Blurred Lines and Team Interpreting

I just returned from the American Translators Association (The Voice of Interpreters and Translators) conference in Palm Springs, CA.  Most of my professional development centered on interpreting sessions. 

Court interpreters, like attorneys and other professionals, regardless of experience and training, face ethical dilemmas occasionally. It’s imperative that we know and adhere to our code of ethics, even when others unintentionally pressure us to do things to the contrary. As officers of the court, our profession has guidelines on what we practice in the courtroom.  Following those guidelines, promoting best practices and work conditions, allow our clients to receive the finest quality and accuracy, we prepare ourselves for a productive and healthy career.

All court interpreters serve the court and the public, no matter who compensates the interpreter. Sometimes, while court interpreters perform their duties, a language challenge may arise. If the judge allows the interpreter to respond to the challenge, the judge now qualifies the interpreter as an expert witness.  Then the interpreter provides testimony to either stand by her rendition or to stand corrected.

In South Carolina, SCACR 511 Rule 7 limits the scope of our practice to interpreting and translating. What happens if another interpreter, with whom we are not working as a team, incorrectly renders evidence? If an interpreter interjects, then the interpreter may deviate from her role as language conduit and become an expert witness.  SCACR 511 Rule 1 requires accuracy and completeness; but whose?  Another interpreter may decide that only hers (or the team’s) rendition is implied in Rule 1. In reality, it’s ambiguous. 

The Rules of Professional Responsibilities guide us in ethical considerations.  Nevertheless, what effect does team interpreting (and specifically, simultaneous interpreting) have on the physical and mental health, mental stress, and cognitive abilities of interpreters?  The International Association of Conference Interpreters produced a revealing Workload Study in February 2002. 

    Interpreters Teachers Senior Army officers Hi-Tech
    M F M F Male M F
Mental/physical exhaustion Mean 3.20 3.22 3.0 3.4 3.07 2.55 3.07
S.D. 1.04 0.96 1.2 1.0 0.77 1.09 1.16
Cognitive fatigue Mean 2.56 2.72 2.14 2.47
S.D. 1.01 1.02 0.97 1.05
Mental stress Mean 3.37 3.49 3.30 2.90 3.31
S.D. 1.19 1.07 0.73 1.31 1.37
Burnout Mean 3.04 3.12 3.14 2.38 2.82
S.D. .06 .85 0.61 0.95 0.99
No. of Responses 144 446 186 831 1000 646 497

Table 12 on page 38 of the report compares interpreters to teachers, hi-tech employees, and Israeli (all male) army officers. In the three categories, mental and physical exhaustion, cognitive fatigue, and mental stress, interpreters outscored teachers, hi-tech employees, AND senior army officers.  Are you surprised?  The report lists factors, including working environment, that contribute to these issues.  Why should you care?

State and federal laws exist to protect the due process rights of foreign speaking, hard of hearing, and deaf individuals.  That means providing these individuals with competent interpreters.  According to ASTM F2089-15 Standard for Language Practice, for simultaneous interpretation, team interpreting is necessary for matters lasting more than one hour.  The South Carolina court interpreter guide doesn’t adhere to ASTM F2089-15.  Indeed, the guide states on page 43 that interpreters should notify the presiding judge of the need to take periodic breaks to avoid cognitive fatigue and mental and physical exhaustion.  However, there are judges who deny breaks to the interpreter.  That means that the quality of interpreting decreases. 

Does a lawyer want to lose a case because cognitive overload prevented interpreter accuracy?  Does a judge want her ruling to be overturned because there were impediments to the interpreting performance?  These potential miscarriages of justice can be ameliorated by contacting Chief Justice Donald Beatty.

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