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Inside CSULB
Vol 57 No. 18 : November, 2005
Vol 57 No. 18 | October 28, 2005
Rainof Has His Own Interpretation of Things

Rainof Has His Own Interpretation of Things

Alexander Rainof

Alexander Rainof knows there's more to interpretation than speaking different languages.

The member of the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department since 1998 was a moving force behind the establishment of the university's Bachelor of Arts in translation and interpretation studies for English and Spanish which is now in its fifth year. The program has close to 60 majors and is still the only one of its kind in the nation.

"People think that because they speak two languages, they can interpret," said the Santa Monica resident. "That's like saying if you have two hands, you're a concert pianist. Having two hands is only the beginning. It's how you train those hands that make you a concert pianist. Similarly, you have to get training in both languages to become an interpreter. In the courts and medical sector, the stakes are very high. There are questions of life and death so the training has to be as high as the stakes."

There are 224 languages in California, of which 17 are considered official and must be translated and interpreted by all state agencies. These are selected in terms of the numbers of speakers of these languages in California. More than 4 percent of California's 33 million residents speak little or no English. To respond to the 21st century's demographic explosion of people with limited English proficiency, more interpreters are very badly needed.

"This is not true just on the coasts," said Rainof. "There is a sizable new minority population throughout the United States, in places such as North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. The number of court cases needing translators has grown exponentially in many areas ranging in growth from 135 percent to 185 percent. This is especially true for Spanish."

There are two kinds of interpretation - consecutive and simultaneous. Consecutive interpretation means the interpretation of an utterance after it has been completed while simultaneous interpretation is the interpretation of an utterance while in progress. In simultaneous interpretation, five things happen - the interpreter listens, decodes, encodes, utters and stores.

"Medical research into the brain has seen a dramatic rise in activity during simultaneous interpretation," he explained. "At any one time, 10 percent of the body's blood goes to the brain. Brain activity is matched by blood flow; the more activity, the more blood. Normal brain activity lights up when the brain is scanned in about five areas but brain activity lights up in from 12 to 16 areas when simultaneous interpretation is performed. It looks like a Christmas tree."

When Rainof was invited to Washington, D.C., to the Department of Justice in his role as Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), representatives of the Office on Civil Rights explained that under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166, language rights are civil rights.

The medical sector is one of translation and interpretation's growth areas.

"The people who most need a translator in a medical setting are the people least aware of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166," he said. "Plus, these people are present in hospitals and medical offices under great pressure with sick children or they themselves are sick. Most of the time, they don't have the energy or knowledge to fight the system. They are scared. Sometimes hospitals take advantage of this situation. For instance, there was a hospital back East that did not have translated consent forms. Women who spoke little or no English could not understand the consent forms in English and therefore could not sign them. They would be in labor for many hours and often in a great deal of pain without the benefit of any epidural injection."

Rainof finds his certification as an interpreter for the federal, state and Los Angeles County courts in more demand than ever. He has served as a consultant in the examination and training of translators and interpreters for the L.A. County Superior Court and the U.S. Immigration courts and belongs to the California Court Interpreters Association. He attended Boston University and Harvard University before joining the University of Michigan to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature.

"CSULB is an ideal place to develop not only the B.A. in interpretation and translation studies, but an M.A. in the same field," he said. Rainof also would like to see the Spanish and English degrees in interpretation and translation duplicated in other languages as well with the ultimate goal of making CSULB a national center for translation and interpretation studies in a variety of languages. "There is a ready market for translation and interpretation right here in Long Beach with many, many nations represented including a large Latino community, the largest Cambodian community outside Cambodia, Greek and Italian communities and many more," he said.

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