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UMTIA: Upper Midwest Translators & Interpreters Association, A Chapter of the ATA


Welcome to UMTIA's blog!

Here you will find blog posts from members, board members, and fellow professionals that are interested in contributing to the interpreting and translation profession by writing blog entries. If you are interested in being featured in our blog, you can submit your blog entry in MS Word format (no PDF’s), and email it as an attachment to  You can also include a brief author’s biography of no more than 3-5 sentences. If you have an idea about a specific topic or would like to propose a topic, you can send your questions or suggestions to UMTIA to the email above.

Blog entries must be written in English and should be between 800 and 1,500 words in length. In general, most entries should aim to be between 1,200 and 1,400 words. 

  • 21 Apr 2022 3:40 PM | Mary Barrera Cobos (Administrator)

    By: Guest Author Elena Stuart – CoreCHI™

    November, 2021

    I have always had an interest in language and began studying English in fifth grade.  Later, I completed a Diploma on Translation at Moscow State Linguistic University in English and French.  I began working as a Russian medical interpreter in 2018 after spending my career to that point as a librarian where I also frequently used my language training.  Though I have had the opportunity to attend other professional conferences, this was the first time I had attended an ATA Conference.  After registering, UMTIA awarded two scholarships for the conference, and I was fortunate to win one of them.


    Since this was my first ATA conference, I started my preparation by searching the conference website. I was pleased to see that the information was well organized, easy to find with the chat tool allowing communication with any attendee, the scheduling of a meeting, or raising a question. ATA had established special seminars and mentoring for Newbies.  These were helpful.  I learned that each attendee would wear a colored dot to indicate their language – yellow for Russian.  As a result, I was able to identify and meet with other Russian interpreters and translators.  ATA also provides information about the attendees and a means to contact them in advance or during the conference.  I was able to use this online feature to make contact and to meet others.  Prior to attending, it is important to fully review the seminar offerings to select those that are most applicable to one’s professional goals.  There were 119 seminars offered and I attended fourteen of them.  Due to the pace of the conference this prior planning is critical. Later, I learned that all attendees would be able to access other sessions within a 6-month period after the conference which is great.


    The most intriguing seminar was (081) The Translation School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  This was a seminar on the process and results of a Biblical text's translation into several thousand languages which involves many cultural and linguistic considerations and nuances.  The presenter

    showed examples of languages that have particular and sometimes unique capacities to communicate certain biblical messages in exceptionally enriching ways that other languages cannot.  The tool can be seen at Jost Zetzsche was a very enthusiastic presenter and if you have the opportunity to hear him, I would strongly recommend it.

    The second seminar that I particularly enjoyed was (011) Vegetative-Vascular What? Navigating Unusual Conditions and Treatments in Eastern European Medical Records (presenters – Maria Guzenko and Anna Steingart).  I lived in Russia most of my life and had many experiences with the Russian healthcare system and then came to the US where there were obvious differences in the diagnoses, treatments, and attitudes compared to those in Eastern Europe.  Because of the differences in healthcare systems there is a lack of correlation between Russian diagnosis and American diagnosis, procedures, and treatment.  The presenter was able to provide on-point interpretation examples to show how accurate interpretation should be handled.  This seminar helped to highlight how a native-born individual through their own experience can provide cultural context and interpretation to ensure that patients and their American doctors will receive accurate medical interpretation and clear understanding.

    The third intriguing seminar was (029) Interpreting for Spiritual Care in Health Care (presenter – Tatiana Cestari). To provide good service in the role of an interpreter literal interpretation is not enough. Cultural awareness and capability to interpret content are particularly important. Some diagnoses are traumatic, and an interpreter can provide culturally sensitive empathy in working with the doctor and the patient. Interpreters must manage these encounters in a compassionate yet professional manner as health care interpreters play a key role in the patient’s experience during such emotional moments. Russia is a multireligious country with a variety of beliefs (secular, Orthodox, Muslim and Buddhist). Thus, understanding how an individual with say an Orthodox background should handle religious issues when dealing with someone of another faith is a critical aspect of culturally sensitive interpretation. Consequently, it was helpful to understand the implications of interpreting prayers, rites, and spiritual readings in hospital settings, including their importance to the well-being of patients and taboo status in the profession. Being an excellent speaker Tatiana Cestari showed her knowledge and expertise dealing with spiritual care.

    Other Highlights

    Besides these specific seminars, the conference was insightful in highlighting the variety of areas where language skills can be used (localization, subtitling, translation using a particular expertise (pharmacology), and conference interpreting.  Other seminars provided an overview of useful tools for a medical interpreter (online tools such as codes for diseases, codes for billing) and resources to expand medical knowledge (FOAM – Free Open Access Medical Education).


    Finally, I found attending the ATA conference to be a valuable personal and professional experience that delivered a good boost for my professional development, interest and motivation. I hope to attend the next conference in Los Angeles.

  • 21 Apr 2022 3:38 PM | Mary Barrera Cobos (Administrator)

    By: Mary C. Barrera

    Reposted with gracious permission from the Delaware Valley chapter blog and the author Mary C. Barrera

    March, 2018

    I am a Spanish medical interpreter and I am used to being the one in control of linguistic entanglements. I understand what the medical staff say in English, what the patients and families say in Spanish, and I am able to communicate all messages from one language into the other. I often notice that many families and patients seem very happy and relieved when they meet the interpreter they will have for their appointment; it seems to take a huge weight off their shoulders. I guess it’s hard for us interpreters to know how helpful we really are to our clients, until we end up needing an interpreter ourselves…

    I was recently traveling in Thailand and I needed to do laundry after spending a couple of weeks traveling around the country. I found a small wash and fold laundry service in Bangkok, where I dropped off my clothes and was supposed to pick them up the next day. The middle-aged Thai woman who runs the service gave me a receipt I could use to get my clothes the following day. Her English was very limited, but with some difficulty and in a thick accent she managed to say “Hello,” “Two kilos,” “80 Baht,” and “Tomorrow, 5 p.m.” I walked away feeling really happy that my clothes were going to be washed and ready in 24 hours.

    The next day, at 5 p.m., I returned to the laundry place to pick up my clothes and to drop off a new load that I had found at the bottom of my suitcase. The lady greeted me with a smile and a kind “Hello,” grabbed my new load, weighed it, made a receipt, and told me to pick it up “Tomorrow, 5 p.m.” I thanked her, and proceeded to ask for my laundry from the day before.

    Unfortunately, I had left the receipt at my hotel and I hoped she would remember me and give me my clothes without a problem. Unfortunately, she didn’t. I told her in English, “Yesterday I brought clothes to pick up today at 5 p.m.,” to which she responded in broken English, “No, no today, tomorrow 5 p.m.” I knew she was referring to the load I had just dropped off, so I continued to try to use simple language and only a few words to make her understand, but it wasn’t working.

    An interesting tidbit about the culture I was in is that Thai people are very careful about “saving face” and they’ll do whatever it takes to avoid starting a conflict or causing other people even the slightest bit of embarrassment. After a few attempts, we both wound up laughing about the silly and confusing situation we were in. At one point she even paused, thinking, and picked up a piece of paper sitting next to her scale and handed it to me. It was a long list of phrases in English with their translations in Thai; she signaled me to point at one. Funnily enough, the phrases read: “Today at 5 p.m.,” “Tomorrow morning,” “Tomorrow afternoon,” “Tomorrow at 5 p.m.,” “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…” – but there was no “Yesterday”! I could do nothing but smile and laugh, because I knew we were not getting anywhere.

    Since my hotel was too far to walk to get the receipt, I decided to go across the street to a restaurant and ask if there was someone who spoke English and could help me. A young, shy girl agreed to help and after I explained the situation to her she turned and started talking to the lady. She talked and talked and talked. The laundry lady responded, and they engaged in a long conversation which ended with the girl looking at me and saying, “Yes.” I stood quiet for a moment trying to process what this one-word answer could have been a response to. “Yes, I can pick up my laundry now?” I asked, to which the girl responded “What?” I laughed, but I could see the woman from the laundry service was starting to get frustrated.

    Abruptly, the young girl left and returned, after a few moments of awkward silence, with a Thai man in tow. He said to me in perfect English, “Do you need help?” I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” I explained the situation to him. He told the laundry woman a few sentences in Thai and I could see the light dawn in her eyes. She turned and looked at me and with the biggest smile on her face and said, “What you name?” “Mary,” I said. She ran back into her shop, grabbed a big laundry bag that had a copy of the receipt with my name stapled to it, lifted it up, showed it to me, and said “Mary?” I replied, “Yes! That’s my laundry!” We all laughed and celebrated the fact that we were able to communicate thanks to the help of the kind man who acted as an interpreter and solved our communication confusion in less than a minute.

    This experience has since made me think about my job and the importance of having qualified interpreters, particularly in more specialized situations, such as in a medical setting. There are over 46 million people in the United States who don’t speak English as their first language, yet, they will all need medical attention at some point. Medical interpreters facilitate communication between doctors and patients, but they also help avoid misunderstandings that could potentially put a patient’s life in danger. Going to a hospital or clinic can be intimidating, even for people who speak English proficiently. Imagine how much more nerve-wracking it would be for someone who has limited English-speaking abilities. When there is an interpreter, patients usually feel more comfortable, safe, and at ease when interacting with their doctors.

    When I was able to find “my Thai interpreter” (as I refer to him), I was very thankful and glad.

    I realized this is the same reason why our clients at work are always so grateful and relieved when they see us walking into their appointments along with their doctors. There is no more valuable lesson for an interpreter than to be in a situation where we need an interpreter ourselves. As we say at work, “Interpreters save lives” (and laundry too!).


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