Discover the unique challenges and joys of trilingual interpretation with Kenton Myers, a seasoned language professional proficient in English, Spanish, and ASL. From strategic scheduling to the delicate art of managing a Language Service Company, Kenton shares insights from his dynamic career, offering valuable advice for aspiring interpreters.
As a medical and court certified language professional, Kenton emphasizes the impact of certifications on accountability, and negotiation power. He also reflects on his role as president of Interpreters and Translators Association of Alabama (ITAA), highlighting initiatives that have strengthened the interpreter community in Alabama.
Q: As a trilingual interpreter, you navigate between English, Spanish, and ASL. What unique challenges and joys come with being proficient in three languages, and how has this multilingualism shaped your career?
A: Being a trilingual interpreter is both incredibly rewarding and challenging. The journey to acquiring and developing interpreting skills in three languages has opened my world to diverse perspectives and ways of being in the world. Which in turn, has made me a more adaptable person and a more successful interpreter in a variety of settings. It is also a joy to serve as an access bridge to multiple communities at the same time. The lessons I’ve learned from my language acquisition and interpreting journeys have shaped my career even beyond interpreting. I now use those lessons to create resources for entities that use language access providers and for other multilingual interpreters like myself through Myers & Lawyer, where I am co-founder and co-researcher.
However, mastering three languages isn’t just about linguistic proficiency. While I’m extremely passionate about trilingual interpreting, it also comes with a lot of pressure, namely ensuring I am constantly immersed in the languages balanced with the research I do within the field, in addition to engaging and working in all three languages. My typical workday involves navigating between English, Spanish, and American Sign Language (ASL), often in various combinations of those languages and across different specialties and settings. There are days when my schedule leans more towards a particular language pair, and in those moments, I can’t help but compare my skills in relation to my bilingual colleagues who work exclusively in Spanish/English or ASL/English, and question whether my skills are “behind” in a specific area.
The variety in my schedule, while challenging, is something I embrace. To maintain balance, I try to be strategic when it comes to planning my schedule. If I have a day of majority Spanish/English assignments, the next day I try to prioritize ASL/English work. An ideal day for me includes a mix of bilingual ASL/English and Spanish/English work, with one or two trilingual requests.
Q: As the owner of an LSC, you wear many hats. Can you share a memorable experience or a humorous anecdote from managing a language services agency? What surprises come with the job that people might not be aware of?
A: As you can imagine, owning and running a Language Service Company can be quite demanding. There are so many layers, viewpoints, and perspectives to consider. This becomes even more challenging when working with colleagues who are also good friends, and I wear both the LSC owner and member of the interpreting team hats. It’s a constant balancing act managing personal relationships, professional ties, organizational connections, and peer-to-peer interactions.
Handling various aspects, from personalities and emergencies to disagreements, finances, and logistics, while striving to deliver top-notch work as a practitioner, adds additional demands to the work. Navigating relationships, especially when issues arise with other interpreters, involves a thoughtful process. I have to decide how to respond—whether to react as Kenton the individual, as the agency owner/interpreter coordinator, or as an interpreter peer/colleague on the team. Making these decisions takes time and careful consideration, particularly because our interactions often extend beyond the professional realm, even within the workplace.
Q: You hold certifications from both NBCMI and CCHI. How has achieving and maintaining these certifications impacted your professional journey? Any advice for interpreters aspiring to attain national certifications?
A: I initially pursued certification after completing a 250-hour medical interpreter training program here in Alabama. Beyond the certificate of completion, I wanted an unbiased third-party evaluation of my skills as a working English-Spanish medical interpreter. I pursued both the NBCMI and CCHI certifications because while it does feel good to have that validation and personal accomplishment, the real satisfaction comes from knowing that the communities I serve can trust in the importance I place on my career and skills and know that I’m dedicated to providing top-notch service.
Here in Alabama, certifications don’t heavily influence my ability to secure freelance work, but they do come in handy during onboarding with different entities. Having certifications often exempts me from their internal evaluation processes. As a freelancer, I get to establish my own professional fees, and having certifications adds a layer of negotiation power.
For me, certification also serves as a form of accountability. I never want to become complacent; I want to continuously improve my skills, knowledge, and awareness as language evolves along with the field of interpretation and translation. Certification keeps me on track for professional development, motivating me to maintain a high standard. The specialized nature of certification in spoken language is an additional layer. When I show up as a certified medical or court interpreter, there’s an expectation of a certain skill set, and I always aim to surpass those expectations.
As far as advice for interpreters aspiring to attain certification – Understand the weight of responsibility that comes with certification and the personal reasons driving your pursuit. Remember, certification is a milestone, not a definition of your worth as an interpreter. Each professional journey is unique, so resist the urge to compare yourself to colleagues. Instead, focus on maximizing your skills and unlocking your full potential. The journey toward certification demands significant investments of time, money, and energy. When you finally achieve it, there’s a risk of feeling a sense of completion that could lead to complacency. It’s essential to recognize that certification marks a point in the journey, not the end and is often only the minimum expectation for skills and professionalism. Keep challenging yourself, seeking growth, and embracing the continual learning that makes our profession dynamic and fulfilling.
Q: As the president of ITAA, you play a crucial role in supporting language professionals. What initiatives or projects are you most proud of, and how do you envision the future of language services in Alabama?
A: Ironically enough, the first ITAA meeting I attended was a meeting to discuss the organization’s dissolution. The leadership team was stepping down and I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference since I had gone to the meeting with the intention of networking with other colleagues and to find a professional support system.
One of the accomplishments I cherish most is what saved ITAA – organizing an annual conference right here in Alabama. We pulled together our resources to make these annual conferences free for attendees, a feat that lasted for several years. The energy during these events, with colleagues coming from near and far, was invigorating and inspiring. Many presenters graciously donated their time until we reached a point where we could compensate them. Their dedication played a pivotal role in our organization’s resurgence, and we remain forever grateful.
Another initiative that was a top priority of ours, proposed a few years back, was the commitment to host, at minimum, four annual trainings—one medical, one educational, one legal, and one community-focused. We brought in subject matter experts and leaders in these various specializations, offering valuable insights that many local interpreters from novice to experienced might not have had access to otherwise.
Lastly, we pushed for more collegial and community-based gatherings throughout the state, from simple meet-ups at restaurants to game nights and social fundraisers. The aim was to engage with colleagues in non-work settings, fostering connections beyond professional contexts. While the rapid progress hit a speed bump with the onset of COVID, we’re still making strides as an organization, and I’m genuinely content with the work we’ve accomplished.
Kenton is part of the panel on Working Conditions and Productivity at LEO’s 8th Virtual Conference. Join us on November 30-December 1 to learn more from Kenton and other outstanding experts in the field!