A lot of work and research goes into each entry, and there may be excellent reasons why a certain term is translated “this way” instead of “that way,” even if “that way” is the preferred term in another institution or if the translator knows for sure that “that way” is also correct or, possibly, better. A term with an entry in the database must be translated “this way,” provided that the context matches. If the translator thinks there is a compelling reason to depart from the database (and sometimes there is), a good approach is to ask a terminologist or a more senior translator for guidance. If the term is not in the database, the translator should do some research and submit a proposal to the terminologists. All of this takes an awful lot of time.

Adhere to Precedent: Adhering to precedent is also very important for consistency and integrity. This means that, whenever there’s a quote from or a reference to a previous document, no matter how long or short, you must assume there exists a previous translation that needs to be found and reused. It would certainly be easier, or at least faster, just to translate it from scratch, but that would be bad practice.

In the best case scenario, your key document will be referenced explicitly, right there, as in this example: “The Chairperson’s end-of-year report, published in January 2020, acknowledged there had been ‘unexpected outcomes’ that warranted shelving the project.” You can’t just translate “unexpected outcomes,” you have to dig out the chairperson’s end-of-year report in your target language and find out precisely how the phrase was translated. While you are at it, check for “shelve” and its variations.

Hidden quotations are trickier because they are hard to recognize. These would be words taken verbatim from a previous document, but with no quotation marks around them. If the coincidence involves a whole sentence or paragraph, chances are our computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool will alert us, but what if it’s just a partial match, or just a phrase? Here’s where experience and institutional memory, together with good technique (i.e., systematically checking databases for suspicious phrases), are priceless.

For example, imagine your original has a sentence that reads: “In Albanta, delegates pledged to provide a strong impetus to inclusive prosperity and welfare for all citizens.” You may just see a sentence here and simply proceed to translate it to the best of your ability, but you would be missing a hidden quotation. The delegates got together in Albanta sometime in the past and agreed to an institutional declaration that read precisely like this: “We pledge to provide a strong impetus to inclusive prosperity and welfare for all citizens and to take special care of those struggling with inequalities.” Most CAT tools would miss the coincidence. It’s up to the translator to recognize it and find the right reference.

But how would you know there’s even a reference document, let alone find it? In this case, you have a strong hint: the word “pledged.” Pledge is not something delegates do casually in their own time. It’s a deliberate commitment, and there has to be an institutional record of it. If you’ve been working for this institution long enough, you may be very familiar with the Albanta Declaration, so there you go. Otherwise, be alert and heed the “pledge” hint, and scan your databases for key words such as “impetus” and “inclusive prosperity” in case there is a coincidence. It may take a while, so don’t give up too soon.

Not all precedent has to be followed all the time. It depends, mostly, on the hierarchical value of the reference. If it’s a legacy document (i.e., a treaty, agreement, or institutional declaration such as a resolution or decision), you need to reproduce the language verbatim. Otherwise, there may be some leeway, but the general rule is: follow precedent, unless you have a good reason to deviate. Not being aware of the precedent is not a good reason to deviate.

Some Givens about Institutional Work

An institutional translation must be linguistically flawless. This is a given, and it’s not something that can be learned on the job. If a translator has trouble with dangling modifiers in English or the proper use of gerunds in Spanish, or whatever high-level difficulty their target language might present, they may still have a bright future in translation elsewhere, just not in an international organization. This is one of the reasons why passing rates in access exams are so low: the house style, terminology, conventions, and procedures can be taught, but a translator has to come on board in full command of the target language.

Another given: translations must be submitted on time. True, meeting deadlines is important everywhere, but in other settings many project managers build buffers into their planning because, well, life happens. In the institutional world, life happens too, but the consequences of a delay may be extreme. Don’t submit late, ever. And if you absolutely must, be proactive. Let the scheduler know as soon as you become aware of the extenuating circumstance so they can make alternative arrangements (i.e., someone else will pull an all-nighter to finish your work).

Accuracy is another hallmark of institutional translation. In addition, you have to be extremely mindful of political and diplomatic considerations. Nuance and emphasis must be carefully weighted. The safest approach is to stick very close to the original, sometimes closer than you would like. The result may not flow as beautifully as that other rendition that came to your mind; it might even be unnatural or clunky. But, as long as it’s faithful, that’s the right translation.

Conversely, institutional translation is not necessarily idiomatic. In an ideal world, it definitely would be, but your focus has to be on the must-haves above. If you have to give up something, give up idiomaticity. Did the original use two adjectives that sound redundant in your language? Go ahead, be redundant. That’s better than raising eyebrows and having someone question the integrity of your translation.

How about ambiguity? Should institutional translation aim for an unequivocal, crystal-clear message? Not necessarily! There is a lot of deliberate ambiguity in the originals. A translator’s goal has to be to detect any ambiguity in the original, which is easier said than done, and recognize if an obscure passage is accidental or intentional, and ask for clarification when necessary. The translation may need to mirror the ambiguity in the target language, which also requires skill.

By the way, there are a few fascinating cases in history where ambiguity was elevated to a form of art in the world of diplomacy, but that is beyond the scope of this article. If anyone is curious, go check “constructive ambiguity” on Wikipedia.

And what if the original has an obvious error? Outside of the institutional setting, you may be tempted to just translate what’s in front of you without questioning it, or you may consider just fixing the mistake in your translation. Neither solution would work in an institutional context. Instead, you are expected to raise the issue with someone in a position to contact the author for clarification and correction. Otherwise, you’ll end up with mismatched versions, a problem that might be compounded if there are multiple languages involved.

In addition, there’s always the risk that you misunderstood something, or that you “fixed it wrong.” See, for example: “The index increased from 596 in the first half of 2017 to 577 in the same period of 2018.” There is clearly an error in this sentence, but is it that the index, in fact, decreased, or are the figures swapped? Or is there a typo in one of the figures? There is so much opportunity to make an error worse! Bottom line: don’t assume anything!

What Is Quality in an Institutional Setting?

One might want to summarize all the above under the umbrella of “quality” and say that institutional translation must be of the highest quality, but things are not that simple. What, precisely, is quality in an institutional setting? A translation that contains no errors? Does this mean no stray commas, no typos, no misplaced footnote calls? No nuance lost? It depends!

The important thing to understand is that there’s no external, objective definition of quality in institutional translation. Quality is defined by the organization, and it’s document-specific. A quality translation is one that meets the institution’s expectations, whatever those may be, for that specific document. The term of art is “fit for purpose.” There are many factors involved, but the main ones are visibility (including political aspects), shelf life, and legal/financial impact.

Given an unlimited budget and timeframe, we would all strive (with more or less success) for absolutely perfect translations. But reality has a way to bring us back to earth, and the fact is that budgets and deadlines are often tight and shrinking, so the best practice is for the team in charge to assign the right amount of time and resources to each project so that the institution’s commitment to multilingualism is duly honored. If the assignment is for a working internal document that will undergo several rounds of negotiation, the bar will correctly be set much lower than for the final version of an institutional declaration that will get quoted, referred to for generations, and possibly sculpted in marble, figuratively or even literally.

In practical terms, a translation is fit for purpose if it goes entirely unnoticed. If it’s delivered on time and nobody raises concerns—success! If you’re a freelancer translating for an institution, fit for purpose also means delivering a translation that requires little to no intervention by the in-house team. And remember, it’s emphatically not up to the translator to define what the standard of quality is for any given document. It’s up to the institution. The translator’s responsibility is to do the best they can in the time assigned, without cutting corners.

Not for Everyone, but Very Rewarding

I said at the beginning that institutional translation is not for everyone. It requires skill, experience, and the right tools, as well as good instincts and a deep understanding of the particular institution and its workings. In addition, the institutional translator has to be willing to check their ego at the door and sing in harmony with everyone else, and to take the time to submit terminology proposals, ask the right questions, and learn all the conventions. The learning curve is very steep and not all assignments are exciting or interesting, with hundreds of pages of tedious budgetary documents that are, nonetheless, equally crucial and demanding of your full attention to detail.

Why, then, choose this field? First, it offers an environment of steady work and predictable income, which are nothing to scoff about in the industry these days. It also provides daily opportunities to be on top of world affairs and to work on assignments that make a difference. And, interestingly, what makes it hard is also what makes it easy, with those gigantic multilingual corpora and databases at your fingertips and many brilliant colleagues, right next door, all sold on teamwork and willing to coach the newcomers and share their burden.

Izaskun Orkwis, CT has been a translator for more than 20 years, both as a freelancer and in-house, working mainly for international organizations. She is currently a staff reviser for the Spanish translation service at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. She has a BA in Romance languages and an MA in institutional translation. She is an ATA-certified English<>Spanish translator, a certified court interpreter in Virginia, and a sworn translator in Spain. Contact:

Heritage Speakers in Health Care Interpreting: A Case Study in Virtual Training

Find out how implementing a flipped classroom methodology is proving to be a valuable component in a program designed to support bilingual employees who are Spanish heritage speakers on their journey toward becoming professionally certified health care interpreters.

As health care interpreting becomes more professionalized, thanks to the efforts of national and statewide professional interpreter organizations and associations and the introduction of national certification in 2010, heritage speakers1 entering the profession face a unique challenge. In the following, we would like to share the lessons learned from the efforts of a pioneering three-month interpreter training program at Barton Health, a community health system in South Lake Tahoe, California, where more than 80% of the bilingual employees participating in our program are Spanish heritage speakers. This initiative used the flipped classroom methodology to introduce students to the medical interpreting profession, improve Spanish fluency, and expand their bilingual medical terminology.

About Barton

If you’re fortunate enough to have visited South Lake Tahoe, we hope you had a grand time and were able to stay out of Barton Memorial Hospital. But if you were seen at Barton, we hope you received consistently exceptional care from our rural, yet robust health care system. Barton Memorial Hospital, a component of Barton Health, consists of 24-hour emergency care services, 63 patient beds, a skilled nursing facility with 48 resident beds, and many departments to serve the health and medical needs of our patients, residents, employees, visitors, volunteers, and the community.

Our Language Access Services Department was established in 2006 with approximately 10 untrained dual-role2 Spanish medical interpreters and two rickety laptops that rolled around the emergency department for video remote interpreting. We currently have 14 nationally certified Spanish dual-role medical interpreters, an additional 14 students waiting for the results of their Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters3 National Oral Test, and another 12 participating in the training for this year. Thirty-four sturdy video remote interpreting units are scattered throughout our health care system as well. If the 14 students pass the oral test, we’ll be able to provide an in-person or video Spanish interpreter for each of our 63 beds simultaneously.

Using the Flipped Classroom Model

If you’re new to this jargon, here’s a little primer. A flipped classroom is a teaching model that uses technology to flip the roles in a traditional classroom. It’s called a “flipped” classroom because the classroom paradigm looks totally different than the traditional classroom. Essentially, it means that students first gain exposure to the subject outside of class through a series of online materials, such as videos, audios, and reading assignments, that they can refer to as many times as necessary. Then the actual class time is used to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge through problem-solving and discussion.

Asynchronous learning, as opposed to synchronous learning (which involves students learning together at the same time, whether online or in person), means the material is delivered online via web-based platforms, email, online forums, and message boards. Students work at their own pace and on their own time.

The online flipped classroom portion of our program during January, February, and March was strategically designed to take place over our worst weather/commuting months. (Lake Tahoe is uniquely located on the border of California and Nevada, with an average snowfall of 34 feet a year, which can make commuting a challenge.) Students were expected to dedicate five hours per week to studying and online classwork, for a total of 60 hours.

Interpreter Training Timeline

To keep up with national advances in our profession, as of January 1, 2019, Barton Health started requiring all in-person interpreters to be nationally certified. To accomplish this, we expanded our training program and evolved our 40-hour course into a year-long program. The program follows the timeline below:

  1. Take the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Oral Proficiency (OPIc) Exam.4 Students must obtain a minimal speaking proficiency level of Advanced-Mid for Limited Certification on the oral exam to enter our program. (Many times, heritage speakers score one level below at Advanced-Low on their first attempt. Some then re-test at their own expense and achieve an Advanced-Mid for Limited Certification on their second attempt.)5
  2. A three-month introductory flipped online class. This is where we really dug in and catered to our heritage speakers’ needs by working on increased fluency, advanced language vocabulary, and instilling linguistic and cultural pride.
  3. A 72-hour onsite medical interpreting course. During the three-month time period, we also include shadowing6 sessions (students watch a trainer interpret for four to eight hours).
  4. Preceptorships: students are observed interpreting and coached as needed (four to eight hours).
  5. Practice written and oral tests (one to two hours).
  6. Take the National Certification Exam (Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters).


We chose a flipped asynchronous learning environment because we felt it lent itself best to our somewhat isolated geographical location (including challenging winter driving conditions for both trainers and students) and scheduling issues for full-time employees who are juggling work, parenting, and other responsibilities.

This format worked very well for both the instructor (Julie), who didn’t have to brave the four-hour drive on icy roads every week during the winter, and for Barton Health, as it meant no disruption of our student employees’ work schedules, no need for coverage during work time, and no classroom space required.

We initially chose the Schoology online learning platform for our online training because Julie had previous experience with it as a student. Our objectives for the three-month course were for the students to:

  1. Become familiar with Schoology and learn to access instructional material (documents, video links, etc.), homework assignments, and upload completed homework assignments.
  2. Become familiar with the advantages, challenges, and solutions associated with studying on an online learning platform.
  3. Learn to use Audible as a tool for improving Spanish-language fluency.
  4. Use Audible, YouTube Videos, and podcasts to learn and practice the technique of shadowing.
  5. Use the above material to harvest medical terminology.
  6. Learn to use online and paper resources to research and expand bilingual medical terminology.

Course Elements

Each class included a variety of activities: group discussions, assignments, YouTube videos, readings, and exercises. Once students were familiar with the online platform and had installed Audible on their mobile devices, we introduced them to the practice of shadowing with an audio book that was full of medical terminology and jargon: Cerebro de Pan (Grain Brain) by David Perlmutter. As the weeks went on, we built on students’ initial shadowing practice by introducing some material on reflective learning. We then progressed to having students record themselves shadowing, reflecting on their progress, and finally submitting their recordings to the instructor.

Once the students were at ease with using Audible to practice shadowing, we added YouTube videos and podcasts in Spanish and assigned more terminology exercises from this material, which also provided rich opportunities for group discussions. One especially impactful YouTube video was a TEDTalk by Mexican actress Karla Souza, who eloquently described her struggles in the film industry and how she overcame adversity. In an ensuing assigned group discussion, students were asked to reflect on what life lessons Karla had learned, what inspired them about her talk, and what lessons they would apply to their own journey as professional interpreters.

This and similar activities led to indepth discussions, gave students the opportunity to express themselves in Spanish in writing (which many of them were not accustomed to doing), and build community by learning about each other’s experiences and reacting to everyone’s comments. As one participant wrote: “The discussions did help a lot, like to break the ice and get to know each other, and then when we were in class, it was like we already knew each other.”

Another key element of the classes was using the material (the Audible book, podcasts, and YouTube videos—all in Spanish) to harvest new medical terminology and begin building students’ skills related to researching and evaluating bilingual terminology resources.

One very heartwarming and slightly unanticipated outcome of the online course, which was expressed by many students, was an increased sense of pride in their bilingual abilities and cultural heritage, and a newfound determination to use these abilities to serve the members of their community who rely on interpreters to meet their health care needs.

Figure 1: Student Feedback from Anonymous Online Survey

Lessons Learned

This was also a rich learning lesson for both of us as trainers. The following are some of the changes we’ve implemented in our 2020 program based on what we learned from the 2019 class:

Get an early handle on the tendency to procrastinate. In our 2019 classes, we realized that many students were waiting until the wee hours of the night before assignments were due to complete their work, so we created a module and assignments focused on procrastination and time management into the curriculum about halfway through the course. This time, we simply moved these modules and assignments to the first two weeks, with good results!

Avoid technical glitches and slow starts. Instead of simply diving in online like we did in 2019, we added an onboarding one-hour synchronous class. This avoided some of the technical glitches and the slow start we experienced the first time as students learned to navigate the online learning platform. During our first class of the year, one of us (Tracy) was present onsite in the classroom while the other (Julie) participated via Zoom. We reviewed the online platform and some basic objectives for the class, gave students the opportunity of logging in to the platform with either their own or laptops loaned from Barton, and provided the opportunity for students to meet each other face to face.

Research the pros and cons of your online learning platform. After having to rely on email submissions for audio assignments and struggling with a clunky gradebook system, this year we switched to the Canvas Free for Teachers online platform instead of Schoology due to the ease of uploading audio clips and a more user-friendly gradebook (both for the instructor and students).

Make the most out of observation and preceptorship assignments. To increase accountability for the observation and the preceptorship assignments, we added an additional module and assignments, including observation guidelines, an observation quiz, a group discussion, and new vocabulary assignments.


At the conclusion of the class, an anonymous online survey was administered by Redwood Consulting Collective, an outside evaluation firm. Highlights of the results can be seen in Figure 1:

This is our second year using a flipped classroom methodology to introduce bilingual employees to the profession of medical interpreting, improve their Spanish fluency, and expand their bilingual medical terminology. We can safely say that it’s proving to be a critical and valuable component of our comprehensive one-year program to support heritage speakers on their journey toward becoming professionally certified health care interpreters. In the words of several of our students:

“I feel honored to be part of this program. I thought that I spoke Spanish properly, but after this program I know that there is always something to learn.”

“There are so many ways of studying and learning, and I feel this is one of the best experiences I could have had.”

“You learn better study skills, like self-reflection to better yourself with interpreting. I didn’t realize this was a whole other career, which is really awesome. So, at the end of it, it’s actually well worth the sacrifice.”

  1. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “heritage speaker,” here’s a definition from Language Line International: “A heritage speaker refers to a person who has learned a language informally by being exposed to it at home, as opposed to having learned it formally in a school setting. It may be their native tongue—the language they identify as being their primary language—but more often than not, their heritage language becomes secondary to English, the language in which they receive their formal education, and is used the most in their daily life outside the home.”
  2. Dual-role interpreters are generally ad hoc interpreters who are hired in an administrative or clinical position as their primary role, but use their bilingual language skills to serve as interpreters in a secondary role. For more information, download: Wilson-Stronks, Amy, and Erica Galvez, E. Hospitals, Language, and Culture: A Snapshot of the Nation—Exploring Cultural and Linguistic Services in the Nation’s Hospitals (The Joint Commission, 2007),
  3. For more information on the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, see
  4. The OPIc is an online test that provides valid and reliable oral proficiency testing on a large scale. (See:
  5. Information on tester and rater certifications awarded by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages can be found at
  6. Shadowing is a technique used for learning new languages and improving fluency that involves listening to a source audio while repeating what is said in the same language with a slight delay (décalage) as in simultaneous interpreting, but without the language conversion.

Julie Burns, CT is a veteran interpreter trainer, certified health care interpreter (Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters), worker’s compensation certified Spanish interpreter, and an ATA-certified Spanish>English translator. She has an M.Ed. in adult education. She is a former director of the Bridging the Gap Interpreter Training program, and has trained thousands of interpreters. She has served as a board member of the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, International Medical Interpreters Association, and California Healthcare Interpreting Association. She has over 20 years of experience in health care interpreting and translation, as well as extensive experience in health care education and training in the U.S. and Latin America. In 2018, she was conferred the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care’s Language Access Champion award. Contact:

Tracy Young is a certified medical interpreter, medical interpreter trainer, and long-time advocate for the profession. She is the coordinator of the Language Access Services Department at Barton Health in South Lake Tahoe, California. She has an MA in Spanish from the University of Nevada, Reno, and is the founding president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. In 2015, she was awarded the Language Access Champion Award from the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. In 2019, she was named California Healthcare Interpreting Association’s Trainer of the Year. She continues to find innovative ways to make language access a reality at Barton Health and beyond. Contact:

Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers

The November/December issue included an announcement that the Board had voted to postpone a decision to open ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers. This was followed by the answers to some frequently asked questions concerning the issues involved ( Here is another response we received after members were encouraged to submit their feedback.

But don’t let the conversation stop here! As an ATA member, your voice is important, so please send us your comments.

Why ATA Should Open the Certification Exam to All Professional Translators

By Matt Baird, CT
ATA-certified (German>English)
Niederkassel, Germany

I’ve been attending ATA Board meetings at ATA’s Annual Conference for years. Why? Well, it began with simple curiosity. I wanted to understand how our Association works. As a volunteer, I was a small cog in ATA’s “engine room,” but I wanted to see who was steering the ship.

Why am I telling you this? Because it was at one of those meetings when I first heard the Board discuss the issue of opening ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers and how to keep the membership informed about it. Since then I’ve followed the issue fairly closely, including reading related articles in this very publication and discussing it with Board members. ATA also presented a free webinar on the subject in October.1

Why am I so interested in “decoupling”? Because I’m excited to see our Association take steps aimed at expanding our reach beyond the current membership. Decoupling is about ATA’s vision for the future—a future in which ATA becomes the recognized credentialing body for the entire translation profession—and I applaud the Board for having the courage to pursue this initiative.

It’s More than Credibility—It’s Best Practice

Obviously, we don’t have a crystal ball to peer into the future, but there’s plenty of proof to suggest that decoupling is the right way forward.

The biggest argument against decoupling appears to be the notion that there is no evidence that other credentials have increased credibility after a membership requirement was removed. Here’s the thing: in the association world, best practice is (and has been) to separate credentialing from membership. A membership requirement is the exception rather than the rule. What’s more, requiring membership has not been shown to add value to a credential. It’s clear that the vast majority of professional associations see greater value in a “decoupled” credential.

It’s More than Logical—It’s the Right Step Forward

Organizations constantly have to weigh the pros and cons of the status quo versus moving in a new direction. Although it may feel safer to leave things the way they are, associations that fail to adapt become stagnant and irrelevant. Our profession is changing rapidly. Decoupling is not only the logical step forward, it’s the right one. By removing the membership requirement, ATA greatly expands the pool of translators eligible to take the exam. We’re creating conditions to enable more participation. The only way we’ll ever know if nonmembers will choose to do so is by actually allowing them to make that choice.

What’s more, by separating membership from the credential, ATA makes it clear that we are the recognized certifying body for the entire profession, not just for people who choose to be members. This will inevitably increase our Association’s stature.

It’s More than OpeningUp the Exam—It’s about Removing Barriers

The logic behind decoupling actually doesn’t stop there. We know that people are interested in becoming ATA-certified and that the hurdle of membership is real.

Case in point: ATA’s Government Division has confirmed something ATA already knew, though until recently only anecdotally. Many government employees, including military members, can gain approval and receive funding to attain civilian certifications relevant to their principal occupations. The Department of Defense Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) program is one example.2 ATA’s certification exam is not eligible to participate because the program stipulates that the credentialing body may not require membership.

That program is only the tip of the iceberg. Although ATA can’t precisely predict demand for the certification exam, we know it is there and it is real.

Speaking of Demand…

One of the opinion pieces published in the January/February 2020 issue of The ATA Chronicle3 cited a ProZ poll4 from December 2019, but very relevant results were ignored. Take a closer look: 38% of those who participated said they would want to take ATA’s certification exam if it was open to nonmembers. Another 20% said “maybe.” That’s nearly 60%! Obviously, we can’t judge the accuracy of this poll, but ProZ is an international community of translators so we can’t deny that it indicates considerable interest in our credential around the world.

It’s More than Reports and Bylaws—It’s about Due Diligence

The Hamm Report5 has been named repeatedly in this debate. That’s because it started our Association down this path. But this report is not—and never has been—the decoupling bible. Whether or not the Board chose to follow all of the report’s recommendations is beside the point. The finding that an independent credential will be a more credible credential hasn’t changed.

ATA’s Bylaws have also been hijacked, first by the claim that the Board wasn’t authorized to make this move. Indeed, there was concern about this issue, which is why the Board consulted with ATA’s legal counsel, received a favorable legal response, and decided to move ahead. Now that decoupling has been postponed and the Board has proposed an amendment to make it clear in the Bylaws that taking the certification exam is not an exclusive member right, the Bylaws are once again being used to spread misinformation. Let’s be clear: the amendment will not remove any ATA member’s right to take the certification exam and become ATA-certified as stated in the opinion pieces published in the January/February 2020 issue of this publication. It extends the right to all translators in our profession to sit for the exam, and if they pass, become ATA-certified. To say otherwise is falseand misleading.

The fact is that the Board has done its due diligence. Our Association’s finances have been reviewed, structures are in place, and the Certification Committee is ready to go. It’s time to do this, and I urge every voting member to vote “yes” on the amendment.

Obviously we can’t see beyond the horizon, but I’ve watched our ship’s officers carefully plot this course and I believe it’s the right one. Considering that some 75% of ATA’s current members are not certified, it seems that most of us—including me, a member since 2000 and only certified since 2017—understand that the value of ATA membership goes way beyond certification. If we open ATA’s certification exam to all professional translators, we will set sail on a journey that could take our credential—and our Association—to the next level.

We want to hear from you!

Members are encouraged to submit their opinions, both pro and con, regarding opening ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers (also referred to as decoupling) for publication in The ATA Chronicle. While it may not be possible to print all submissions, equal space will be provided for members to present views on both sides of the issue. Please send to

Note: In keeping with standard ATA editorial policy, submissions must include the author’s name, which will be published. Anonymous submission swill not be accepted for publication.

  1. “Opening the ATA Certification Exam to Nonmembers,” ATA Webinar Series (October 1, 2019),
  2. “All about COOL,”
  3. “Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers: Robert Sette and Jessica Hartstein,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 12,
  4. See
  5. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000),

Updated: Assembly Bill 5: What Now?

Important Update:

SB 900 — A Starting Point for California Translators and Interpreters

In the latest development on the AB 5 front, amendments have been introduced to Senate Bill 900 (SB 900), which was originally introduced in the California Legislature on January 30, 2020 by the chair of the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. SB 900 creates an exemption for specified translators and interpreters from the application of the ABC Test under AB 5, and instead mandates application of the multifactor Borello Test to determine employee or independent contractor status. While SB 900 is an improvement on the status quo under AB 5, in particular due to the express inclusion of sole proprietors in the permissible forms of business entities, there are several issues of varying degrees of importance from ATA’s perspective that should be addressed and resolved before ATA can fully support the bill.

Among others, those issues include placement of the exemption under the “referral agency” section instead of the section for “professional services,” the question of whether “non-certified” translation and interpreting services are covered by the exemption, and the meaning of the phrase “good standing” with respect to membership in the various translator and interpreter associations listed in the bill.

ATA encourages its members to continue to support the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC) in its efforts to improve the wording of SB 900, and strongly urges members in California to contact their state assemblypersons and senators and advocate for improvements to and passage of SB 900.

To read the full text of SB 900, click here.


Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials.

Since California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) went into effect January 1, an increasing number of freelance translators and interpreters report that they are struggling to stay in business. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

In September, ATA joined forces with other translator and interpreter organizations to request an exemption from AB 5 for translators and interpreters.1 The Association is now actively supporting the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California2 to continue advocating for the exemption. ATA also issued a statement in response to California Senate Bill 875, which proposes including translators and interpreters in the list of professional services that are exempt from the ABC Test requirement in AB 5.3

What can you do? Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials.

Get involved in standing up for our profession! Start below with this how-to advocacy handout, a step-by-step action plan showing you how to present your case to state lawmakers. The information includes how to find your representatives and sample talking points to use in letters or conversations with legislators.

Get out there! Remember, you have the power. Use it!

Ted R. Wozniak
President, American Translators Association

What Can I Do about Mandatory Employee Classification Legislation in My State?

Now is the time to contact your state legislators and demand an exemption for interpreters and translators. Constituent-driven advocacy is how ordinary citizens hold lawmakers accountable to their constituents. Your active involvement with the lawmakers who work for you is necessary to protect your freedom to work as an independent contractor. By taking informed, strategic action in your district and state capital, you can make the policy process yield the results you need to protect the integrity of our professions, the survival of our operations, and the communities we serve.

What Steps Should I Take?

Communicate with and visit your lawmakers by following the steps below.

  1. Look up the title/designation of the mandatory employee classification legislation in your state. See the section on “Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification” on page 8 for information on how and where to find this information.
  2. Look up your state lawmakers and their local district offices here:
    • Enter your address in the search bar, and your elected representative to the lower and upper chambers of your state legislature will be displayed. Open each link in a new window/tab to view and copy the contact information for your state representative, assemblyperson, delegate, or senator. Make a note of their email address, phone number, and the location of their local office.
    • Your representative and senator need to hear from you. They and their staff can do their job best when they understand what affects you most.
  3. Call and arrange a meeting with your lawmakers. Fridays are often the best days because lawmakers are typically in their local district offices.
    • Depending on your representative’s schedule, you may not meet them personally but with a legislative aide instead. If so, treat them just as you would your representative. These aides are often the “gatekeepers” and have a lot of influence on their bosses. If an in-person meeting is not possible/practical, send them an email expressing your concerns and asking them to take specific actions.
  4. Before you go, hone your three-part message:
    • Tell your story about who you are and how your profession serves the community. Be prepared to explain how the translation and interpreting industry and professions work, how many agencies you work for during a year, and why the independent contractor/agency model works best for you and for agencies and end clients. Tell them if you’ve received notifications from agencies informing you that they will no longer work with you (or only if you incorporate).
    • Explain how and why you are or will be harmed without an explicit exemption from the scope of the law or proposed bill, how it threatens upheaval of your livelihood and those you serve, and why its implementation and enforcement would disrupt and damage your operations and language services occupations in your state. Discuss the loss of business and other economic impacts of mandatory employee classification, such as loss of a Simplified Employment Pension-IRA retirement option or previously fully deductible business deductions that would now be limited as an employee’s “unreimbursed business expenses.”
    • Ask your lawmakers what they will do to address this need immediately.
  5. Finally, report back to ATA about your experience. Please send an email summarizing your meeting and the reaction of your representatives to

Thank you for taking action to protect our professions and our livelihoods.

Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification

A Department of Labor list of 2019 classification schemes used to determine unemployment insurance in each state has been posted on ATA’s website. (See the link for “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship” at the end of this article.)4

The situation is changing rapidly as legislatures are moving quickly to follow California’s lead. The information in this Department of Labor document may already be out of date, or there may be legislative proposals to change the scheme. Use the tips below to determine the state of affairs in your state.

  1. Try using Google. Search for “mandatory employee classification” plus your state.
  2. Use Click on State Resources, then your state, to see existing and/or proposed legislation and news on worker classification. Note that different legislation and classification tests may apply for different purposes (e.g., unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation). California AB 5 and similar legislation mandates uniform application of the ABC Test for most purposes.
  3. Use to find the website for your state legislature. Then use the search function to browse for pending legislation with keywords such as “worker classification,” “independent contractors,” or “ABC Test.”

Sample Talking Points for Conversations or Letters to Legislators (May Be Adapted into a Call Script)

  1. Vulnerable populations will suffer the most from an ABC Test without a language industry exemption. With at least 500 languages spoken in the U.S., the potential impact to vulnerable populations would be catastrophic. Should there be a significant reduction in the availability of language services, in particular on the interpreting side, and if companies are forced into the employee model, they will be much less likely to contract people to work in rare languages, since the need for them is much more infrequent than the more common languages. Immigrants and refugees would have more difficulty in receiving services at hospitals, schools, or in legal settings. Rising costs will put seemingly unrelated sectors at risk of violating federal law.As you may know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on national origin by, among other things, failing to provide meaningful access to individuals who are limited English proficient (LEP). This is serious considering that countless industries, including health care, law enforcement, and finance, which receive federal dollars, rely on language companies to comply with language access laws and facilitate best practices. By dismantling the language industry’s independent contractor model, an ABC Test will have unintended consequences for seemingly unrelated industries as they scramble to fill the void.
  2. Without a language exemption, an ABC Test is unfair to businesses and workers. Given all of the costs and administrative requirements associated with employees, an ABC Test places our industry at a competitive disadvantage. If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer suddenly bears the responsibility of 1) paying Social Security and payroll taxes, 2) unemployment insurance taxes and state employment taxes, 3) providing workers’ compensation insurance, and 4) navigating state and federal statutes governing the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Translators and interpreters themselves are educated, highly experienced, highly trained, and often certified individuals performing highly specialized and professional services, who average $40/hour in the private marketplace.

Making a Difference through a United Front

I strongly encourage our members to support the efforts for an exemption and to contact their state representatives and senators. Just as the passage of AB 5 in California is serving as a model for other states, gaining an exemption in California will also serve as a model and make it easier for professional translators and interpreters to be exempt from being classified as “gig economy” workers in other states. We can only protect our profession by showing a united front and through grassroots efforts to educate our state legislators.

  1. Statement of Position Regarding California Assembly Bill 5 and Request for Exemption,
  2. Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California,
  3. ATA Statement on California SB 875 (Exemption to AB 5 for Translators and Interpreters),
  4. “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship,”

Translation and Emotions: Keys for Effective Online Instruction and Collaboration

Emotional aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to think about producing a high-quality professional translation without access to online resources, both passive (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, and reference material) and interactive (e.g., discussion forums, chat rooms, and professional groups). It’s increasingly common for translation professionals to conduct their work remotely and collaboratively. This makes it completely natural and effective for future translators to be trained in surroundings similar to those in which they will practice their profession. This trend is reflected in the growth of online translator training programs, the demand for which is expected to increase. However, with the rise of online training options, there’s a concern that we’re losing a key element that’s important to a future translator’s success: fostering relationships through direct human contact.

Interaction with project managers, colleagues, clients, reviewers, editors, and other professionals, who form part of the constellation of direct professional contacts of any translator, is a crucial aspect of the translation trade. A translator’s professional success depends to a great extent on the quality of these relationships. At the same time, interaction is also an integral part of any learning process, and positive relationships with the instructor and other students are fundamental to learning.1 For many students, not having enough direct contact with instructors and peers is among the biggest challenges of online training. But how do we compensate for the lack of direct human interaction in online training courses?

There’s a growing awareness of the essential role that emotions play in many cognitive processes, including the two that are central for successful completion of translation tasks: decision-making and problem-solving.2 Affective aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place. In addition, “emotions and teamwork have as much relevance for effective learning as the development of mental skills and individualized study.”3 As mentioned previously, since virtual classes lack physical presence and interaction, feelings of isolation and frustration on the part of students are a frequent problem.

As educators, we should look for didactic strategies in the socio-affective domain to create an environment that helps students avoid negative emotions, not only in terms of the relationship of the student with the study material, but also in terms of collaboration with fellow students and the instructor. Here I’ll discuss possible ways of effectively using social and affective strategies that we’ve studied and implemented in our own instruction within the Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We hope that other translation instructors can incorporate these strategies in their virtual classrooms successfully. These strategies are also transferable to a professional virtual work environment.

Creating Communicative Proximity

Socio-affective strategies involve stimulating learning through establishing a level of empathy between the student and instructor. This can be done in a variety of ways.

Enhancing the Instructor’s Social Presence: For students to feel the instructor’s presence, the instructor has to be “visible,” which in a virtual environment usually requires some type of action. Technology allows the instructor to create what Rebecca DiVerniero (a lecturer in the Communication Studies Department at Christopher Newport University) and Angela Hosek (the director of Emerson College’s Communication 100 program) call “a dialogical atmosphere.”4 Three ways in which computer-mediated communication can help develop this atmosphere include:

  • Increased effectiveness in day-to-day communication. The availability of electronic media allows the instructor to respond and initiate conversations quickly and regularly.
  • An increased perception of the instructor’s availability on the part of the students. Communication outside the traditional schedule of a face-to-face course creates a sensation of constant attention and contact.
  • Increased opportunities for shy students, who might not feel comfortable in an open classroom forum, to speak to the instructor and ask questions or express doubts.

An instructor might also choose to create their own social presence by:

  • Focusing discussions on specific problems. Donald Kiraly, who taught in the School of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germany, calls this appropriation interpretation and reformulation of students’ ideas.5
  • Including additional information from external sources.6
  • Scheduling synchronous activities (virtual meetings).

Students in synchronous courses usually rate the instructor’s presence higher. Synchronous virtual meetings also emphasize the existence and identity of the group and its members in a more tangible way. In many cases, these meetings are the only opportunity for students to have a real-time conversation with their classmates and the instructor. Therefore, they play a prominent role in the socio-affective well-being of the class. However, students who are unable to participate in a real-time meeting (due to time zone differences, work, or family responsibilities, etc.) can feel left out. Therefore, it’s important to organize synchronous meetings at different times to give everyone the possibility to participate in the discussion at least once.

Creating Communicative Proximity: Research in the field of communication provides ways for the instructor to create a sense of psychological closeness or communicative proximity in a virtual classroom by means of physical and verbal behaviors that reduce the psychological and physical distance between individuals. In a traditional classroom environment, physical behaviors include eye contact, smiling, and leaning in during conversations with students. Students who notice such behavior on the part of their instructor tend to report feeling more motivated and perceive their instructor as more reliable.7 In order to create such proximity in a virtual class, the instructor can use:

  • Video recordings so as to include the gestural components of language, such as the feeling of a direct gaze. Such an effect can be achieved by filming the instructor in an informal environment while they look directly at the camera. A smile and open gestures can also shorten the psychological distance between the instructor and students.
  • Voice recordings, since being able to hear the instructor’s voice makes students feel more connected and helps to humanize the virtual learning experience.8 Recordings reinforce the presence of an instructor in a virtual classroom. Podcasts can also be very effective in a virtual course, as they help reduce students’ feelings of isolation and promote a social presence.
  • More visual elements such as colors, images, and photographs of the instructor in an academic environment that emphasize their expressiveness, accessibility, and dedication.

Building a Shared Community of Practice

Discussion Forums: Online discussion forums help reduce students’ sense of isolation and provide a space for sharing achievements, fears, and frustrations about the course in general or about a particular activity, thus creating a sense of community. For the forum to become the center of the community of practice, instructors might:

  • Provide specific guidelines on the use of the forum, such as instructions to:
    • Address others by name.
    • Justify their opinions and expand general statements.
    • Always treat others with respect, especially when expressing an opposing opinion.
    • Remember that in an online course, relationships with others are built through language, so the details of the communication in the forums must be handled carefully.
    • Quote or reference other students’ ideas.
    • Read all the comments before adding one’s own so as to contribute positively to the discussion and avoid the repetition of ideas already expressed.
  • Build discussions around students’ own interests, concerns, and experiences.
  • Recognize and reinforce student contributions, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and seek a way to achieve consensus, learning, and understanding.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the discussion process.9

Instructors themselves must model the form of communication desired in the forum. They should emphasize that their opinion isn’t the only correct one. This will encourage students to offer their own opinions and not just try to guess the answer that the instructor wants to hear.

Peer Review: Peer review and mentoring activities are very effective in improving both group dynamics and each student’s translation strategies and techniques. They allow students to reflect on their own translation process, learn different ways to solve translation problems, participate in the creation of shared knowledge, and as a result, create a community of practice.10

For the peer review to be effective, it’s recommended that the instructor:

  • Explains the benefits of peer review and feedback to students;
  • Provides students with an adapted version of the ATA Certification Program’s Framework for Standardized Error Marking as a basis for peer evaluation.11 This practice will help them reflect on the process and product of their own (and others’) translation work. At the same time, it will bring learning closer to the standards of professional translation.

Promoting Productive Collaboration

Instructor’s Role: The instructor is essential in the creation of a productive, satisfactory, and genuine collaboration for students in a virtual class. The instructor should monitor and evaluate the collaborative processes used and provide help, advice, and tools.12 To promote effective collaboration, it’s suggested that the instructor:

  • Create the work groups carefully. It’s preferable to organize small groups (three to four students), taking into account the primary variables in student background (such as dominant language, specific areas of prior knowledge, and expertise with technology).
  • Create fixed roles within the group. It’s advisable for each participant to perform in a fixed role and assume responsibilities within the group. A prior discussion of such roles can help avoid social laziness, or the situation in which some students let others do the work. If this is noticed, the instructor can make “a diplomatic intervention.”13
  • Prior to the activity, teach students the essential rules for effective collaborative work and follow up on students’ success in collaboration after each group activity.14 Many humorous videos on collaboration practices and teamwork that can be found on YouTube could help foster a more effective team-member effort.
  • Set clear instructions regarding deadlines and the work to be completed.

Positive Interdependence: As Juan Antonio Prieto-Velasco and Adrián Fuentes-Luque, of the Department of Philology and Translation at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain, note, the two main potential problems in collaborative class activities are a lack of participation by some members and the excessive control of group dynamics by participants with dominant personalities.15 To prevent such behaviors, positive interdependence and shared responsibility should be created using the following techniques:

  • Students should receive a group reward for their work, which creates reward interdependence. Students may receive a shared grade in at least one of the aspects of collaborative work.
  • Create resource interdependence in which each student depends on the others to fill in their own knowledge gaps. For example, weekly readings can become shared readings. Each student in the group reads part of the material on the selected topics and shares what they’ve learned.
  • Create roles for the work process. For example, one group might be required to depend on another to complete the assignment as a whole, with some students translating and others editing.
  • Include anonymous peer evaluation in which each student evaluates the work of the other members, as well as the effectiveness of the group’s work in general, indicating both strengths and areas for improvement.

Establishing a Socio-Affective Domain Is Key

In the virtual classroom, effective management of the socio-affective domain is essential for both the learning process and the translation process. The socio-affective strategies discussed here help optimize the instructor’s effectiveness and prepare students for the workplace by:

  • Creating a sense of the instructor’s communicative proximity and social presence to encourage students’ ability to relax and become fully engaged.
  • Creating a community of practice by using discussion forums and peer review, both for effective learning and to reduce stress and tension.
  • Establishing situated learning to generate interest and connection with the future professional activity.
  1. Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (Harvard University Press, 1978).
  2. Rojo, Ana. “The Role of Emotions,” In J. W. Schwieter and A. Ferreira (Editors), The Handbook of Translation and Cognition (John Wiley & Sons, 2017), 382. See also: Oxford, Rebecca. Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies (Pearson, 2011).
  3. González Davies, M. “Socioconstructivismo,humanismo y plataformas pedagógicas: De la teoría al proyecto auténtico de traducción,” In M. Cánovas, M. González Davies, and L. Keim (Editors), Acortar distancias. Las TIC en la clase de traducción y de lenguas extranjeras (October 2010), 144.
  4. DiVerniero, Rebecca, and Angela Hosek. “Students’ Perceptions and Communicative Management of Instructors’ Online Self–Disclosure,” Communication Quarterly (August 2011), 429–430.
  5. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 79.
  6. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24,
  7. Mottet, Timothy, and Virginia Richmond. “An Inductive Analysis of Verbal Immediacy: Alternative Conceptualization of Relational Verbal Approach/Avoidance Strategies,” Communication Quarterly (January 1998), 25–40, See also: Schrodt, Paul, Paul Witt, Paul Turman, Scott Myers, Matthew Barton, and Kodiane Jernberg. “Instructor Credibility as a Mediator of Instructors’ Prosocial Communication Behaviors and Students’ Learning Outcomes,” Communication Education (July 2009), 350–371,
  8. Bolliger, Doris, Supawan Supanakorn, and Christine Boggs. “Impact of Podcasting on Student Motivation in the Online Learning Environment,” Computers and Education (September 2010), 720,
  9. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24,
  10. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 111.
  11. ATA Certification Program Framework for Standardized Error Marking,
  12. Jahng, Namsook. “Collaboration Indices for Monitoring Potential Problems in Online Small Groups,” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Winter 2013), 2,
  13. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 117.
  14. Huertas-Barros, Else. “Collaborative Learning in the Translation Classroom: Preliminary Survey Results,” JoSTrans: The Journal of Specialised Translation (July 2011), 42–60,
  15. Prieto-Velasco, Juan, and Adrián Fuentes-Luque. “A Collaborative Multimodal Working Environment for the Development of Instrumental and Professional Competences of Student Translators: An Innovative Teaching Experience,” The Interpreter and Translator Trainer (April 2016).

Diego Mansilla, CT teaches advanced translation courses and is the director of the Spanish>English Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is also a professional translator with over 20 years of experience. He is a member of the board of directors of the New England Translators Association. An ATA-certified English>Spanish translator, he is a grader for ATA’s English>Spanish certification exam. Contact:

The ATA Chronicle © 2020 All rights reserved.