Online Interpreting Students Collaborate with UMass Amherst Dining Services on Service Learning Project
Monday, March 29, 2021
Monday, March 29, 2021
This month, a collaboration between UMass Amherst's auxiliary enterprises and faculty and students in the languages, literatures, and cultures department (LLC) launched a new food safety training program that provided spoken language simultaneous interpretation to employees whose first language is not English.
In February of 2020, Simon Stevenson, training director of UMass Amhert's auxiliary enterprises, approached Cristiano Mazzei, lecturer in LLC and director of the online Certificate in Professional Translation and Interpreting, to discuss the possibility of collaborating to make their food safety training sessions more accessible to employees whose first language is not English. The idea was to provide them with spoken language simultaneous interpretation in their primary languages. Mazzei, who had supervised a group of his translation students on a different service-learning project with auxiliary enterprises during the previous semester, approached the new initiative as an opportunity for students to develop their interpreting skills. “I remember saying to Simon that I was excited about the project for two reasons; we would be providing needed access to ESOL employees and opportunities for our students to practice their skills,” says Mazzei.
"Back then, the idea was that all students and staff would be on campus so we started working on the details," exaplins Mazzei. "In March of 2020, the pandemic hit and the project was put on hold." In an email to Mazzei in April, Stevenson shared that “the world of dining services has, like most other worlds, been turned upside-down...our project is clearly on the back burner for now.” After a few months, after the campus started to adapt to the “new normal,” the project was picked up again. The plan was to hold training sessions with a group of dining services staff members, socially distanced from each other and wearing face coverings. Mazzei proposed the idea of interpreting students offering remote interpretation via Zoom to participants in the training session and connected Stevenson to Elena Langdon, an LLC faculty member teaching online simultaneous interpreting course. “It’s a great opportunity for students to practice their Zoom and simultaneous skills,” added Langdon, who has also designed a new course for LLC’s online certificate in response to the increasing demand for virtual interpreting called “Technology for Interpreters.”
The decision was made to only offer remote Spanish interpretation in the first iteration of the project, which included dining services staff members using their own smartphones and headsets to access the interpretation on Zoom while Stevenson was in the room conducting the training in English. The classes were offered over 3 days in March 2021 and according to Simon, “it went exceptionally well. Yes, there were a couple of technical glitches, but they were handled smoothly and with total professionalism by all. It was truly wonderful to see such strong collaboration from different departments on campus, showing the very best of UMass. The food safety students truly appreciated the efforts of the interpreting students and they are excited to receive their training in their primary language.”
Dining services staff physically taking their ServSafe training in Amherst received Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) from Spanish interpreting students based in Washington, California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Asked about the experience, Athena Haxton '21, a University Without Walls student participating in the Online Certificate in Translation & Interpreting, stated, “I was nervous the first day, but after jumping in, that washed away quickly! I learned how much I LOVE simultaneous [interpreting]; the components necessary for a job like this; how an interpreting job should be managed and how it should flow. This was an invaluable experience and I’m ready to get to work!”