by Leslie Padilla-Williams

I must confess that I have made a lot of mistakes during my career as an interpreter in K-12 meetings. Every, and I mean every, educational meeting, whether it be an IEP, SST, SARB or a “simple” parent-teacher conference is full of acronyms. Early on in my career, when I was naïve enough to think that being bilingual and biliterate was all I needed in order to be an interpreter, I remember interpreting phrases such as:Thank you for coming to Juan’s IEP meeting, in this manner: Gracias por venir a la reunion I-E-P de Juan. It did not take me long to find out that neither the mother or I knew what was meant by IEP, even if I did say letters in Spanish!

After many years of trial and error, and of formal training as an interpreter/translator, I think I figured out how to handle the acronym nightmare. Here’s my formula for success:

1. Interrupt the speaker and ask what the acronym stands for. Don’t assume you know all your acronyms. Imagine my friend’s horror—an experienced medical interpreter—when she assumed that ED stood for erectile dysfunction at an triennial IEP that she covered for me. By the same token, if I had covered from her in a medical office, I probably would have interpreted ED as emotionally disturbed. In any case, I definitely think the parent or patient would have been totally confused.
2. Now, interpreter the words not the letters! In the case of IEP, my rendition would be:Plan Educativo Individualizado.
3. Immediately after your interpretation, follow it by: IEP, por sus siglas en inglés—or—conocido en inglés como IEP—or—IEP en inglés (depending on how much time you have!) However, do not forget to say the acronym in English, because from that point on you can use the English acronym instead of rending the translation every time you hear it So, at the end of the meeting, when the case manager says: Please sign the IEP, you can say: Por favor, firme el IEP.

I have applied this formula successfully in dozens of meetings. Let me know if it works for you, or if you have a better way to handle the interpreter’s acronym nightmare!

Posted in: Learning

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