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

September 4, 2014 § 12 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 as an interpreter. 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 our 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:

The first one occurs when our work is subject to criticism and questioning by our peers or by others. This often happens in a legal setting. All court interpreters 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. The same facts are true in a healthcare or community interpreting setting; even at the negotiating table or in the booth during a conference we sometimes make mistakes out of exhaustion, due to bad acoustics, a speaker with a heavy accent, or because we misunderstood a word or term. This is why we have team interpreting, this is why good interpreting equipment, an appropriate conference room, and breaks or recesses are important.

Unfortunately in the real world we have to deal with attorneys who are not happy because their foreign language speaking client or witness is not saying what they wanted them to say in the trial, and with doctors and nurses who want to dodge the consequences of their negligence, and with the party that lost at the business negotiating table, or with the agency that tries to justify the disaster caused by its outdated broken-down interpreting equipment. The first thing they all do is to cast a doubt over the rendition of the interpreter. It is even worse when all of this happens and you know that those who are questioning your work are clearly wrong.

The second situation I want to bring to your attention is when the same individuals mentioned above, decide to go for the jugular and to put the blame on the interpreter’s rendition; so they take you to court. They argue inadequate interpretation and you are sued for damages. How can we defend our work when our rendition is questioned and we know we are right? 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 Our Rendition and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter” during Lenguando Londres in London on September 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm. I invite you to attend the event on the 13 and 14 of this month and see how you will be able to interact with some of the superstars of all language-related professions, and I encourage you to attend this presentation where we will discuss these sad but possible scenarios, we will explore the different preventive measures that we should always take in order to avoid an adverse outcome, and we will talk about 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 London; but even if you are not attending, I ask you to share with the rest of us your experiences on having your rendition questioned, challenged, or having a lawsuit filed against you as an interpreter.

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

  • Nice points, Tony. I have never been taken to court, but have had my rendition questioned when opposing lawyer knew some Spanish and the Brazilian Portuguese-speaking witness used an idiomatic expression and he was able to recognize the sounds. He thought he understood the witness.

    The lawyer and I ran into each other later and he explained he just wanted things to be as accurate as possible. And I explained to him that when Americans say “I see” they don’t always mean they have a visual record of something. His response: “Touché!”

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Hello again, Tony!

    One of my mentors taught me early on when I began my career as court interpreter that when the attorney is losing the case in which they’re using an interpreter, he/she will attempt to blame the interpreter.

    I’ve always striven to do the very best possible rendering during court appearances and despite it there have been a few instances in which the attorney objected to my “translation” (Counselor, it’s INTERPRETATION!), which stemmed primarily from differences in the semantic field.

    When challenged and when I know I’m right, I’ll state for the record: “The interpreter stands by his interpretation” and when they’re right, I’ll acquiesce and state: “The interpreter stands corrected”. With that, I’ve never had any problems whatsoever in any court.

    In one particular instance though, one of the attorneys raised some of my hackles due to his ridiculous and erroneous belief that he “spoke and understood” the Spanish language and blundered on, so I calmly told him: “Counselor, you might be the expert at the law but I’m the expert at the words!”.

    Ever since, we’ve gotten along swimmingly.

    André Csihás, FCCI

    P.S: If you’d care to use these examples in London, please be my guest!

  • Iveta Kopankina says:

    Hello, Tony!
    Some two years ago me and my colleague from the Parliament were interpreting at a shareholders’ meeting of a company. When the shareholders started to ask why the company had not paid their dividends that was blamed on the interpreters. We left the booth that day and I have never interpreted for the company again. The chairperson implied in private that as interpreters we should have taken the blame in order to help him, because we were paid for interpreting! It is a pity that I cannot make it to London to hear your presentation. I am in Latvia.

  • […] 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…  […]

  • Saludos! Fortunately I haven’t had any serious issues come up, however I have taken a step to protect myself by taking out an insurance policy. As I stepped more into the private/corporate sector I felt the need to have an extra level of protection as well as assurance for my clients that my work is sound. If someone were to look for the weakest link to sue, I would hope that wouldn’t be the interpreter/translator. The cost of defending against even a frivolous lawsuit could be outrageous so I feel better having business insurance just as I have auto insurance and others.

  • Sonia says:

    Many of us will not be able to participate in this valuable event that will take place in London on September 13th. I would like to have some of the preventive measures that you will present, shared with us even if you charge a small fee.

  • Silvia says:

    The example of “I see” is great! A good one to keep in mind for similar situations. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Aline says:

    I am currently a senior in high school and I am really interested in the interpreting field, but I have no clue where to start. I would like some advice on where I need to go after high school and what courses I should be taking in college. I really need some help because I feel really lost right now.

  • […] Así, Tipo Servicios Editoriales, la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Infoling, Patricia Lluberas, Tony Rosado, Accurate Translations y a El blog del traductor jurado, que ha publicado la primera parte de su […]

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