5 Things to Know When Working with a legal Interpreter

Many problems with interpreters are a result of others in the court not fully understanding how interpreting is supposed to be done. Judges, clerks, officers of the court, and attorneys need to be educated on what to know when working with court interpreters. Proper training can help judges and attorneys recognize qualified professional interpreters doing their job correctly and identify the fakers and hacks. 

  • 1. Ideas are interpreted, not exact words
    • It is common to hear attorneys complain that the interpreter isn’t asking the question word for word (languages have different grammar and syntax).
    • Attorneys’ limited understanding of the other language might hear a false cognate and conclude that the interpreter is inaccurate. For instance, in Spanish, he might here the word intoxicado and believe that he is saying intoxicated or drunk. The accurate meaning in Spanish for intoxicado relates to poisoning (e.g., food).

If you hear an interpreter render everything verbatim, that is a red flag that you have a real problem.

  • 2. Interpreters only render oral speech
    • While it is true that many legal interpreters seem knowledgeable and are familiar with legal terminology, you must remember that they are not practicing attorneys who can provide legal advice. Please do not ask him to explain legal:
      • Concepts.

Not only is it unprincipled to expect an interpreter to interject any personal opinions, but it also violates the Professional Conduct of Court Interpreters. His job is to convey information being spoken by others. Asking an interpreter to gobeyond the scope of his work is highly unethical. I do, however, know a couple of interpreters who are also lawyers.  When they are in court, they cannot practice both professions at the same time. 

  • 3. Give the interpreter time
    • Interpreters require enough time to render the entire message; don’t pose a question and subsequently ask another question before the interpreter has rendered the first question.
  • 4. Ask clear questions
    • Remember KISS (keep it simple stupid)? When your question is direct and concise, it is easier to interpret in another language. Also, it avoids confusion as to what you are trying to ask.
    • Starting your sentence with a negative lead (isn’t it true) can also make reformulating it into the target language a challenge.
  • 5. Speak loud enough and enunciate

At this moment, the fifth, sixth, and fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution infer that communication in the LEP’s language is necessary to insure due process rights.  By becoming familiar with SCACR 511, judges, clerks, attorneys, and other officers of the court can successfully navigate LEP cases. 

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