November 28, 2023

PALA Student Bethany Fisher Pursues NYU SPS Master’s Degree to Help Give a Voice to Marshallese People

“I kind of feel like I’m putting on different costumes or different hats,” PALA graduate student Bethany Fisher, who started pursuing the 36-credit, fully online MS in Translation and Interpreting at NYU SPS in September, recently told the media outlet Stateline, about her skills as an Indigenous language interpreter. “You are basically speaking as that person.”

Fisher grew up in the Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines, with her missionary parents, speaking English and Marshallese, the Indigenous language of the island chain.

Currently, she works from her home in South Carolina for several companies that provide interpretation services to healthcare organizations, businesses, schools, courts, and government agencies. Stateline reports that over half of the 60,000 people who speak Marshallese worldwide are in the US.

Most of her work involves helping with simple insurance or tax interpretations. However, those translation requests can quickly escalate.

She tells Stateline, “Birth calls are really fun because you’re just thrown into the room: ‘All right, she’s like 10 centimeters dilated, and we’re going to tell her to push,’ and all this kind of stuff. And then you’re there for maybe an hour or two or even less. And then you hear the baby cry, and then everybody’s excited. So anytime that happens, I always get really emotional cause it’s like, ‘Oh, this is really exciting.’”

She discusses her unique interpreting skill “as being a conduit of communication – and an art.” As she interprets in the first person from Marshallese, she communicates in that person’s tone, whether it is “conveying their anger or irritation or even profanity.”

When she was asked why she chose NYU SPS to expand her translation and interpretation skills, she said, “For interpreters and translators that speak a rare language, it is hard to find an educational program that is broad enough to allow our lesser-known language skills to be honed.” She added that NYU SPS was one of the only universities that allowed her to get a graduate degree and learn the skills she needs to expand her work as a professional interpreter, regardless of the languages she is proficient in.

According to Fisher, “There are very few Marshallese interpreters and translators in America, and fewer still are interpreters that have training and education specific to do this type of work. About seven years ago, I began interpreting as a Marshallese medical interpreter. Initially, it was a part-time job. But now, it has become my career. I want to learn as much as possible to be better equipped to help more people. I am qualified and credentialed to interpret legal, medical, financial, and education calls. By next year, I should have sufficient training to handle immigration calls, too.”

In addition, she hopes to work with other interpreters of languages of ‘lesser diffusion,” or spoken by smaller groups of people, like Marchallese, on workshops and training in the future. “There are certain challenges and unique situations that interpreters of lesser-known languages face, and it would be great to come together and learn from one another,” concluded Fisher.

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