Is interpreting a lesser profession?
February 25, 2013 § 9 Comments
I recently posted a story about a judge near the border who questions the interpreter’s ability to do his or her job. I described how this judge asks Spanish-speaking jurors to correct the interpreter’s rendition during the trial, and tells them that in cases when none of the Spanish-speaking members of the jury are sure about a certain word or term, she would ask for an expert to render an opinion. As expected, many of you were outraged, some of you offered solutions to this problem, and others shared similar stories showing that this practice of not recognizing the interpreter as a professional expert, and putting him or her down, happens all over the world.
All these reactions were natural and expected; however, there were quite a few participants, many of them identifying themselves as court interpreters, who made statements that seemed to accept this practice and even endorse the system. Comments such as: “…Interpreters should be more professional and less sensitive…(they) should just interpret and get used to it…” “…It happens all the time…(and) we need to act more like interpreters and do the job they are paying us to do…” and even: “…I think (Asking the jurors) is a good idea. They may know how to say something we don’t…”
Dear friends; those of you who know me personally, and all regular blog readers, know that I have always fought to get our profession acknowledged as a real profession. We are professionals! The work we do requires of knowledge, skill, preparation, formal education, cultural awareness, social skills, and many more… Our function is essential for the communication of people who don’t speak the same language. As long as there are two languages in the universe there will be interpreters. I understand that many colleagues, and with reason, argue that we are not a regular traditional “profession,” that we are stuck in between being a profession and being an art.
It is essential that all interpreters, regardless of their area of expertise and place of services, present themselves as professionals. My colleagues, in order to do this we need to believe it first, we need to feel it. My court interpreter colleagues must enter a courthouse feeling, believing, knowing, and projecting that they are part of the professional service providers who work in the justice system. They need to group themselves in the same category with the judges, expert witnesses and attorneys; that is where they belong. Sadly, many court interpreters see themselves more like a clerk, and identify themselves with support staff such as clerks, bailiffs and deputies; In fact, some of them act as if they can relate more to the parties: victims, witnesses, and even defendants.
What do you think an attorney would say if the judge were to ask those jurors who may be attorneys or paralegals to please correct the litigants during the trial if they are quoting the wrong case law? We cannot even imagine that scenario. It is exactly the same with our profession.
Court interpreters in this case, and all interpreters in general, need to act as professionals and educate everybody they interact with about their profession. Go out there and explain judges, attorneys, agencies, hospital administrators, and clients who we really are. If you do, you will soon notice that they treat you differently, that you feel better about yourself, and you will notice that your income will increase because once you feel like a professional, you will act as one, and professionals charge accordingly for their professional services. I would like to hear from you. Please share with all of us your thoughts and ideas about who we are as interpreters, and how we should act when providing our services.