Conference to bring together language scholars, translation professionals

Translation and interpretation particularly relevant topics in the state with its racial and ethnic diversity


November 1, 2021

A conference sponsored by Arizona Humanities and Arizona State University will bring together national and international translation professionals and scholars later this month to discuss the theory and practice of translation and interpretation.


Engaging Translation: Questions of Language and Power in Arizona and Beyond” will be held Nov. 12–13 on ASU’s Tempe campus. The conference is free and open to the public.
 The “Engaging Translation: Questions of Language and Power in Arizona and Beyond” conference will be held Nov. 12–13 on ASU’s Tempe campus. The conference is free and open to the public. Download Full Image

Translation is often used as an umbrella term to encompass both translation and interpretation, said Jaime Fatás-Cabeza, a member of the conference’s planning committee and the director of the Undergraduate Translation and Interpretation Program in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Arizona. When a distinction is drawn between the two terms, translation refers to written texts while interpretation indicates spoken speech, such as in a medical or legal context. 


Translation and interpretation are particularly relevant topics in this state due to its racial and ethnic diversity. Approximately one in five Arizonans lives in a household in which Spanish is spoken at home, and Arizona has nearly two dozen federally recognized Indigenous tribes. 


Despite this, Arizona is the only state in the U.S. with an English-only education law, which bans English-language-learning students from receiving instruction in their native languages. As part of that policy, students are immersed in hours of English classes at a time, often at the expense of other subjects. 


Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, citing research, has written that a more effective instructional model allows students to be taught in dual-language programs that utilize both English and their native language. This format, in practice across the nation, encourages students’ multilingualism and lets them use their knowledge of their native language to boost their English learning. 


Earlier this year, a bill seeking to overturn the English-only law was advanced in the Arizona House of Representatives. The measure would eventually have to be approved by voters in order for the law to be reversed. This political background sets the stage for the “Engaging Translation” conference and the broader issues its presenters intend to tackle. 


The conference includes scholars from ASU as well as other institutions across the country and world. Translation professionals are also represented among the presenters, panelists, keynote speakers and workshop leaders.  


“The event is significant because it brings together academics, professionals and stakeholders to discuss the power dynamics involved in the provision of equal access to linguistic minorities in Arizona through translation, interpretation and cross-cultural services,” Fatás-Cabeza said. “This is a rare and much-needed opportunity to explore venues and strategies to improve cooperation between academia, providers and public and private sectors to better serve the needs of an increasingly multicultural and multilingual society.” 


The conference will culminate in a discussion on “Language and Power in Arizona” moderated by Fernanda Santos, a Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. That panel will feature Arizona state Rep. César Chávez, federal public defender Milagros Cisneros, Valencia Newcomer School Principal Lynette Faulkner, The Welcome to America Project agency director Mike Sullivan and ASU’s American Indian Studies Director Stephanie Fitzgerald. 


"Engaging Translation” is supported by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), Arizona Translators and Interpreters (ATI) and the New England Translators Association. The CCHI, ATI and the American Translators Association will provide continuing-education credits for attendance. 


“We are especially excited to have created an opportunity for scholars and practitioners of translation to engage in conversation over the two days of the conference. Our final panel takes up issues related to Arizona’s multilingualism, from the need for more funding for foreign-language learning to the English-only law that is still in place in the public school system,” said Nina Berman, the director of the School of International Letters and Cultures, which is hosting the conference. 


In addition to the School of International Letters and Cultures, the ASU departments co-sponsoring the conference are the Office of the Dean of Humanities; the Institute for Humanities Research; the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication; the Department of English; the Melikian Center; and the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. 


Robert Tuck, associate professor of modern Japanese literature and another member of the conference planning committee, said the conference represents a collaboration between numerous stakeholders from the diverse array of fields that involve translation and interpretation in some manner.  


“‘Engaging Translation,’ as a conference, gets to the heart of what we do at SILCthe School of International Letters and Cultures,” Tuck said. “We’ll explore what happens when the act of translating brings two languages into dialogue with one another. We want to ask what the interactions at the heart of translation and interpreting can tell us about topics such as identity and political and cultural power, both here in Arizona and in a broader global context.”

Kimberly Koerth

Content Writer, School of International Letters and Cultures

Former ambassador teaches ASU course on US national security policy


November 1, 2021

Ambassador David Johnson’s career as a diplomat spans over three decades where he gained valuable experience in policy leadership, congressional relations, public affairs planning and crisis communications.

This semester, he is teaching a core course on “U.S. National Security Policy” for the inaugural cohort of international affairs and leadership Master of Arts students. Ambassador David Johnson during Washington Week for ASU International Affairs and Leadership MA students Ambassador David Johnson (left) and Ambassador William B. Taylor during Washington week for ASU Online international affairs and leadership Master of Arts students. Download Full Image

The MA program, which is offered through ASU Online and housed in Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, empowers graduates to be future leaders in the global arena. The degree program establishes a dynamic and active learning environment led by senior international affairs professionals from the public and private sectors.

“Ambassador David Johnson is a ‘Washington insider’ with crucial assignments as assistant secretary and ambassador in the U.S. Department of State,” said Ambassador Edward O’Donnell, who is the program director of the MA degree and a member of the Leadership, Diplomacy and National Security Lab at ASU.

“He was directly responsible for policy decisions and implementation in critical areas of the globe over decades through numerous U.S. administrations,” O’Donnell said. “This semester he is mentoring his graduate students on national security, both current and future challenges, and preparing them for careers serving our country.”

Unlike some of his colleagues, Johnson said he did not grow up aspiring to be a diplomat. However, a college adviser suggested he meet with a foreign service recruiter who was visiting campus because of his interests in politics, foreign policy and economics.

He was immediately intrigued, and in 1977, a year after graduating college, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service.

Although Johnson says his background is not unique to his American diplomat colleagues, it does speak to how Americans differ from their professional counterparts in other countries.

“American diplomats are broadly representative of American society,” Johnson said. “What we all had in common was that we were well-educated, we were curious about life abroad and America’s place in the world, and we wanted to be part of a team that would advance America’s interests.”

When two of his former colleagues asked about his interest in teaching the course in the international affairs and leadership degree program, he said he saw it as an opportunity to provide a meaningful contribution to the education of a curious and diverse group of students.

He added that he could learn something from the experience as well.

“Diplomacy and teaching are not that dissimilar activities,” Johnson said. “In both, you are presenting information in an accessible way to someone that you hope will grasp it, understand it and come to a common understanding with you about what that information means and what actions it requires.”

As he approaches the end of his first semester teaching in the MA program, he took the time to share some of his expertise and insights into his course.

Question: You’ve had a wide range of roles during your 33 years of service as a diplomat, with increasing responsibility in the world national security. What are some of the challenges you faced defining U.S. national security policy and implementing U.S. foreign policy programs?

Answer: While no foreign policy problem is self-defining, the challenge in most cases is policy implementation. As assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, I executed programs that aimed to build effective criminal justice institutions — courts, prosecutors, defense bar, police and corrections. And, as you might imagine, we did not have the option of executing these programs in the easy places. My colleagues worked in many countries but focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico and Central America. The self-defining part — the logistics, the curricula, recruiting trainers and students, designing programs — was difficult enough. But the truly hard part was taking all of those individual elements and combining them into a criminal justice system that worked, that enjoyed the support of the country where the work was being done, and that was sustainable. That’s when you learn that this foreign policy work can be really hard.

Q: If you were still serving as assistant secretary in the State Department, what would you be advising the president and secretary on how to enhance national security and to deal with threats from the major powers, China and Russia?

A: That’s a really big question, so I’ll just focus on China. There’s been a lot of political noise about partisan differences on China, but there isn’t as much partisan difference as meets the eye. 

Containing or constraining China — in the model of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union — isn’t in the cards, since to do that requires clear unity of purpose not just in the U.S. but among players in the region. This leaves you with the option not so much of "managing" China but of taking actions along with your allies and partners to address risks to the rules-based system. That system has served the world, including the United States, well and needs to be supported and preserved. So, this administration, or any administration, needs to do more or less what it’s doing now, just a lot more of it. Creating the "Quad" group of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. is a deft move, but it’s a group that will have to be exercised continuously, both in terms of diplomatic consultations and military exercises. Similar activities, perhaps not with catchy names or as high a profile, need to be pursued with other actual and potential regional partners as well as our allies and partners around the world. And American diplomats must be talking constantly with governments and publics in the region and worldwide about how we can work together to address any unhelpful Chinese actions.

At the same time, we need to be having a constant conversation with China on these issues not to "confront" China but to engage China in an active conversation about how the world’s leading powers can work together to reinforce the rules-based system that serves their interests as well as the rest of the planet’s. But I’d also recommend a thus far impossible domestic step: The U.S. should ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the document that makes customary international law concerning freedom of navigation a recognized component of the international rules-based system. Such a move would put the U.S. on much firmer footing in dealing with efforts by China, or any other state, to step outside those boundaries. Describing these actions in a broad-brush way is challenging enough, but the really hard part is deciding exactly what to do, in what sequence, with whom and — no less important — what we are not going to do.

Q: This semester you are teaching a course on U.S. national security policy. How do your career experiences apply to what you will be teaching? What is your goal in teaching your ASU students about national security?

A: In my course, we are looking at some of the really tough national security issues that America is dealing with, and we are putting ourselves in the shoes of the people in Washington who work, systematically, in the development of national security policy. In short, we are looking at how agency leaders come together, under the aegis of the National Security Council, to develop those policy decisions.

During much of my foreign service career, I worked in this policy-making process. In the mid-'80s, I was what’s known as an "action officer," writing the first draft of instructions for a conventional arms-control negotiation. In the mid-'90s, I was the president’s foreign policy spokesman at the White House. At the turn of the millennium, I led the American team in Europe at an organization focused on preventing conflict and developing democratic institutions. Upon my return home, I led the group focused on Afghan reconstruction. And in my final foreign service assignment, I led the U.S. team working to build criminal justice institutions in some of the world’s more difficult locales. But in all of those undertakings, I was part of that larger, organized process of developing and executing our nation’s foreign policy. So, whether you aspire to work in government or out, understanding how policy is made can give you real insight into grasping how government works.

Since the U.S. government communicates with itself in writing, in English, in a really focused way, a significant goal for the students in my class is to learn how to participate in that work through writing clear, succinct, well-informed and well-documented policy papers that focus on real-world problems.   

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies

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