10 things I learned from my one-day field trip in court interpreting

My wife Emily and I recently celebrated our 22nd anniversary. I made plans to accompany her as an observer as she interpreted in court. Afterward, we traveled to a beautiful little cabin in the mountains where we escaped for a brief celebration.

Lady Justice

A few years ago, we were short on legal interpreters. Emily asked me to cover a deposition. I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a stab.” That was a bad idea as I muddled through it. I returned back to the office ashamed and embarrassed. My decision was to avoid legal interpreting as “I sucked at it!” It would be better to turn down a job than to send me. From that moment onward, I never returned to legal interpreting.

Fast forward to my field trip. I observed several things:

1. We arrived early which provided time to settle and prepare.
2. Emily looked more like a lawyer then some of the lawyers.
3. Emily perused the docket to see for whom she might be interpreting and what the type of cases. She then briefly reviewed some key terminology so that it would be fresh in her mind.
4. While we waited, Emily downloaded translated court documents. Many of the questions the judge asked were read off the document, and she followed with the translation in hand. She used her down time to educate herself.
5. As I listened that day in court, I realized why I suck at legal interpreting. I am simply unfamiliar with legal terminology. That is a fairly easy fix – learn it.
6. Emily stood behind the person she was interpreting for. Her presence was definitely known, but at the same time, she was invisible.
7. We snuck out the back door during breaks and lunch. Why? Avoid unnecessary conversation with people she might be interpreting for in the courtroom. Any knowledge of the case could disqualify her as an interpreter and turn her into a witness.
8. Emily had a notepad and a dictionary. Although she never actually needed to use her dictionary, she did take notes. Upon completion of review for new terminology, notes are destroyed for reasons of confidentiality.
9. Confidence. Although she didn’t realize it, she had a little strut when she walked. Emily exuded confidence, causing all the other professionals present to treat her as a colleague. There is a reason for that aplomb. For years now, I have watched Emily with her index cards studying her words every single day. She never stops, as there are always new words to learn. Such self-assurance comes from studious application.
10. Professionalism. Emily always comported herself as a professional, although there was one brief moment she almost gave me a kiss. Court was not the place for that, the cabin later that day was.

I do believe that after that field trip, I learned quite a bit. I believe that the next time a legal interpreting course is offered, I will take it. I will study terminology and when I am prepared, I will give a stab at legal interpreting once again. Now that I know what to expect and how to prepare for it, legal interpreting doesn’t seem all that scary any more.

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