Legally Speaking: Meiby Huddleston

Legally Speaking: Meiby Huddleston

At 18, MEIBY HUDDLESTON was a successful communications and advertising entrepreneur in Venezuela when she decided to follow her parents to Champaign County.

Today, the 38-year-old wife and mother is a highly skilled and highly regarded Spanish-to-English translator/interpreter who appears in state and federal courts in East Central Illinois — and beyond — almost daily.

Staff writer Mary Schenk talked with Huddleston about her life choices and the continuing education her work provides. Here's a sample.

Around age 17, you spent your last year of high school in Connecticut, honing your English. How did that shape your career as a professional translator?

"That gave me huge opportunities in Venezuela to become an interpreter for tourists who came from the U.S.

"While I was working at the cultural center or the tourist agency, I had students from medical school calling me to translate their books (written in English), help me with my homework. I did it. We didn't have the Internet. I actually had to use a dictionary to look up (words).

"I also had people come to me to transcribe and translate (papers) to make it look good. It paid well."

As a medical translator for about eight years locally, you had an a-ha moment in your first assignment. Tell us about that.

"The first thing they mention to me is I have to tell this husband his wife is going to die. What? ... I'm not ready for that.

"It was very emotional. Instead of me taking it as, 'Oh my goodness, I'm not going to do this forever, I'm quitting,' I took it as an inspiration. This is something I can help people (with), and I can be the person that can transfer that message and be not only the doctor's voice but be that patient's voice.

"Wow. That's huge. It was more than just having a job. ... It was a mission.

"Since then, I've felt like I'm some sort of social worker that helps people with my other language."

You consider yourself an expert at simultaneous translation, which can be mentally exhausting. Explain.

"It's when you do the translation at the same time at the same speed. I go super, super fast as they go. That's what happens in a court setting. You go as fast as they do."

"The interpreters have to be some sort of actors. You change voices. If you do a rough voice, I will imitate that. If you are soft, I'm soft and the volumes go up and down."

"I'm always (speaking in) first person. If the judge is the one speaking, I am the judge. If the state's attorney is doing the job, I am the state's attorney. And when it comes time for the defendant to speak, I become the defendant, so I never have to say, 'he said,' 'she said.'

"I listen through one ear, everything that is coming in. It goes though my brain and it transfers to Spanish or English, then with my other ear, I'm listening to what I'm saying so I'm making sense. Meanwhile, I'm looking at my dictionary if I need to find certain terminology I'm uncertain about. It's just a lot going on."

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