Finding yourself in Spanish translation


The Translation and Interpretation Studies program remains a hidden gem at Pima Community College. The program is centered at the Desert Vista Campus with Susan Kuenzler, program adviser with the Division of Communication, and Jeffrey Gabbitas, Ph.D. and lead faculty for the Translation and Interpretation studies program.

The program has 90 students. Its lone prerequisite is to score above 601 on the WebCape placement test to assess the student’s language proficiency. Next, there’s an hourlong consultation with Kuenzler and Gabbitas to understand what the program is about and how it can work with the student’s career goals.

From there, students will pick classes based on whether they would like to be translators or interpreters. The program’s mission is to have students employed within their field. This program is different than the external certification exams similar to the medical field, which are required to receive employment.

Salaries in the United States range $25,370 to $83,010.

“We are trying to align our program with those certification exams,” Kuenzler said. “That way, students have a better probability of being able to excel on the exams.” The focus of this program is the study of Spanish to English and English to Spanish. Tucson’s location makes it special because its demographic has a concentrated group of Spanish speakers who can enroll.

“Translation,” in the strictest sense of the word, refers to the act of interpreting the written word. Professional careers that come from the study of translation can vary greatly but examples include divorce decrees or translation of medical documents.There are three different kinds of interpretation, which refers to the act of explaining dialogue. The most widely used and recognized is simultaneous interpretation, which is in a conversation with three parties. One person has a headset, one has a transmitter and one person is speaking. There is no need to pause the conversation because it happens at the same time.  

The other kind of interpretation is consecutive interpreting, which is similar to simultaneous interpretation. The conversation, however, briefly stops for pauses, allowing the interpreter to be given time to finish the message to the party who would have been wearing the headset.

Dr. Jeff Gabittas and his students.

Finally, there’s sight translation. This takes place when hospitals have patients sign consent forms, which is the act of interpreting text out loud for the patient.

The grading criteria for interpretation can be measured through accuracy of language used and omission, which are words that did not make it through when interpreting. University Medical Center has staff interpreters that are waiting for people to interpret for them unlike other hospitals in Tucson that have interpreters that communicate with patients via telephone. Five out of six staff interpreters at UMC are Pima graduates, Gabbitas said.

“Back in 2010 they did a projection they said the field would grow by 40 percent by 2020, which was really good news for our field,” Gabbitas said. “Now there is a high need for for translation and interpretation, which is just great because our students will have jobs.”

Students who graduate from Pima receive one of two degrees: a certificate in interpretation and translation studies or an associate in liberal arts of interpretation and translation studies.  Salaries in the United States range $25,370 to $83,010. Please move this way higher up. This is what people care about.

From 2016 through 2026, the percent change in employment for translators and interpreters will increase about 18 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since experience is pivotal for this career, and students who transfer to a four-year institution tend to do much better in the program than others who have not come from Pima, Gabbitas said.

“What’s good about our students is that they finish their certification first and have employment opportunities right away trying to finish up their associate’s and continue on to their bachelor’s,” Kuenzler said. “Working in the field while they’re studying is part of that process, and the program requires an internship of 60 hours for interpretation or 1,500 word documents that they would translate as part of the experience.”

However, this program isn’t for everyone. “You can’t get in if you lack the proficiency, but this program is for a lot of people that don’t know that they qualify for this program, they could develop those skills in a year and get the certification and use those skills to find employment, it is about letting them engage in a skill and be able to grow confident and pursue the things they really want to do so they can see themselves succeeding and what’s gonna stop them from doing anything to have someone provide that knowledge or wisdom, I do not think there is anything greater that you can give to your students,” Gabbitas said.

Kuenzler described the program’s importance.

“There is such a range of students from 18-year-olds to adults coming back to college for the first time,” she said. “They have this amazing skill and they don’t know it is an important contribution, and it is amazing to watch that shift of excitement. This is one of the most popular programs I am in charge of.”