How to Defend Your Rendition and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter.

May 7, 2013 § 5 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Good professional interpreters are usually consumed with taking care of their clients, improving their skills, managing their agenda, and marketing to new clients.  This takes a lot of time and energy, and it is essential to succeed in this career.  Unfortunately, sometimes during their career some interpreters may experience other aspects of the profession that are less pleasant, more time-consuming, and very stressful.

Our professional tools are our brain, mouth, and a language combination. We can make mistakes, we are susceptible to questioning and second-guessing by others, and in out litigious society we are exposed to lawsuits that can leave us with no career, no resources, and a tainted reputation.

There are many circumstances that can affect our career as professional interpreters, but at this time I would like to focus on two of them:

When our work is subject to criticism and questioning by our peers or by a counterpart in a legal setting. We all have faced situations when in the middle of a court hearing a judge, attorney, witness, litigant, and even a juror, have interrupted our rendition to correct what we just said. Most of the time we were right and they were wrong. On occasion, because we are not machines, and because nobody can possibly know all regional expressions, these voices do us a favor as they correct our mistake and allow justice to be served. These are the scenarios we usually face when doing our job.  It sounds simple and straight to the point:  Either we are right and we say so in order to keep the process moving along, or we are wrong, and in that case we correct our error.  Unfortunately this is not how it happens in the real world.  Out there we have to deal with attorneys who are not happy because their non-English speaking client or witness is not saying what they wanted them to say, so the first thing they do is to cast a doubt over the rendition of the interpreter; there are those cases when the non-English speaker passionately defends his “translation” of a term even though we know for sure that he is mistaken. Sometimes the problem may be the judge who does not speak the foreign language, but out of fear of offending the non-English speaker decides to question the interpreter and sometimes even to adopt this person’s rendition of a word or term that you know is clearly wrong.

The second situation I want to mention to you is when a case does not end the way that one of the parties wanted it to conclude and the blame is totally or partly placed on the interpretation. The court decision is appealed on grounds of inadequate interpretation, or even worse, the interpreter is sued for damages by this losing party.  How can we defend our work when our rendition is questioned and the case goes on appeal? What can we do to protect ourselves in case somebody takes us to court for damages? There are preventive measures that we can take as interpreters to diminish the possibility of having to defend our work, our assets, and our reputation.  There are also steps we must follow in case our professional work is questioned or attacked in court.

These complex issues have to be addressed, and as true professionals we must be prepared in case this happens to us. For this reason, I will present: How to Defend Your Interpretation and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter in and out of Court” during the NAJIT annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri on May 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm. I invite you to go to the conference and I encourage you to attend this presentation where we will discuss these sad but possible scenarios and we will explore the different preventive measures that we should always take in order to avoid an adverse outcome, as well as the path to follow once our rendition or our skill has been formally questioned in a court of law.  I hope to see you in St. Louis.

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§ 5 Responses to How to Defend Your Rendition and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter.

  • Heidi says:

    So, eye rolling is not always the best option?🙂

  • Kirsty Heimerl-Moggan says:

    Sadly (being UK/Germany-based) I will not be able to attend but would really love to hear more about your presentation. Perhaps after the event we could have an exchange? I teach some coping techniques to my legal interpreting students for when they have to deal with such situations (which, as you know, happens a lot) and I am sure a frank exchange would be very useful for all of us. Being prepared for such “attacks” on our professionalism is half the battle, isn’t it?
    All the best for your presentation in St.Louis!

  • Consuelo says:

    Añadiría algo más. Muchas veces no tenemos que defendernos de abogados o jueces, sino de la mala praxis de otros intérpretes. Es decir, cuando compartes cabina con otro intérprete, todos los egos afloran y la verdad, a veces es insoportable y muy difícil trabajar con colegas que no respetan los tiempos establecidos (20-30 minutos por cada intérprete). A mí me ha pasado de todo: compartir la cabina con verdaderos pedantes, personas que creen que son lo máximo dentro del mundo de la interpretación, que te quitan el micrófono cuando les da la gana, que a pesar de haber pactado turnarse cada media hora, siguen y siguen durante 45 minutos para luego gritarte que “están cansados, es tu turno”, que me piden que busque un término que no conocen, lo busco y luego me miran con desprecio y aseguran que “esa no es la traducción”, que alardean de que todos los clientes, agencias y seres humanos de la tierra los contrata. Una vez, una intérprete me dijo que no le gustaba ayudar al otro colega cuando compartía cabina, “pues durante esa media hora descanso”. De verdad, a veces prefiero trabajar sola porque al menos en la ciudad en la que vivo, la mayoría de intérpretes son demasiado pedantes y no les vendría mal una cura de humildad. Ah, y encima se pasan el tiempo criticándose los unos a los otros. No sé por qué no entienden que cuando compartes cabina se trabaja en parejas y que son los dos intérpretes los que van a contribuir a que el evento sea un éxito (o no). Saludos y suerte en tu presentación.

  • Suzie Carman says:

    Great topic! I’m really interested in finding out more about it… have you considered an online workshop? I live in Upstate New York and even though I considered attending the NAJIT annual conference, with the added cost of flight, hotel, car and other incidentals it became uneffective and cost prohibiting…😦

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