Global Wordsmiths help with translation troubles


Environmental politics and French major Jessica Alperin focuses on assisting translation for French-speaking African immigrants. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Alperin)

Justina Moktan was born in Singapore and raised by her Nepalese parents to speak both Nepali and English. Now, as an intern at Global Wordsmiths, she helps bridge the gap between the two languages.

Moktan — a sophomore finance and marketing major — is able to do this through her work at Global Wordsmiths, an East Liberty-based non-profit organization that offers translating services to companies and other nonprofits working with non-English speakers in western Pennsylvania. According to its website, Global Wordsmiths serves organizations in medical, legal and educational settings, amongst others, at low cost — or for free if an intern translates.

The company has three full-time interpreters and works with 47 independent language contractors and 12 interns. Aside from translation services, it also provides consulting services where it instructs other businesses on how to best run translation services and budgets.

Moktan, who joined Global Wordsmiths in mid-January, collaborates with the Jewish Family and Community Services and BikePGH through her workplace. She translates the biking guide for BikePGH and legal documents into Nepali for JFCS. She has also attended legal meetings between immigration lawyers and Nepalese immigrants, translating discussions for the benefit of the latter.

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“I get to work with immigration lawyers and immigrants at the same time,” she said. “This is great because I want to work as immigration lawyer in the future.”

According to Mary Jayne McCullough, who founded Global Wordsmiths in February 2017, the company specifically seeks to work with smaller organizations that have a large impact on their local communities and potential to help non-English speakers integrate.

“People can’t integrate if they don’t speak the language, if they can’t access the services,” she said.

McCullough, 36, who studied at Pitt, worked as a Spanish interpreter for 15 years prior to founding Global Wordsmiths. Several of the companies she worked for in the Pittsburgh community assisted immigrants and refugees with low-level English skills. She said her work convinced her to find a more affordable and efficient way to serve recent arrivals who needed help navigating an English-centric society.

“I just fell in love with working with the people, I fell in love with the service component of it. And I noticed there are big problems with language service industry,” McCullough said. “I founded Global Wordsmiths just as a response to that and just as my way to sort of try to address all of those problems.”

Global Wordsmiths also runs the Language Assess Project, an internship program for students who have mastered a foreign language and want to use their skill to make translations services more available to the non-English speaking communities. The project is currently working with 12 student interns from local universities like Carnegie Mellon and Chatham. Three of the newest interns, including Moktan, study at Pitt.

The student intern can choose if they want to receive a stipend or class credit, although the choices made available to them depend on their university and school department. After going through professional translator and interpreter training, the students are paired with organizations Global Wordsmiths works with. The translation and interpretation services are provided at no cost for the partner organizations — small to mid-sized nonprofits working directly with immigrants and refugees.

Moktan said the internship has an informal structure and flexibility she appreciates. She can work around her own schedule and works five hours a week since she is receiving a stipend — students receiving credit are required to work eight.

First-year Chandrima Saha assists with translating Bengali to English. (Photo courtesy of Chandrima Saha)

Pitt first-year Chandrima Saha, on the pre-pharmacy track, also began interning at Global Wordsmiths in January. Her working language is Bengali, which her parents speak. Her mother is not proficient in English, and Saha is used to assisting her with reading and writing. This personal experience is what turned her towards Global Wordsmiths.

“There are other people on the same boat I want to do as much as I can help,” she said.

Recently, she finished a project for Friends of Farmworkers, an organization that provides free legal representation on employment issues to low-wage workers

She is also translating the biking guide, like Moktan, as well as legal documents. Friends of Farmworkers has her on call in case they need her to interpret in Bengalese.

Jessica Alperin, a Pitt junior studying environmental politics and French, is volunteering her French skills. Her major focus is on the African immigrant community in Pittsburgh, many members of which come from French-speaking African countries such as Algeria and Morocco. Alperin is receiving three class credits towards her French major.

Alperin was not raised in a bilingual household — she began learning French in middle school and has about 10 years of experience, including multiple visits to France as part of an exchange program in high school. One of her first tasks for Friends of Farmworkers was to translate a sexual harassment document.  

“Sexual harassment is a big issue and it is important to make sure non-English speakers have the resources available to native English speakers,” she said.

Alperin said she usually spends six hours at the office and two hours doing field interpretation. She is now working with BikePGH, JFCS, Friends of Farmworkers and Just Harvest — an organization dedicated to fighting hunger in Allegheny County.

Alperin described her internship at Global Wordsmiths as “refreshing and engaging,” and said it allows her an unusual amount of flexibility and independence. She said she hopes to continue working at Global Wordsmiths during the rest of her time at Pitt, and has considered becoming a certified translator.

“I’ve got the freedom to do my translation to the best of my ability without anyone looking over my shoulder at all times,” she said. “It’s definitely something I want to do in the future.”