The ten worst things a judge can do to a court interpreter.

November 30, 2012 § 32 Comments

Dear colleagues:

I know that just the title of this article made you think of a myriad of things that go on in a courthouse that seem to be designed to make the life of the interpreter miserable.  Believe me, you are not alone. For this reason, I decided to compile some of the most infamous ones and share them with all of you. Keep in mind that I will focus on the judge, intentionally leaving the attorney’s worst 10, clerk’s worst 10, witness worst 10, and so forth for future articles.  I am writing this with a therapeutic perspective, trying to add some possible solutions to these problems while at the same time creating empathy and inviting a good healthy laugh when relating to these horror stories.

Here we go:

1.       Please ask him his date of birth.”  Those judges who insist to address the parties on the third person despite what they have been told over and over again.  A quick solution would be to “ignore” the judge and simply interpret on the first person even if “Your Honor” doesn’t. Long term solution: Talk to the judge over and over again. Organize a presentation for all judges and hope these judges show.

2.       Why do we need two interpreters?  We only have one court reporter.”  Those judges who think that a bilingual individual should be able to effortlessly interpret a difficult proceeding on their own, since we are “”just talking after all,” a good short term solution is to have the chief interpreter or his equivalent go to the judge (ideally with the two working interpreters) and explain the reasons why this is needed, assuring the judge that there is a budget for this “inconvenience.”  For a long term solution you can provide some team interpreting literature to the court , and maybe “arrange” a meeting with other judges who understand the team interpreting concept.

3.       Just have a seat. I will take care of the private attorney cases first because they are busy.”   For those state judges who need votes to keep their jobs and want the private bar on their side, a good short term solution could be to talk to the clerk and explain that you are needed somewhere else. Many “nice” clerks will help the interpreter.  A more durable solution would be to meet with the administration and point out the waste of resources caused by an interpreter sitting in a courtroom for hours doing nothing.

4.       When you cannot hear the judge. When the judge whispers or speaks away from the microphone making it impossible to hear what she said. We all know that drama in the court is part of the “showmanship” influence of the media, but we simply cannot interpret what we can’t hear. For a quick fix interrupt the hearing and politely ask the judge to speak louder and into the microphone. Of course, we all know that this request will only be honored for a few seconds, so the lasting solution has to be smarter; maybe getting the court reporter on board as she is probably having the same difficulties, or maybe drafting the IT people as your allies in those courthouses where the hearings are recorded.

5.       “Sorry Mr. Interpreter but we already did the case because the defendant’s spouse speaks English.”   It is getting better, but not everywhere.  You may want to establish a system with the clerk where she does not give the file to the judge unless the interpreter is in the courtroom. Another solution could be to involve the attorneys and explain to them the risk of an appeal for lack of a certified interpreter. Be creative, sometimes it works.

6.       “Would the interpreter stay still and speak lower? You are distracting my jury.”   I was asked once to “speak as lithe as possible.”  You should ask for a sidebar with all parties involved and explain how in order to interpret you need to talk. Maybe suggest the “distracted” juror moves to another seat, and maybe point out to the defense the fact that a “distracted” juror may not be who the parties want to have deciding the faith of their client.  Just a mere thought.

7.       “Why do we need you to interpret?  He’s been in the country for 20 years.”  Sometimes I ask myself that same question, however, the fact is that when the person does not speak English, he has the right to an interpreter. Maybe you can answer the judges question by saying, very politely though, that it is because he does not speak English.  The long-term solution to this problem is non-existent with this particular judge. For the rest, an orientation by the Bar, the court administration, or the local interpreters’ association may prove to be valuable.

8.       “Do not interpret consecutively. We need to get going and you just got new equipment.”   This usually happens during testimony. A way to overcome this obstacle is to explain how the jury needs to hear and understand the answers, and it will be quite difficult for them to hear an answer if both, interpreter and witness are speaking at the same time from the stand. Of course, despite of what some colleagues think, some simultaneous interpretation equipment for the members of the jury would cure this problem,

9.       What do you need the file and jury instructions for? It is a waste of paper”.  I know thie second part of the quote is unthinkable in some states, but trust me, it happened to me some years ago.  To overcome the ruling of this “ecologist” judge, you should ask the court administration or chief interpreter  to get you those materials in advance.  AS a back-up plan, try to get the prosecution and/or defense to understand the need for these documents. However, no matter how difficult or scary, never give up. Do not settle for a trial without a file and jury instructions. You would be setting the profession back!

10.   “I think you can settle parts of this claim, so use the interpreters during lunch.”  This awful judge just put you on a tough spot. You are an officer of the court so you need to perform, however, nobody can work without a break, even if we are “just talking.” Solve this situation by asking for the chief interpreter’s help. He or she should be the one solving this problem. Maybe a second team can work the conference room while you rest, have lunch and get ready to come back for the formal hearing in the afternoon.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Please review these “ten worst” and if you are up to it, I would love to read your top ten, top five, or even top one.  This should be good…

Los intérpretes judiciales y los diccionarios jurídicos bilingües.

November 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

Queridos colegas,

Durante años he visto como muchos de nuestros colegas en el desempeño de su trabajo consultan diccionarios bilingües que no son jurídicos.  Esto es algo que siempre me ha molestado inmensamente por ser abogado e intérprete.  Nunca he podido entender la lógica de consultar un diccionario bilingüe inglés<>español cuando se desconoce un término o una figura jurídica.  Claro que puede haber contadas ocasiones en que el diccionario bilingüe ordinario resuelva el problema, pero en la inmensa mayoría de los casos no será así. De hecho, el buen intérprete sabe, o al menos debería saber, que para poder interpretar correctamente cualquier tema, en este caso una diligencia judicial o algún otro tipo de acto jurídico, el intérprete necesita primero hacer su tarea: investigar, estudiar y comprender el tema,  desarrollar su glosario, y consultar los diccionarios más adecuados para el trabajo en cuestión.

Hay que saber cómo escoger las herramientas para el servicio a proporcionar. Si se trata de un  juicio penal, el buen intérprete debe rodearse de las leyes y reglamentos aplicables, los textos necesarios para entender la terminología que se va a utilizar, y los diccionarios jurídicos y diccionarios bilingües jurídicos aplicables al caso en particular dependiendo de los sistemas jurídicos en cuestión. No sirve de mucho un diccionario jurídico de España cuando el caso es de derecho argentino.  Igualmente, un diccionario jurídico bilingüe inglés<>español solo puede ayudarnos cuando corresponde a la terminología y sistema jurídico del país en que sucedió el caso o de donde provienen las partes que no hablan inglés.

Yo sostengo que no existe la “interpretación jurídica español<>inglés” como tal. Al menos no la buena interpretación.  Nuestro trabajo es especializado. De igual manera que no quisiéramos que el proctólogo nos saque la muela del juicio, no debemos permitir, ni aceptar, casos en los cuales desconocemos la terminología jurídica del país correspondiente a menos que nos preparemos correctamente para ello. Esta preparación implica el uso y la consulta de los materiales adecuados.

También es importante mencionar que debemos tener una terminología y sistema jurídico que sean nuestra “base.” Aquellos que nos sirvan de punto de partida.  Para ello sugiero un par de cosas: Si ya hemos decidido especializarnos en algún país de habla hispana en particular, digamos el Paraguay, entonces debemos adquirir conocimientos y libros sobre derecho paraguayo.  Por otro lado, si lo que deseamos es tratar de estar en aptitud de prestar nuestros servicios en el sistema y terminología jurídicos más populares en el lugar donde vamos a prestar nuestros servicios primordialmente, entonces hagamos lo mismo respecto a ese sistema y terminología. Por ejemplo México en la mayor parte del país o la República Dominicana en otras áreas de los Estados Unidos.

Yo he optado por el derecho y terminología mexicana (en español) y estadounidense (en inglés) ya que esto también me abre el mercado de abogados y empresas más grande del mundo hispanoparlante. En este sentido, además del texto de las leyes y reglamentos de ambos países y de los tratados y convenciones internacionales obligatorios para ambas naciones,  yo recomiendo obtener antes que nada el diccionario jurídico Black’s para la terminología y sistema jurídicos de los Estados Unidos.   Para el derecho mexicano sugiero el diccionario de la biblioteca jurídica de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) que es gigantesco, pero afortunadamente podemos consultarlo por internet. Finalmente, yo recomiendo el diccionario jurídico bilingüe de Javier Becerra (2 tomos) publicado por la Escuela Libre de Derecho en la ciudad de México.  Hay otros diccionarios jurídicos y bilingües jurídicos muy buenos, que aún cuando no se concentran en la combinación del derecho estadounidense y el mexicano, me han sido de utilidad al resolver problemas de terminología muy reciente o aquella que requiere de adaptación por no tener figura jurídica homóloga en el otro sistema. En este sentido sugiero la segunda edición del nuevo diccionario de Derecho y Procedimientos Penales de Sandro Tomasi.

Les sugiero a mis colegas que verdaderamente quieran “sonar” como abogados al prestar sus servicios de interpretación a mexicanos o en temas de derecho mexicano y derecho de los Estados Unidos, que se basen en estos diccionarios.  No cometan el error de basarse en diccionarios o aún peor en manuales o glosarios que traten terminología de otros países, o que hayan adoptado definiciones y terminología basado en lo que se dice en la “mayoría” de los países, o en lo que “se dice aquí en los Estados Unidos.”  Aléjense de esa mediocridad.  Es esencial que el buen intérprete conozca sus recursos y sepa dónde encontrar lo que necesita. Nuestra profesión ha madurado, con la globalización se ha especializado, y cada día es más competitiva. Dejemos atrás los días en que veíamos a una intérprete presentarse a una declaración bajo protesta (porque en México no se jura, se protesta declarar la verdad) en un despacho de abogados acompañada de libros y manuales que tratan superficialmente la terminología jurídica. Empecemos a tener vergüenza profesional y a entender qué es lo que necesitamos. Una vez que alcancemos esta meta vamos a mejorar nuestra calidad, nuestro ingreso, y evitaremos las burlas a nuestras espaldas por llegar a trabajar en una declaración bajo protesta de un mexicano, que es materia civil, acompañados de un manual genérico que trata de derecho penal.  Por favor escriban sus opiniones respecto al uso de estos diccionarios.

When the foreign language speaker and the interpreter don’t use the same terminology.

November 19, 2012 § 13 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Although this is not new, it seems to me that technological advances and globalization have generated a more hybrid sui-generis type of terminology that is practically used and applied all over the world.  We had always seen certain terms and expressions cross-over to languages other than their original, but it was not as pervasive as it is now.

In the last few months I have interpreted conferences on many topics where the translation of a word or term we find in the dictionary has nothing to do with the ones used by the native speakers I am interpreting for. In fact, the word in the dictionary is not even known to them.  Of course, the overwhelming majority of these cases have to do with the English language and scientific terminology, but not all.

When confronted by this real-life situation the interpreter needs to decide how to interpret a word, a term and a concept. I have seen some of my colleagues go with the dictionary and use the term in the books, others have chosen the foreign language better-known term. This is not a mere academic distinction as the interpreter is faced with a very serious question for all linguists: Do you select the correct term in the foreign language and educate the listener when he does not recognize the term in his native language, or you adopt the English term and use it just like the foreign language speakers do?  To me this fork on the road is a no-brainer; I always go with the expedient efficient live language, so I use the English or anglicized term that those listening to my rendition understand, even if it is not in the dictionary.  I believe that our role as interpreters is to allow foreign language speakers to receive information as if it were provided in their native language. This way they can concentrate on the substance of the presentation, proposal, or lecture instead of having to divide their attention between their real scientific job and learning new vocabulary in their native language.  I know some colleagues disagree. They think that as interpreters our first loyalty is to the word. They also believe that it is important to point out the real words in a foreign language so that language is preserved for the future.  I don’t find this latter approach useful to the listener who is counting on me to “hear” what he is being told in another language.  Please share your comments and let us know what you think about this issue.

Some medical interpreters need to feel and act like professionals.

November 5, 2012 § 14 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

For some time I have wanted to write about the medical interpreter profession, it seems like for the last several months I have run across more medical interpreter colleagues, I have talked to more of my friends who work as medical interpreters, and I have read more about medical certifications than any other emergent area of the interpreter profession.  I congratulate all those who have fought so hard for recognition, professional development, and certification. You are on your way to a great future.

However, and despite of the immense respect I have for medical interpretation, not everything I see looks so bright in the future of medical interpreters.  Just as I have come across all the good things above, I have also seen how many medical interpreters do not feel or act like professional interpreters yet. Even some who have passed one of the certification examinations continue to act, and react, in a way that will not help the advancement of medical interpretation.  As you know from my blog and workshops, I am a big proponent of diversity in the work that we do as professionals. I am always talking about the benefits of having a wide portfolio of clients that include agencies, conferences, attorneys, courthouses, hospitals, etcetera.  For years I have said that the best way to earn a very good living as an interpreter is to always have a job option, and the only way to always have a job option is to be good at what we do and to study and prepare ourselves in as many fields as we feel comfortable with and capable of performing.  It seems to me that every time I bring up this issue, a medical interpreter stands up and argues that “other” interpreters should stay in their field and leave medical interpretation alone, that “other” interpreters do not know what is needed to work as a medical interpreter, and that just as medical interpreters should not try to do court interpretation, court interpreters and conference interpreters should leave medical interpretation alone.   Obviously this is a very unfortunate mind set because it shows the lack of confidence these interpreters have.  A true interpreter who knows and feels that he or she is a professional would never react this way.  When I talk of a diverse client base I am referring to a capable professional interpreter providing different services.  To even think that this business-based point of view constitutes an invitation to pseudo-interpreters to go into any field only shows a big silent problem in the profession: Many medical interpreters think of a non-professional interpreter as their first reaction. They do not feel and act as professionals yet. A real court interpreter who works as a medical interpreter or as a conference interpreter meets all necessary requirements before going to work: certifications, subject matter expertise, etc.  The same applies to conference interpreters.  In fact, and as an interesting matter, in all the years I have been interpreting conferences, many of them medical, I have never worked with a medical interpreter. I have worked with court interpreters many times, and many of them do a great job as they are professionals.  Court interpreters simultaneously interpret very complex medical procedures and terminology when they interpret expert testimony during trials; conference interpreters simultaneously interpret very complex medical peer-presentations and pharmaceutical studies.  My suggestion to my medical interpreter colleagues who still agonize over this medical interpretation is “my turf” issue, is to stop thinking of pseudo-interpreters who show up to work for a few dollars that the agencies pay them, and to see themselves as professionals, to feel like professionals, to act like professionals, and part of this behavior is to collaborate with other interpreters whose fields are professionally more advanced so that sometime in the future, these newly certified medical interpreters start working as simultaneous interpreters who do medical expert testimony in a court of law, and a medicine Nobel Prize research presentation during a medical conference.  I would like to read your comments on this issue.

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