October 1, 2018 § 1 Comment
Occasionally interpreters ask me what to do when retained to assess the rendition of other colleagues in a court hearing or civil deposition. This is a delicate issue for several reasons: As interpreters, we do not like another colleague carefully reviewing every single phrase we interpret; we feel it is invasive and even disrespectful. Sometimes the added pressure of having somebody else, most of the time with more experience than us, ready to jump at the first error or omission will turn a good rendition into a poor interpretation because of the intense scrutiny. We feel uncomfortable doing the same to another colleague when we are the “checker”. We do not want to offend a colleague, even a friend, but we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place when one of our best clients requests we render this service.
The first thing we need to understand is this is a professional service we were hired for. It is business. Also, we must remember what we were retained for: To check the accuracy of another interpreters’ rendition. We were not hired to destroy the interpretation; we were not asked to dispute and question every word interpreted or every term rendered by our colleagues. A professional opinion informing our client that the interpretation was fine will be welcomed by our client. They do not want us there to turn the other interpreters’ work to shreds; we are there because our client wants to make sure that the rendition was complete and accurate. This is important as it lifts an enormous weight off our shoulders. It gets rid of the feelings of disloyalty and guilt.
When I am hired to check on other colleagues during a court hearing (trial, motions hearing, expert testimony, etc.) or a civil deposition, the first thing I ask for is the names of the interpreters to interpret the proceeding. Sometimes I know the interpreters and from that moment I know if my job will be a walk in the park, because the interpreters are exceptional, or if it could turn ugly. Most of the time, I do not know the colleagues. In that case, my first task is to learn as much as I can about that interpreter: Where do they practice; how long have they been interpreting professionally; what experience they have with the type of proceeding and the subject of the rendition; their first language, professional studies, who are their clients, and so on.
I can get most of this online by visiting their website, looking over their resume, and checking their LinkedIn page. I also look for photos online. Sometimes I do not know a colleague by name, but once I see the picture I realize I know who they are, and sometimes I am even familiar with their work. Another important source is those interpreters they usually work with. I may have never worked with the interpreter I am about to check, but I may have worked with some of their partners or boothmates before. Sometimes I may contact these interpreters (when I could find no information on the interpreter for example) but most of the time just knowing who they work with helps me understand the level of the interpreter. Finally, I look for what professional associations they belong to. I know it is not a very good indicator of the level of a colleague, but it helps me understand better if the person cares for the profession and their continuing education. If the interpreters are great, I let my client know right away. This helps me to prepare them for an “everything was fine” report after the rendition. I say nothing detrimental to a colleague a priori. If I have nothing great to tell to my client, I reserve judgement until after the hearing or deposition.
On the day of the interpretation I arrive early, and the first thing I do is say hi to the interpreters. I introduce myself and put them at ease by telling them this is not personal, but I never look nervous or afraid. I also communicate that I know of the fact there is more than one way to skin a cat and their choice of words may not be the same as mine. I assure them that, as long as the rendition is correct, even when their style my differ from mine, I will not make a fuss of the interpretation.
If I hear something I disagree with during the rendition, I am always very careful and rarely interrupt (only in very evident mistakes). There are synonyms and regional expressions that do not make a rendition wrong unless they are essential to the case. If this happens, I wait for the break and explain it to my client, emphasizing that the rendition was correct, but I would have said it differently.
When I hear something and I know it is wrong and relevant, I respectfully interrupt for the record. State my objection to the rendition and why I object. If the other interpreters agree: Great; if they disagree, let them explain and accept your mistake, if any, or be firm if you are right. It is always necessary to have the basis for your dispute: a grammar rule, applicable dictionary, section of the law. Otherwise your objections will seem frivolous, irrelevant, and you will undermine your credibility.
After the hearing, I am professional and courteous with the other interpreters, judge, and attorneys. It is important they know it is a job. Nothing personal.
Finally, I prepare my report in writing, including my expert qualifications and explaining to my client who I monitored, including the results of my research on the interpreters, I describe the room, and do a narrative of the hearing or deposition, indicating all questionable interpretations, mistakes made by the interpreters, and correct renditions I would have interpreted differently due to my personal style (synonyms, regional expressions, etc.). Finally, I type my conclusions. Usually indicating there was nothing of importance omitted or misinterpreted at the hearing or deposition. Occasionally, indicating the interpreting mistakes and the reasons to back up my opinion. I now ask you to share with us your experiences as “check-interpreter” or about being “checked” by other. I would also like to hear what other strategies you follow when asked to be a check-interpreter, and what you include in your report.
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.
October 1, 2012 § 2 Comments
As a veteran interpreter I have seen many things, faced numerous obstacles, and solved hundreds of situations such as bad equipment, poor booth location and lack of research materials, noisy courtrooms, difficult accents, and rotten clients. I am sure you had your fair share as well. However, I came to a realization a few weeks ago when I was teaching a seminar in the great State of Texas. I lived in a border state for many years and I had to face the bilingualism problem on a daily basis, but nothing I ever went through compares to the story I am about to tell you:
There is a judge in Houston Criminal Court who has very little regard for her interpreters, this combined with her colossal ignorance of the interpreter profession, of who the officers of the court are , and her self-centered goal of only caring for the next election (because state judges are elected by the voters in Texas) have resulted in a very uncomfortable work environment for our good colleagues.
I lived in New Mexico for many years and I experienced first-hand the constant struggle of interpreting from and into Spanish in a place where most people have an idea of the language and many of them speak it at an average level. It is very difficult to work under these circumstances, especially as a court interpreter because in an environment where the judge, attorneys, clerks, police officers, witnesses, and jurors understand, or think they understand, at least some of what was said in Spanish, puts the interpreter in a place where he or she is constantly on the spot, been “corrected”, receiving unwanted “suggestions”, and sometimes being challenged by one of this so-called Spanish speakers.
There was a case in another state some years ago where a member of the jury, who supposedly spoke Spanish, disapproved of the official interpretation of a witness during a trial and during deliberations informed the other jurors that she spoke Spanish, that she understood what the witness said in Spanish, and that the interpretation had been incorrect. She then told them what in her opinion the witness really said, and that swayed the jury. Because of that comment by the bilingual juror there was a conviction that otherwise would have never existed. Once the circumstances during deliberation were known by the judge and attorneys, the defense filed an appeal that made it all the way up to the State Supreme Court where the conviction was overturned. The reality was that the interpreter had been right all along. The juror did not have the necessary knowledge of the Spanish language to really comprehend what was said and then interpret it into English accordingly (like the interpreter did) In their decision, the Justices clearly indicated that the court, including the jury, has to abide by the official interpretation into English provided by the certified professional court interpreter. That is the record in the case, it is not there to be doubted or debated by other bilingual speakers. As a result of that case judges in that state now read an instruction to the members of the jury clearly telling them to rely on the interpretation and not in what they may believe was said as they are not professionally trained to interpret.
The absolute opposite of what this court decision stated happens every day in this Houston Texas Criminal courtroom. Whenever there is a trial before this judge that requires Spanish interpretation, from the beginning of the proceedings the judge asks the Spanish-speaking jurors to “…let (her) know if something that the interpreter said was wrong… Because (in that case) we’ll try to figure it out, and if we can’t come to an agreement (of what was said) then we’ll get an expert…”
This is what she says with the licensed interpreter (in Texas there are no certified interpreters, they are licensed) present and interpreting to the defendant! Of course, most freelancers now refuse to work for this ignorant “judge”, but the staff interpreters are stuck with her, at least until the next election. Once I heard the story I concluded that no matter how bad we think we have it when doing our job, there is always somebody who has it worse. I would like to see what you think about this situation, and I would love to hear any suggestions you may have for the Houston interpreters who deal with this individual on a daily basis.
August 17, 2012 § 9 Comments
The other day one of my colleagues asked my opinion about the quality of the Spanish a police officer was using during a recorded interview. This colleague had been retained by the defense to analyze and transcribe the video of a police interview by a police woman in a very small town in the Midwest. As I sat there and listened to the nonsensical utterances that were emanating from this officer’s mouth, I went down memory lane and lived through them all again. I will never forget the police department that used a monolingual (in English) Hispanic woman as an interpreter for all of their investigations because “she grew up 20 miles from the Texas-Mexico border…(and that)…was enough to assume she spoke enough Spanish to communicate with the suspects…” and how could I forget the police station that hired as interpreters all those who had failed the court interpreter certification test because “…they were cheaper and knew about the same…” Never mind the disastrous results like the time when a little girl who had been the alleged victim of sexual abuse was considered to be a liar because the police interpreter did not know how to say “Christmas tree” in Spanish. And the time when the “interpreter” referred to the pedestrian charges as the “pedophile charges”. And yes! There was the man who interpreted the polygraph tests into Spanish and explained how to wear the wires by lifting, holding, bending, and stretching the suspects. Hulk Hogan would have been proud of his technique.
During all my years as an interpreter, and specifically through my work as a court interpreter, I have learned that the common denominator among most police forces in the country seems to be their desire to save money on interpretation. Apparently the fact that the investigation is jeopardized by using the services of unqualified or under-qualified linguists is not a concern. Even in those towns where cases are systematically dismissed by the prosecution, or dismissed by the judges, because of violations to the rights of the defendant, or where indictments are based on faulty testimony, all due to a lack of communication between the English speaking authority and the non-English speaker defendant, victim, or witness, because of poor interpretation, chiefs of police, budget analysts, and city administrators are choosing the cheaper service provider over the sound and accurate legal investigation.
We all know that a dollar saved on a bad interpreter will translate on thousands of dollars spent on a new trial, an appeal process, or a brand new investigation. Every time I have a chance, I talk to law enforcement administrators and try to explain how a real interpreter costs more, but at the same time she saves you money. A $100.00 per hour interpreter will do her job correctly in two hours, while a mediocre $40.00 per hour individual will take longer, as he struggles to understand the language, comprehend the process, and communicate the concepts to both, police officer and non-English speaker. After 8 long hours with a bad “interpreter”, the investigation moved very little, the legal process was violated several times, the cheap interpreter cost $320.00, and he has to come back the next day to finish the interview. There were no savings.
So, as I sat there watching this video, looking at my colleague working so hard, writing down the mistakes of the interpreter doing the interview, making footnotes of her omissions, charting the additions she volunteered into the interview, and listening to my interpreter friend telling me how this police woman, part-time “interpreter” had already caused the dismissal of many cases because of her lack of skill and knowledge, I came to a strange realization: The good interpreters are losing these police assignments to the bad ones, but because of this policy by the police departments, these good interpreters are now working as expert witnesses and linguistic advisors to the parties. Therefore, at the end, the good interpreter wins because it is more lucrative to be the expert witness or advisor. But wait; what about the defendant, the victim, and society at large? They may all get their justice in the long run after a lengthy legal process of appeals and re-tried cases, but in the meantime the victim will not feel safe, the innocent defendant will sit in a cell, and society will pay a hefty legal bill. All because the police department wants to save by hiring the bad interpreter. I would like to read your comments and experiences about this topic.
August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
I just heard the story of an interpreter who was hired to render her services as an expert witness in a trial that took place in a small town of the American Midwest. This colleague, who I know has years of experience as an interpreter, translator, transcriber, and expert witness, was retained to examine a transcription and translation job by a transcriber/translator whose work accuracy was in question. Following some fee negotiation, and after the interpreter’s client recovered from learning what a real expert witness charges for her services, this colleague examined the transcription, reviewed the translation, and contacted her client to ask her when they should meet to discuss her report. To her surprise, the attorney who hired her stated that a meeting was not necessary and that a simple oral report over the phone would suffice. A few days later the interpreter received the subpoena to testify during the trial, and the client informed her that there would be no expert witness-attorney meeting before the trial.
Under these circumstances, this very experienced interpreter appeared in court ready to testify as an expert. As my court interpreter colleagues know, the testimony of an expert has two parts: First, the party offering the witness has to qualify him as an expert by asking questions about his credentials, educational background, experience, and so on. Then, once the expertise on the particular field has been established, the parties question the expert about his analysis, methodology, findings, and opinion.
In this particular case, the interpreter had just began introducing her qualifications and academic formation when the small town judge interrupted and asked the attorney doing the direct examination if “…this (was) going to take too long, because I have so many other things to take care of…” The attorney then rushed through the qualifications of this expert, and moved on to the questions about the findings. Throughout the direct examination this witness had to sit on the stand, and literally sit on her hands as the attorney asked her many irrelevant questions leaving out many critical points and relevant aspects of the expert’s opinion. It became obvious that this attorney had examined very few experts during her career, and it was apparent that this was the first time she questioned an expert in linguistics.
As the interpreter waited for the “right” questions to arrive, and as it became clear that they would not, she had to swallow her frustration and hide her impotence as she saw how the case was crumbling down before her eyes despite the fact that the attorney who retained her had an expert report clearly showing that the transcriptions/translation in question were dramatically wrong.
As I heard this story, I imagined the frustration that this expert witness went through, put myself in her shoes, and realized that the simple fact of retaining an expert is useless when the attorneys do not know what to do with the expert opinion. It is obvious that attorneys need to know how to take advantage of having a very good expert as part of their team. In this case, as in many others, it was apparent that the small town judge and attorneys did not know what to do with the expert testimony, and never understood the importance and relevance of presenting the results to the jury to advance their case. Fortunately, seasoned experts have the privilege to work with capable lawyers and experienced judges most of the time; so the question is: What do newer experts or those interpreter experts working in outlined areas need to do to “educate” the local attorneys, judges, and system? I would like to hear your opinion.