The research that Professor Danylenko and I have carried out this summer has proven to be very engaging and productive. As a recap, our initial plan was to focus on legal translation within the Brooklyn borough and determine whether enough services were provided to non-English speakers to navigate the legal system. We were able to survey and assess 5 companies in the tristate area specializing in legal translation and interpretation, comparing their prices to the average income of immigrants. This allowed us to see that affording such services is quite difficult since the average immigrant family earns $36,000 annually, when legal documents cost hundreds of dollars simply to translate.
Our other area of research was on non-profit organizations that offer legal translation/interpretation services free of charge. Not only did we find that there are a few organizations of this type, but you must fit the criteria and remain on a waiting list to receive any sort of assistance. Translators are very limited – for the Russian language, the New York Legal Assistance Group only has 2 translators. Although not originally part of our initial objectives, we decided to analyze the quality of the translations produced by both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To achieve this, we assessed the requirements of being a translator at each company/organization and noted that there are very lenient qualifications for both. Translators are not regarded as employees at these companies, but are merely freelancers. Non-profit organizations do not have much of a rigorous requirement for their translators, as long as a volunteer has some knowledge of the language. This is very detrimental to the system since these documents are often going to court and are important in legal proceedings. A poor translation/interpretation can have a very negative outcome in the court of law.
To determine whether clients were happy with the services that they received, we posed a questionnaire to some 100 individuals and received the responses of 32. The languages we focused on are Spanish, Chinese, and Russian since those are the three predominant languages in Brooklyn after English. Most of the clients were unhappy with the services received citing errors in translations of the documents, lengthy wait time, and a suspicion that many were translated through online engines. Overall, the results we have obtained from our multiple surveys are very effective in continuing this research. We have spent these few months performing outside research by gathering data and will now continue into the fall semester by performing the academic portion. Our goal is to continue analyzing our data and bring a proposal to City Hall with our suggestions.
We make a proposal to provide individuals with incentives that will encourage them to pursue an education within the fields of language and translation studies. Of 100 people who were questioned if they were aware of the translation studies field, 78 responded with a negative answer. Most people are not aware that such a field exists, which is the core of where the problem lies. Translation studies is very limited at colleges and with the exception of a few that offer undergraduate degrees in the field, most do not.
The second point lies in the solution to the problem – providing students scholarships and grants towards pursuing legal translation studies. This is done for teachers whose tuition is reimbursed and loans are forgiven if they go on to teach in certain communities. Many of these communities are surrounded with these children and their parents who have limited opportunities to obtaining legal representation or legal services. If we look at the statistics of how many children and their families are non-English speakers, we see a direct correlation. Children cannot receive a good education if their families are in danger of eviction or deportation. The two tie directly together. Offering students scholarships or loan forgiveness if they choose to pursue the field of legal translation serves as an incentive. Such an incentive has been given to aspiring teachers and recently by NYU to medical school students.
As a home to many immigrants and non-English speakers, New York City must take the lead on this. By encouraging students to study the field of legal translation, the city will be able to offer more of its people the opportunity for growth and improvement. Incentives should also be given to non-profit organizations in the form of grants to encourage them to offer such services. There are very few organizations who offer legal interpretation (let alone translation) at the moment. This is just one of our ideas to propose and we are continuing to investigate the matter as more data comes in.
We welcome any suggestions and ideas to further the research. Thank you.
Thus far, Professor Danylenko and I have made good progress with our Legal Translation Questionnaire research. As planned, we have put heavy focus on what is expected of organizations or companies that provide legal translation. I have assessed 5 companies in the tri-state area that provide legal translation services for a fee to determine the extent as to their expertise and whether the majority of those who do inquire of translation services can afford them. The companies that we assessed are Apoling Solutions, Morningside Translations, D&T Translations, Certified Translation, and Day Translations. I presented a questionnaire (attached) to these 5 companies in order to better understand the work that they do, whether they maintain professionalism and are licensed to operate, the prices of standard translations/interpretations, and what such a company entails from its translators. Additionally, I submitted 3 legal documents to each company in the Russian, Spanish, and Chinese languages to obtain sample quotes of how much certified and non-certified legal translations would cost. This allowed us to respectively compare the average wage of immigrants in the United States to how much legal translation/interpretation would cost, if utilizing these companies.
Additionally, we have explored the very limited number of organizations providing these services free-of-charge and how the whole process of translation for low-income clients works from the first step to the final stage. Ultimately, we were only able to verify that two such organizations exist in the area: The New York Legal Assistance Group and The Legal Aid Society. Both these organizations have a high waiting list for legal services and only provide legal translation as an additional supplement to their services. To determine the quality of translation/interpretation services provided by these organizations, we inquired as to how volunteers are selected and the number of volunteers available in each language. We also wanted to understand how the city provided non-English speakers with translators during trials and for this, I visited the criminal court house of Kings county in Brooklyn. While I had previously thought that legal translation was fully available to all in need, I was quite shocked just how limited it is. However, we did learn that multiple offices in the U.S. receive funding from the government specifically towards language access services. These include the Legal Services Corporation, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Labor. If individuals are not provided services in their languages at these offices, they have the opportunity to file a complaint. Yet the question remains as to what those who speak another language that isn’t as common should do if there is no translator/interpreter available. This is our third step of research that we are working on.
A good portion of our research is obtaining data and actual observances from non-English speakers who have used such translation services. We presented a questionnaire (attached) to over 100 individuals and received the responses of 24. The questionnaire was uniform, contained identical questions, and was completely voluntary. While we are still analyzing the results of the questionnaires, the overall picture shows that most clients were not fully satisfied with the services that they received. Most of the issues arose from the lengthy wait-time of having access to translators/interpreters, as well as the lack in availability of such services altogether. The full analysis of our data will be presented in graphical format within our research paper at the conclusion of the summer where we hope to see a pattern in the issues and come up with a way as to how they can be improved. Our next part of the project will focus on steps that can be taken by the city to enhance legal translation, where there are thousands of non-English speakers. Yet the data also raises the questions as to where the city of New York will find funding to support such projects, even if an alternative solution was offered. Based on my research, a good suggestion that arises would be for the city to offer college students a chance to release them from their loans if they were to go into pursuing a career in legal translation. This idea has been done to increase the number of teachers in U.S. schools by offering loan forgiveness to those who pursue jobs as educators in specific subjects or districts. The plan would encourage students to make the field of legal translation a priority and encourage more graduates to pursue such jobs. Overall, we are highly satisfied with the work that we have produced as of date and look forward to continuing our research in August.
Professor Danylenko and I are pleased to have been chosen to work on the 2019 Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research and hope that our research this summer will serve a beneficial purpose to a number of people and communities. The title of our project is “Strengthening the Field of Legal Translation and Combatting Its Deficit in New York City.” The research will emphasize the lack in funding, the small number of translators and interpreters, and the limited availability of translation programs in schools, and outline what can be done to tackle these issues. This idea first came to us last semester when I was working on a paper that focused on problems that non-English speakers faced in court when it came to defending themselves under the eyes of the law. Many times, they would not be given a skilled translator (or often a translator at all) and numbers of cases were dismissed due to a lack of translators available to assist.
Our goal for this project is to analyze those specific weaknesses through both academic research and the gathering of data in the real world to ultimately find ways of how these issues can be approached. We will target three of the most common languages (after English) spoken in New York City: Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. At the current stage, our focus is solely on academic research to better understand the core of the situation and why the aforementioned difficulties are still present given the advanced technology and the laws aimed at improving the situation. Our next blog post will be dedicated to the ongoing data and statistics that we will have collected on this topic. Amongst our methods of finding answers to our questions will be in-person surveys and online questionnaires to better understand the experiences of non-English speakers with translation services in our city. We will collect feedback on their overall thoughts of those translators and interpreters provided in court, and the translation services of non-profits, including The New York Legal Aid Society and The New York Legal Assistance Group. The third stage of this project will be visiting the New York City criminal and supreme courts that are involving translators to get an understanding of how legal translation services can be improved.
Our proposed final stage is designing a program to help eliminate some of the issues connected to legal translation, which will be ascertained during the initial three stages. It will consist of a review packet that will aid translators in utilizing the proper skills and framework when performing legal translation or interpretation, especially when it comes to non-profit settings where translators may be seldom or are volunteering to help without having the necessary experience. We will distribute mini-training packs to be employed by non-profit organizations in NYC that offer translation services and recruit volunteers. This program will also be made available to Pace students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in modern languages and cultures, particularly translation studies (as a minor program) in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. There is also a potential to bridge our program with the Criminal Justice Department and the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University since all these touch on the legal system. As such, we are excited to have started working on this project and expect meaningful results at its conclusion that will benefit the legal courts and its people in New York City.