LIPS Youth Use Their Bilingual Skills to Empower Community

LIPS Youth Use Their Bilingual Skills to Empower Community

Eighteen bilingual high school students from Somerville have just begun their year in the Liaison Interpreters Program of Somerville (LIPS), an intensive program which aids these students in helping with language interpretation in the community.

One goal of the program is to encourage students to see their bilingualism as an advantage rather than something to hide.

"There's a power to being bilingual, and you're here to share your power, and learn how to use your power," Zarita Araujo-Lane, president and director of Cross Cultural Communication Systems (CCCS) who provides much of LIPS' training, toldLIPS youth learn simultaneous intepretation on Oct. 19 the students in their first session on October 1st.

But, as Youth Programs Coordinator Maria Landaverde reminded the students, being bilingual does not mean that you will immediately be a perfect interpreter. "It's a lot of work," she said. "Interpretation is difficult." All of the LIPS participants are encouraged to think of each other as their community and help each other out, in order to get the most out of their experience. One major change in the program this year is that the directors have ensured that there are at least two people speaking each language. This year's LIPS participants and their parents are from seven countries and speak four languages - Spanish, Haitian Creole, Nepali and Portuguese - in addition to English.

"This is important sometimes for events, they say we need interpreters for three languages, and we need one interpreter for each language," Landaverde said.

"Most people don't understand how mentally tiring interpretation is."

"There should really be more thanLIPS students practice simultaneous interpretation on October 19 one interpreter for each language so they can take short breaks, because your brain winds down after about 15 minutes and then you start to miss things." Having at least two students to interpret for each language means everyone can help each other out. Training to become an interpreter has many steps, and employs many skills for these high school students. Their first day involved doing skits, practicing introducing themselves, and discussing the politics of what they're doing.One of the things that Araujo-Lane emphasized was that as interpreters, they are obligated to repeat everything they hear, and to inform the event managers that everything they say will be interpreted.

"Sometimes people think they can say whatever they want, because the people they're talking to can't understand them," she said. "You have to tell them 'everything you say will be interpreted,' so those people you're interpreting for have a fair sense of the situation. No matter what language you speak, we're all humans."

Araujo-Lane's CCCS is one of the two outside organizations working with the LIPS program. Landaverde said that one of the program's conscious goals for this year was to coordinate more with CCCS and the other organization, Boston Interpreters Collective (BIC), in order to have a "cohesive curriculum, to touch base on the process, and to coordinate." While both organizations help the students practice, and discuss the power of language in social justice, BIC's focus is on simultaneous interpretation, while CCCS works on consecutive interpretation. Both organizations are training the students to interpret at community meetings, because most of them are not yet 18, and cannot do hired one-on-one interpretation due to legal obstacles.

LIPS students practice simultaneous interpretation on October 19Being bilingual, however, means that they spend a lot of interpreting for their families. One girl spoke on the first day about interpreting for her parents at her younger siblings' parent-teacher conferences. Another girl spoke of taking her grandmother to the doctor's office. In the past, LIPS participants have interpreted at community meetings regarding the extension of the Green Line, and helped parents and students alike understand what kind of standardized testing and forms they have to complete for applying to college.

Although everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves on their first day, Araujo-Lane reminded them,

"This is a very serious program. When you go out and interpret, you're helping people to communicate."