Each month we get to know one of the interpreters in Boostlingo’s Professional Interpreter Network. This month, meet Jasmin Gerwien, an Arabic interpreter specialized in legal interpreting based out of Edmonton, Canada.
Each month at Boostlingo, we highlight a member of the Boostlingo Professional Interpreter Network (BPIN) is who inspiring us and powering the incredible global connections our platform enables through interpreters. This month, meet Jasmin Gerwien, a legal interpreter based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Jasmin is a member of the Alberta Court Interpreters Association (ACIA). She worked in the justice system for over 20 years as an Arabic interpreter & translator, for the Law Courts, Law Enforcement, and Law Firms in many locales. She also provides pro bono interpretation and translation for the Edmonton Community Legal Centre for the LEPs that cannot afford legal services.
While she is located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, through the use of conference calls, video platforms like Boostlingo and others, she is able to provide interpreting and translating services anywhere in the world. You can visit her website at thearabicinterpreter.com.
How did you get started in legal interpreting?
In 1984 I was at the university, and teams from around the world came to Alberta. I worked with them for the university for 10 days as the Arabic interpreter for the Arabic teams. And I love it and thought it was so cool. I got to go with the Egyptian team, Kuwaiti team, Tunisian team. I was with them every day from morning till night. I got hooked, and then went onto soccer interpreting on the field in Edmonton for the soccer coaches from around the world.
I loved interpreting, and I love languages because of my background. My dad spoke seven languages fluently. I went to a multicultural school in Kuwait, a Catholic school, with nuns from France. So, I learned French English and Arabic, and loved languages. And then when I lived in Mexico, I learned Spanish.
So, I went and joined a translation company in Edmonton in the early 90s. They started sending me out to assignments like translated medical books from English to Arabic, and vice versa, for some colleges in Alberta. So then when I was working with the language company, every time they sent me on an assignment, the clients would tell them, “Oh, she’s the best interpreter. She’s the best interpreter.”
They trained me in medical training and legal sessions, then I just went on to train myself. I decided that the legal industry is what where my passion is. So, I decided to take legal training courses, workshops through the court in Alberta law firms. I became the busiest Arabic interpreter because if a lawyer likes an interpreter, all of the lawyers here will know that.
How do you stay at the top of your game as a legal interpreter?
I keep educating myself. I would sit down with lawyers and pick their brains about the legal system, whether it was criminal family law, business, personal injury, all kinds in the type of court system that we have, whether they’re civil, criminal lawyers, and so on, I needed to know the ins and outs of the justice system here.
I moved back to Alberta four years ago, and of course, in Victoria I was the primary interpreter for the court and the police. I loved it. I was the only Arabic interpreter that was able to interpret via phone to the police and the court in Victoria because they trusted me. Then I came back to Edmonton, and I noticed there was some legal terminology that had changed since I lived here. So again, I had to work really hard to reestablish myself, meeting with lawyers, going to law firms, picking their brains and saying, “Look, I’m back here. What has changed?”
Just like languages, and countries and people are constantly evolving, so is the legal system. Lawyers can tell right away if you’re a professional interpreter. So, I spent minimum one hour a day educating myself on legal terminology in English and in Arabic. I looked at examples and the summary. Looking for just the terminology or a definition of one legal word is not enough. As an interpreter we have to act like lawyers, we have to know the meaning of that word and how it can have different meanings in different phrases.
How do you keep your cool as an interpreter in high stakes legal settings?
The interpreter is confident when the interpreter abides by the code of ethics and knows the code of ethics inside and out. I always take the code of ethics in my folder.
You can build confidence. I’ll tell you why I know for a fact. I trained all of the interpreters at Vancouver Island Counseling Center. And we have a supervision session called the empowering session, every Saturday, the first Saturday of every month. All the interpreters I trained, they’re sitting there on Zoom with the director of the organization, and I build their confidence.
When they first started they had no confidence whatsoever. They were nervous, they were scared. And now some of them already been interpreting for a few months, a year, two years. And they’re the ones that send me every day, a couple sentences or tell the director, “We never thought we could do it. We were scared, nervous in our first few assignments. And if it weren’t for Jasmin empowering us, and keep telling us yes, you can do it and helping us with the mistakes we make.”
I told them, as long as you’re abiding by your code of ethics and best practices, if you make 100 million mistakes that is fine. You can interrupt or say when you made a mistake. Trust me, the clients will trust you more.
I don’t claim to be perfect. I make mistakes. And the best interpreters in the world make mistakes. You can bet when I make a mistake, I admit my mistakes.
How do you maintain a sense of balance with the high intensity work you do?
Self-care for interpreters is really, really important. When I train the interpreters, I let them know self-care is important because it’s not easy. We are constantly focusing and concentrating. And then on top of that, the interpreter role is to listen, we understand. Then we have to understand what’s been said in, interpret in our mind, and then speak. There is so much concentration and focus.
And then on top of it, sometimes we hear those traumatizing, unhappy stories that can really affect us and build anxiety in us that can affect our sleep and our function and make us lose our focus while we’re interpreting. It’s important to do some exercise, go for walks. Go for walks by the trees, by the flowers. If you have a river, you have an ocean, you have a beach, go. Put some happy music on and jump and dance. Meditate. Do the breathing techniques. You have to feel grounded.
I noticed when I’m interpreting, sometimes on Zoom, when it’s long hours, I lose it. So, then I just take a few minutes to inhale, exhale, shut my brain and then make sure I’m feeling the chair and feeling my you know, my hands on the chair or my feet grounded. That’s doing now for five minutes to regroup. Fresh air, do whatever you need to do.
How does being an interpreter make you see the world differently?
Does it ever. You feel like you’re bringing the world together. So many of the LEPs [Limited English Proficiency] appreciate it. It made me think a lot about putting myself in the LEP’s shoes. If I tomorrow, I go to China, for example, and I don’t speak Chinese and I don’t know the culture and traditions or anything, I would want to have an interpreter that can be my voice and that can interpreter everything accurately and portray what I’m saying.
I’ve learned that there are so many people in the world that are not fortunate enough to have language interpreters at hand. I think of all of these people around the world, whether they’re in medical systems trying to communicate with doctors and hospitals, or in the legal system trying to get justice. But they can’t.
What I learned is people need compassion. People that came here, whether they’re refugees, or new immigrants, many of them came here to North America, because they had no choice. Some of them fled the wars, or torture, or a poor country or couldn’t get jobs. It opened my mind that a lot of these people that come here, a lot of them are educated, they have university degrees, they have their own cultures and traditions. They should not be looked at as, “Oh, they’re just refugees.” We should be learning.