Interpreter Spotlight: Meet Phuong-Anh Nguyen

Apr 21, 2021

Phuong-Anh Nguyen is a Certified Judiciary Interpreter in the Vietnamese language, in Virginia, DC and Maryland. This is the latest in our series of Liberty Language Services Blog posts highlighting the variety of careers available in the field of interpreting, and the variety of professional language specialists who work as interpreters.

How long have you been working as an interpreter?

About 19 years including in Vietnam and USA.

Why did you choose this profession?

Indeed, the profession chose me. Back in 2002, a colleague at my part-time teaching job was looking for an interpreting partner for a market research project. I took the chance and got splendid feedback for my performance. I discovered this career was a good fit and worked toward improving my skills while looking for the next opportunities.

Quality interpreting is high in demand and rewarding. There are very few Vietnamese interpreters who dedicate themselves to developing this job into a career. For example, the Maryland court lists only four certified Vietnamese interpreters include two from Maryland, one from North Carolina, and myself from Virginia. I enjoy the chance to develop my skills and learn from colleagues, especially when we work together as a team on a case.

How did you get started as an interpreter?

There were a few different starting points in my career. My first as a professional was interpretating for a series of weekend workshops on tourism in Saigon. Other starting points include my first assignment at Spotsylvania District Court in Virginia in 2012, a part-time interpreter job at Johns Hopkins Medicine IntraStaff in 2015, starting to work with Liberty Language Services in 2016, and earning my court interpreter certificate in 2017.

I am also exploring conference interpreting, and have had some virtual assignments so far. Conference interpreting for me is a different zone – instead of translating everything exactly as it is said as I must do in court, the extra goal is to successfully convey the speaker’s style and underlying spirit to a large audience.

When not interpreting for legal or medical clients, Phuong-Anh enjoys the art of Vietnamese woodcarving.

Do you remember your first interpreting assignment?

Yes, it was a lot of fun. I interpreted for a group of overseas market researchers coming to Vietnam with a project exploring new consumer-goods opportunity. I accompanied them to the market and interpreted their interviews with sellers. Then there were focus groups in which I sat with clients behind a two-way mirror and interpreted the discussions simultaneously. It felt funny when I was translating for the observers in a secret back room, while the group made-believe that they were in a private discussion.

How do you prepare for your assignments?

I review interpreter glossaries on different topics, especially in law and medicine. Then depending on the assignment, I focus on the specific terms that are frequently used in those settings. For medical assignments, I look for similar cases on YouTube or the Internet and review them. For legal cases, I look up the case files in public records (if available) and jot down correct names and address, monetary amount, dates, court proceedings, and try to anticipate the interpretation content to come.

How has COVID-19 affected your work as an interpreter?

The pandemic reduced the number of in-person assignments, but thanks to Liberty I still have freelance jobs. I also shifted to more remote online interpreting and familiarized myself with different apps including Zoom, Doxy, Microsoft Team, and BlueJeans. I also spent time improving my interpreting skills and took online workshops for CEU credits. Since May 2019, I’ve taken 16 workshops for a total of twenty-three CEU credits. Most of them were sponsored by the Maryland courts, where I am a registered certified interpreter, or by NAJIT and NCATA associations, of which I am a member. These trainings are offered on a first-come-first-served basis with a limited number of attendees, so I always jump at the opportunities to learn more when I learn that registration is open.

Do you recommend any app or tool that is helpful for new interpreters?

I like apps that make learning easy, instantly available, and free-of-charge. I have Quizlet and YouTube on my smartphone where I review interpreter glossaries, concepts and ideas in my spare time. I like the YouTube channel Institute of Human Anatomy, which visually explains the body and different health conditions. With my iPod, I recorded glossaries and frequently-used sentences in both English and Vietnamese, and listen to them on my way to assignments. I also use an iPod to practice simultaneous interpreting while driving to an assignment.

How did you develop and maintain your professional skills?

By taking the courses and practicing using the apps listed above. I also took Liberty’s 40-hour Interpreter Training course, which was excellent. Additionally, I attend workshops and connect with colleagues for updates on the profession.

What do you think is the most important thing you should do to be a successful interpreter?

Practice. Practice. Practice. Always be punctual and adhere to professional conduct. I also always remind myself that I have learned more from my own mistakes and from colleagues’ than any book or class could teach me.

What would you like changed or improved in the interpreting industry?

Sadly there are clients (doctors, nurses, judges, lawyers, etc.) who don’t pause for interpreters to provide the translation, and who don’t provide enough space or respect the interpreter’s need for social distance during COVID-19. In one instance, I was assigned two court cases for 8:30 am and 1:30 pm at different locations. The judge called the morning case so late that it ran into the afternoon. As the coordinator explained, this was a new judge who was not familiar with interpreted sessions.

I would like to see improvements in how clients are educated and prepared to work with interpreters. Perhaps a short video could be created that clients could watch to get them used to working in settings where interpreters are needed. This would benefit the clients, the interpreters and most of all those needing the interpretation, such as legal clients and medical patients.

What was the most memorable interpreting experience you’ve had?

I interpreted for a deposition in a child molestation case. The content was quite intense so I had to suppress my emotions in order to be impartial and focus on interpreting well. After the assignment, I sat in my car for a while to calm myself before heading out.

Through this experience, I learned the importance of separating my emotions from the work and keeping my feelings in check – to make sure I can do my very best for any assignment involving child abuse, neglect, or molestation. This was a powerful lesson, and I am grateful for the chance to help victims in these settings by providing my interpreting services to them. I encourage people to consider interpreting as a career: it is flexible, interesting always different and challenging, and you can really help people in a meaningful way.

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