Meeting a growing demand subject to interpretation

Jaime Fatas uses a podcast to teach Dr. Reuben Lakshmanan proper pronunciation of medical terminology translated in spanish. Photo by: Stefani Quihuis / Arizona Sonora News Service
Jaime Fatás uses a podcast to teach Dr. Reuben Lakshmanan proper pronunciation of medical terminology translated in Spanish. Photo by: Stefani Quihuis / Arizona Sonora News Service

It’s a typical Monday morning in Judge Scott Rash’s courtroom at Pima County Superior Court. Family members fill the gallery. Emotions run high as defendants accompany their attorneys and anxiously wait their turn.

Liliana Nido walks in and takes a seat near the defendants, some of whom are equipped with a single headphone. She covers her mouth with the daily court calendar already scribbled with notes, then speaks into a small microphone. 

“¿Puedes escuchar?” Nido begins almost in a whisper, asking everyone if they can hear.

This is her job. Nido is one of five interpreters employed by the Pima County Superior Court.

According to a Pew Research study, close to 67 percent of Hispanics living in Arizona speak a language other than English. This leaves places such as hospitals and courthouses struggling to meet the growing demand for interpreters and translators.

In Arizona those employed as interpreters and translators are met with a continuously raising standard for their craft.

Last year, the Arizona Supreme Court established the Court Interpreter Program Advisory Committee, which announced that by June 2019 all new interpreters must go through a credentialing program and prove their completion to remain employed.

Interpreters will be required to obtain a certain level of credentialing (tier 3 or 4) by taking oral examinations, in addition to the basic written exams and various ethics courses, according to the Arizona Courts website.

For court interpreters at Pima County Superior Court, these high standards have always been expected.

Victoria Vasquez, director of interpreting services at Pima County Superior Court, said she requires each of her employees to attend the Court Interpreter Training Institute, provided by the University of Arizona.

CITI, a three-week summer program, provides aspiring court interpreters specialized training in legal procedures, terminologies and note-taking strategies to help them understand that interpreting is both an art and a science.

“There are something like 22 cognitive skills that go into interpreting — it is something that is hugely complex,” Vasquez said. “So just because you speak both Spanish and English doesn’t make you an interpreter.”

For Nido, having Spanish as her first language was a huge inspiration to pursue a career in interpreting.

“With this, I am able to help people and use my Spanish,” she said.

Nido is a graduate of the University of Arizona and has her bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a concentration in translation and interpretation. The program, offered by U.A., focuses on comprehensive and simultaneous interpretation emphasized in health care and legal fields, and has become one of the first of its kind in the nation.

“There is a great need for professionals in all sections of society who can function at such a level with many different languages,” said Jaime Fatás, director of the translation and interpretation program.

The UA program consists of 42 credit hours, which are divided evenly between Spanish language classes and translation and interpretation classes.

Although Pima County Superior Court seeks to hire employees who are bilingual, the overall need for interpreters goes beyond just making sure limited English speakers are comfortable.

Institutions like hospitals and courthouses must also make sure they are in compliance with Title II of the Civil Rights Act as well as areas of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which state that everyone be entitled to the use and services of public spaces.

“Regardless of the presence of people who are bilingual, in areas like health care, a need for interpreters is always present,” Fatás said. “Not only do they need to know the language for the areas that are fairly technical, but they become aware of the humanitarian aspects as well.”

Jaime Fatás leads his beginning Spanish class on April 13, at Banner UMC South campus. Photo by: Stefani Quihuis / Arizona Sonora News Service

Despite the emphasis for properly trained interpreters, access to these professionals can be limited during emergency situations. Local area hospitals often utilize over-the-phone interpreting services to provide care to patients, but relying on these private contractors might not be sufficient enough.

As a result, Fatás, who is also a certified health-care interpreter, has partnered with the UA Emergency Medicine department to provide Spanish language classes to those completing their residencies to teach them the basics in health-care interpreting.

He is one of three instructors who teach classes at Banner University Medical Center’s South Campus. They meet with about eight to 10 students a few times every month to go over concepts, including how to explain complex medical scenarios to patients and families.

Although Fatás advocates for a greater implementation of professional interpreters, he feels these classes are a step in the right direction to providing better care to limited English speakers.

“These people have already proven themselves to be very smart, but these skills in foreign language are essential to connect on an emotional level to the patients and help them understand cultural diversity,” Fatás said.

Dr. Eric Lederer takes notes in his beginning Spanish class on April 13. The class teaches medical terminology to current residents at Banner UMC South campus. Photo by: Stefani Quihuis / Arizona Sonora News Servicenultural diversity,” Fatás said..

Chief Resident Anthony Cappa, one of eight students enrolled in the intermediate/advanced class, grew up speaking Spanish with his mother, who was a Spanish teacher.

“I learned a lot when I was young from traveling, and just really immersing myself with the language and culture,” Cappa said. “I like to think that by doing my residency at the South Campus I am doing a similar thing.”

Banner UMC South Campus, 2800 E. Ajo Way, has a very high Spanish speaking population, which is one of the many reasons Fatás sees the importance of teaching these classes to medical residents.

“There are a couple real benefits for these students to be taking the time to learn these skills,” Fatás said. “For one, it is a profitable career move, but it is also important to communicate with their patients, the most of which are primarily Spanish speaking patients.”

He says that becoming more aware of the need for services like this will only help us become better citizens of the world.

“We need to be willing to acknowledge that we are a multilingual and diverse group of nations and cultures,” Fatás said. “It is our responsibility.”

Stefani Quihuis is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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