ABAC faculty member uses language skills to assist judicial system

Rob Carpenter, ABAC assistant professor of Spanish, uses time away from the classroom to assist the judicial system.

TIFTON — A few college professors will spend the summer taking a break from their regular duties, maybe relaxing with family and friends, or reading books that are not required for their classes.

Rob Carpenter is not in that group.

He will be in court.

For more than 15 years, Carpenter, assistant professor of Spanish in the School of Arts and Sciences at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, has worked as an interpreter in the South Georgia court system to assist immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba and Puerto Rico on their day in court, college officials said in a statement.

"Imagine being summoned to appear before a judge in a country where you don’t know the language; the process is intimidating enough for citizens who know English and the court system," college officials said.

According to Tift County State Court Judge Herbert W. Benson, “Trial proceedings are stressful for all involved but this is especially true for the parties to a proceeding. These proceedings determine whether a person goes home afterwards or goes to jail.

“Many proceedings involve the wellbeing of children and what steps are necessary to protect them. Obviously, matters this serious require an interpreter who is equally serious and professional and makes every effort to translate correctly what is being said for the parties and the court and its personnel.”

Benson, who has worked with Carpenter for five years, said the ABAC faculty member epitomizes these qualities.

“Rob is always calm, respectful to all, and serves as an outstanding ambassador between the judicial system and our Hispanic community,” Benson said.

Carpenter, an ABAC faculty member since 2003, realizes the responsibility of his service.

“Helping the courts fulfill their mission of imparting justice and knowing that my role as interpreter is crucial to those who have limited English speaking skills are the most rewarding aspects of my service,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he fell in love with Spanish when he went to Costa Rica on a mission trip with his church as a teenager.

“I had such a wonderful experience with the Costa Rican culture and the young people that I went back several times to visit,” Carpenter said. “I just grew to love the people and the language.”

In Costa Rica, Carpenter began doing written translation and oral interpretation work. When he returned to the United States in the mid-1990s, Carpenter worked as an oral interpreter in the local courts in Detroit, where he worked for interpretation/translation companies that contracted his services. He found himself regularly working on court assignments.

“Once I arrived in Georgia, I naturally gravitated toward this type of work since I had a knack for it,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter began doing oral interpretation for the State Court of Tift County and the Tift County Superior Court in 2005. Once word spread that he was an experienced interpreter, he began getting additional calls for his services.

Carpenter serves as the official interpreter on a weekly basis for the State Court of Tift County. He works regularly on an on-call basis for the Cook County Probate Court, Nashville Municipal Court, Tift County Superior Court and the Coffee County Superior Court, as well as the South Georgia Judicial District, which includes the counties of Grady, Decatur, Mitchell, Calhoun and Baker.

“Rob is often asked to interpret for people from many different countries, many of whom have different dialects and/or customs from other areas,” Benson said. “He manages to work through these problems with patience until these obstacles are overcome.”

One of the most challenging parts of interpreting, according to Carpenter, is “training one’s mind and memory to retain large chunks of information and then interpret it into the target language correctly.”

Learning slang terms in Spanish and taking good notes are additional challenges. Carpenter said Spanish is different from English, in that Spanish is a Romance language while English is a Germanic language. One of the differences between English and Spanish is that to English speakers those speaking Spanish sound as if they are running all their words together.

“This is called ‘linking,’ and it makes it difficult for English speakers to understand (Spanish) because English tends to be more like German in that it is more of a choppy language while Spanish just flows all together,” he said.

Carpenter’s skills and knowledge as an interpreter continue to earn him the respect of those he serves, college officials said.

“I cannot say enough good things about Rob and the way he handles himself during court proceedings," Benson said. "He serves as an interpreter in both criminal and civil matters in our court and is always the consummate professional.”

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