MCIS’ Language Independent Translator Training Program – 5 Years in the Making

By: Jack Xu

On Tuesday, March 21, MCIS launched its Language Independent Translator Training Program. It was the culmination of all the hard work of the team led by Gabriela Rodas in strong collaboration with Victoria Radvan over the past year. It is hard to even try to describe the amount of work that went into developing this comprehensive training curriculum consisting of 40 modules that cover all aspects of providing translation services, from the conceptual and theoretical foundations to detailed strategies for solving all the challenges of faithfully rendering meaning across languages, to using industry best practices and computer assisted translation technology, as well as managing the practical aspects of running a freelance translation business. Not to mention the unique challenge of presenting all this information in a language independent format, while also providing extensive opportunities for practice and language specific feedback.

But the story of how this training came to be starts about 5 years ago. At the end of 2011, MCIS signed two milestone contracts with Legal Aid Ontario and the City of Toronto. The first one brought us an ongoing influx of requests for translation for tens of different languages into English supporting refugee applications and similar legal matters. The second one presented the challenge of translating English content into a multitude of languages spoken in Toronto. While we were already doing this type of work before, these two contracts, signed in close succession, meant that our volumes skyrocketed in a matter of months. While we were all very excited about the opportunity to contribute to providing access to critical information and services to the diverse population of our City and province, we also became very aware of some severe gaps in the translation industry. The greatest challenge was maintaining our high quality standards in languages of lesser diffusion, which were nevertheless all of a sudden in high demand. We started by ramping up our recruitment efforts, but we soon found out that the gaps were not only on our roster, but in the market in general.

I remember being extremely puzzled, thinking how is it that we have qualified professional interpreters in hundreds of languages, but it is so hard to find qualified translators for the same languages? Yes, granted, the two professions are different, but we are still talking about the same languages. But, the answer to that question was a very simple one: there are no training opportunities for the vast majority of languages that are in high demand for us.

It was clear to me why that was; without a doubt it would have been impossible for any college or university to sustain a translator training course in any but the highest demand languages which made sense. But the problem remained and, as a professional translator and a speaker of a lesser diffusion language, I just had a really hard time accepting that that’s how things are and that’s that. I had recently completed the community interpreter training program so I knew firsthand that language independent training for language professionals is possible. I knew MCIS had been successfully training interpreters for years using this model. This was preoccupying me to such an extent at the time, that one night I dreamt about a training session at MCIS (at that time the training room was right next to the translation area), but instead of interpreter training it was a translator training that was taking place. I woke up to the glaring question and, nested within it the realization that the answer had been right in front of our noses all along: Why not develop a language independent training program for translators?

I was very excited and a little nervous sharing my crazy idea with my colleagues. But everyone was equally excited and the more we thought about it, the more obvious it was. That’s it, if we managed to pull this off that would definitely solve our problem. We did some research and put together a business case with a very rough draft of a possible curriculum, listing all the skills we would have to develop and topics we would need to cover. It was exciting, but also intimidating. It seemed like it would require a lot of work and, more importantly, a lot of money we did not have at that time.

We decided to wait for the right moment and to explore funding opportunities. Meanwhile, one thing we figured we could do was develop an orientation for translators joining our roster. We had found that even when people had previous translation experience, that experience was very different from one person to another, and there was often a lack of clarity around some common accepted practices in the industry. So the first thing we did is develop a one hour online workshop that became mandatory for all translators wishing to do work for MCIS. We started using this in 2013 and we were amazed and the difference this brief program made in terms of the efficiency of our processes. Previously, we were sometimes spending hours troubleshooting via email or on the phone with translators. Now, we could simply refer them to the online workshop.

By 2015, we had a lot more clarity about what such training would need to include, but still struggled particularly with a group of about 5 languages where the volumes had once again gone through the roof due to immigration dynamics and we were still facing challenges finding qualified translators. At this time we had already identified a potential source of funding with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and we were preparing to put together an application. But we knew that, even if we were lucky enough to get the funding, developing the program would take a considerable amount of time. Our clients simply could not wait that long. So we turned to our most experienced interpreters instead with the required language skills, and organized a one day workshop – a crash course on translation. Once again, we were amazed at the results yielded by something seemingly so small. Five of the participants subsequently became high quality translators that we work with regularly. We discovered that many actually did have translation experience, but they were simply lacking some basic guidance on what is expected from a translator working in a community setting.

Shortly after that workshop, and with renewed energy, having seen that it is possible to teach translation in a language independent setting, we started writing our grant application. In April 2016 Ontario Trillium Foundation accepted the rationale and evidence we provided funding our three-year project to develop a full translator training program that would be offered both in person and online. Within 24 hours of announcing the program, hundreds of people contacted us expressing their interest in the program. This was a dream come true, both literally and metaphorically, and it was also time to get to work!

One year later, here we are, pilot testing this unique training program that will fill the equity gap that Latha has described already in our latest Newsletter. It is a major milestone and a huge accomplishment that will help us pursue our mission of providing access to critical information and services through high quality language services, across all languages. It is our hope that as we train translators in all the languages spoken in our beautifully diverse city and province, we will never have to turn away anyone from receiving our services, because we do not have qualified professionals to do the work. Instead of languages being the source of discrimination and oppression, they can also be the source of diversity that enriches our experience. Dreams do come true from time to time, and they sometimes speak many languages.

This is what has motivated us all along: our belief that what we are doing will have a positive impact in the lives of our clients, but also the lives of the people we train, and also a positive impact on our industry in general. None of this would have been possible if we did not believe that by pursuing this dream, we could actually make a real change in the world. This has been a labor of love fueled by our passion to make our own contribution towards a world where language rights matter and are respected.

To end on a personal note, I feel very proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this exciting journey. So I would like to thank everyone who has been part of this adventure for their hard work, passion and love. Latha, thank you for believing in this and for all your guidance along the way. Gabriela and Victoria, your passion and professionalism shine through in everything you do and this program would not have been possible without you. Working with you is a pleasure and a privilege. My deepest gratitude also extends to our wonderful translation team at MCIS who inspired the program in the first place and has supported it all along.

Thank you to the entire training team which helped us in so many ways, to Eliana and the sales team for helping us promote the training, the finance team for making sure we’re always on track with our expenses, the HR team for helping us find the best people to do the work. We are extremely fortunate to have an amazing team of content developers and subject matter experts, as well as brave facilitators who have taken on the challenge of teaching our first ever language independent translation course – thank you for your courage and commitment. We are also very grateful to our trainees – thank you for being part of this exciting project. Finally, none of this would have been possible without the generous support of our funder, the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Veronica Costea, Translation and Special Projects Manager | Toronto, Ontario | March 25, 2017