Court interpreters’ priorities: Their health and to interpret.

August 12, 2020 § 16 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Although we are still in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, I have heard from several colleagues that some courts in the United States, and elsewhere, are back in session and they are asking court interpreters to attend in-person hearings. Courts may have their reasons to reopen, but I think is a bad idea for interpreters to answer the call at this time. Covid-19 is very contagious and continues to spread all over the United States and many other countries. This is not the time to risk our health, and perhaps our future, to make the not-so-good court interpreter fees. Technology is such that courthouses can hold virtual hearings, or distance interpreting if they want to have in-person sessions. There are solutions for all judicial district budgets, from fancy distance interpreting platforms, to Zoom, to a simple over-the-phone interpretation with 3-way calling and a speaker phone. Federal courts have provided over the phone interpretation in certain court appearances for many years.  Most hearings are short appearances that do not justify risking the interpreter. As for more complex evidentiary hearings and trials, just as conferences have temporarily migrated to this modality, distance interpreting can happen with a few adjustments. If in-person court interpreting is a bad idea right now, in-person interpreting at a detention center, jail or prison, is out of the question. At least in the United States, detention facilities are at the top of places where more Covid-19 cases have been detected.

Court interpreters provide services in accordance to the law and a code of ethics. Neither of them compels interpreters to put their lives at risk just to interpret for a hearing that could happen virtually. I urge you all to refuse in-person interpreting at courthouses and detention centers at this time. Advise judges, attorneys, and court administrators on the available options during the emergency. If after your explanation they insist on having interpreters appearing in person during the Covid-19 pandemic, please decline the assignment. It is obvious your life and health are not a priority for that organization; why should you put them at the top of your clients’ list?

Do not worry about the parties needing interpreting services. That is the attorney’s responsibility. Not yours.

Unfortunately, some of you will sadly agree to physically appear in court to interpret for defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, and victims. If so, at least demand the following from the courts:

All in-person interpreting must be done with portable cordless equipment. Many courthouses already use it, and for those who do not, explain to judges and administrators this is the same equipment tour guides use. Courts should provide personal transmitters to all staff and regular independent contractor interpreters, and interpreters should take care of the transmitter and take it with them at the end of the day. If this is impossible (although these devises are very affordable) then ask the courthouse to keep them clean and safe, and separate from the receivers the parties will use. Interpreters should always have their own personal microphone (whether it is provided by the court or they purchase it on their own). Ask the receivers be kept in individual plastic baggies, and have the individual using the receiver open the bag and put the devise back in the baggie after the hearing. Never handle the receiver. Ask the court to notify all parties needing interpreting services to bring their own earphones (they can use their mobile phone’s if they are wired). The courthouse should have disposable earphones in stock for those who forgot to bring their own. Earphones are inexpensive and can be thrown away after each hearing.

Finally, interpreters should never disinfect the portable equipment. This is a dangerous chore, you do not get paid to do it, and it is not your job. Disinfecting the equipment goes against all federal and state court interpreter rules of ethics:

“Canon 7: Scope of Practice. An interpreter for a LEP participant in any legal proceeding, or for an LEP party in a court-ordered program, must provide only interpreting or translating services. The interpreter must not give legal advice, express personal opinions to individuals for whom interpreting services are being provided, or engage in other activities that may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translating.”  All states include this canon in their code of ethics (sometimes the number is different). Interpreting equipment should be cleaned and disinfected by the same people who clean and disinfect everything else in the courtroom.

If you are interpreting in person for an agency or for a direct private client, you must follow the same practices. The agency should assume the courthouse duties. As for your preferred direct clients who you could not talk out of an in-person appearance, use your own personal equipment. If you don’t have it, buy it. Do not borrow the courthouse’s. You do not know how clean it is. I would also add the following when dealing with direct clients using my own equipment: Have disposable latex gloves available for you and the person using the equipment. That way you may assist your direct client with the receiver unit if needed. Have spare disposable earphones available if your clients forgot to bring their own. I suggest you use the earphones you get on the plane for free and you never use because you have your own. The protocol for jail visits is: No jail visits under any circumstance. Period.

Even with equipment, maintain a safe distance between you and the person you are interpreting for. No sitting next to the client. Always use and demand others use facemasks. The sound quality is not the best, but removing the mask to interpret is too dangerous. I suggest you wear a mask that ties or has an elastic that goes around your head instead of the ones you wear on your ears. They are more comfortable and stay in place even if you are speaking,

Most judges are rational people of good moral character, but I have heard of some cases when a judge has ordered the interpreter to remove the mask, get closer to the person who needs an interpreter, and other dangerous actions. If so, try to persuade the judge, if that fails, ask for a recess and try to get the court administrator to see the situation from your viewpoint. If this does not work, or if the judge does not let you speak, or you cannot access the administrator, excuse yourself.

State you cannot fulfill your duty as a court interpreter to interpret the totality of what is being said in court because you cannot concentrate on the hearing when you know the judge is putting you in a dangerous situation. Put it on the record, and leave. If the judge does not allow you to leave the courtroom, or threatens you with a contempt order, then clearly put on the record for a second time the same explanation you already gave, and clearly state you are being ordered to interpret even though the rendition will be incomplete, that you are being held against your will, and that you are respectfully giving notice to the judge that if because of his order you get infected, you will bring legal action against the court and personally against the judge. Do not be afraid. You are not doing anything wrong.

On top of all that, I would never interpret in that Judge’s court again.

There are other things we can do as interpreters to protect ourselves in the rare case we end up in front of a judge that forces you to interpret and do things that risk your health and maybe your life.

You can file a complaint with the circuit court (if a federal case) or the court of appeals with jurisdiction over the judge. In federal cases, this is done according to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 (28 USC §351-364) and the Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings.

If federal, you can send a letter describing the judge’s conduct to the Federal Judges Association (FJA) ( or to the State’s judges association in local matters.

Send a letter for publication on the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal Magazine, or to the State Bar Bulletin so attorneys and others learn of the incident and apply pressure on this individual.

Contact your local non-English radio and TV stations (for Spanish speakers Telemundo, Univision and Azteca America) and suggest an investigative report on how this judge is putting those who appear before him or her, and need interpreting services, at risk during the pandemic.

You can also talk to an attorney and explore the possibility of a lawsuit against the judge and courthouse for negligence.

Finally, write a letter to that courthouse’s chief judge and court administrator informing them that, regardless of the outcome, you will never work in that courtroom again. The letter should detail everything the judge said and did, including past episodes witnessed by you. A person with such a bad attitude did other bad things before.

Court interpreters perform an essential job for the administration of justice, everyone who needs an interpreter should get one, but certain things are above the job; one of them that should always come first is our health. I now ask you to share with us your in-person court experiences, in the United States or elsewhere, during the pandemic.

Quality interpreting will be tougher and less profitable.

September 3, 2019 § 4 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Government officials are entrusted with taxpayer’s money and they should be good stewards when allocating said resources. Good governments are charged with guaranteeing equality and quality services to those who elected them, and they must wisely decide where to invest and where to cut expenses. Sometimes well-intentioned authorities get it wrong, and unless they rectify, consequences can be ugly.

There are two instances where the United States federal government has adopted policies, and is considering even more steps, that will negatively affect our profession: One of such actions, already in place, impacts those interpreters practicing before the immigration courts; the other one will make accurate interpreting extremely difficult in the healthcare sector.

Even though we have read and heard many voices protesting these government decisions, and that is very good, they all argue the negative effects from the perspective of the beneficiary of the professional service: the millions of individuals living in the United States who do not speak English, but nobody has argued why these changes must be opposed from the interpreters’ perspective. My following comments result from conversations I had with fellow interpreters, immigration attorneys, and my own experience and observations as an interpreter, and from my days when I saw the immigration court system up close as part of an immigration law firm. This should complement what others have said.

Interpreting immigration proceedings.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) which runs the immigration courts, a branch of the Executive Branch of the federal government, not part of an independent judiciary, and run by officials appointed by the current administration, to lower its operational costs, replaced in-person interpreting services during an individual’s first court appearance with “pre-recorded, subtitled orientation videos, or telephone calls…”

These initial appearance hearings, called “Master Calendar Hearings” are the procedural moment when a person sees the immigration judge for the first time, after receiving a “Notice to Appear” (NTA) in court because of a removal proceeding the U.S. government, through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has instituted against him or her. The notice informs the individual of the charges, gives the time and place of the hearing, and it informs immigrants of their right to have an attorney to represent them at no cost to the government (remember, immigration court is Civil Law. Only criminal cases are covered by the constitutional right to have a defense attorney free of charge).

Master Calendar Hearings are very important. During this appearance, a person, technically called the “respondent,” who apparently is not an American citizen, learns of the charges against him, the facts of his case, is informed of his legal rights, and is given the chance to retain an attorney at his own expense or appear without legal representation (pro-se) during the proceedings. The person could request bond or ask for a bond redetermination hearing before the immigration court.

Respondents are told of their rights as a group. In some courts between 80 to 100 people at a time. During the hearing, the judge briefly addresses each individually, asking them their name, date of birth, address, and whether or not they plan to retain an attorney. Judges also ask them if they have questions, if they understand English, and when needed, an interpreter is appointed at no charge. This is very important because respondents need to know that failure to appear to any subsequent hearings will be held without them been there (in absentia) and the result will be a final order of removal and a 10-year bar to any future immigration benefits in the United States. Occasionally, people ask for voluntary departure or concede removability at this hearing.

Before the pre-recorded policy was implemented, judges listened to respondents’ answers to their questions, and conveyed information through an interpreter in close to 90 percent of the cases, this is immigration court where English speakers are the exception. If respondent’s language rarely was spoken in the area, and there were no staff or contract interpreters readily available, judges would use a telephone interpreting service, and for those cases where interpreters were not found, immigration courts would continue the hearing to a future date when an interpreter would be available.

I cannot imagine, and it shows a lack of knowledge on the way immigration courts work, how could a judge ask questions, provide information, and communicate with a non-English speaker. I can even see how a judge can even know that the individual understood the recordings. Some will not understand the spoken language in the video; others cannot read the subtitles in their own language because they may be functionally illiterate. Some may not pay attention to the video. I know how important is to know what to do if an emergency occurs when on an airplane, but I rarely pay attention to the video airlines show teaching me how to buckle my seatbelt. The most logical outcome will be: The judge continues the Master Calendar Hearing until there is an interpreter for the respondent. The consequence of this outcome: a second Master Calendar Hearing, easily avoidable when interpreters are available the first time. Taxpayers’ savings: gone.

Unfortunately, many respondents will be embarrassed to admit they did not understand the video, others may choose a hearing they do not understand instead of sitting in detention for a few weeks waiting a rescheduled hearing with an interpreter; others may concede removability when they had relief because nobody told them so.

Under this new policy, interpreters will encounter the respondent at the hearing on the merits, called “individual hearing”, for the first time. From the interpreter’s perspective, these hearings are similar to a traditional trial, there are legal arguments by the parties, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, references to caselaw, and quotations of official documents on the situation of countries, regions, and other relevant information. When an interpreter is involved from the Master Calendar Hearing, she has time to prepare for the assignment, research country conditions reports, get acquainted with the relief the client is seeking, and develop a glossary of terms relevant to the case and to the respondent’s speech.

Accurate interpreting during individual hearings is difficult because of the wide variety of issues that can be discussed. This is complicated even more due to the cultural differences and level of education of many respondents.  Interpreting during an individual hearing when a pro-se respondent went through a Master Calendar Hearing with a pre-recorded video will be a very difficult task. It is almost impossible to interpret without context, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review expects accurate quality interpreting services under these deplorable circumstances.

In an environment where the federal government wants to slash down all language resources needed in immigration proceedings, therefore compromising the quality of the interpreting services in immigration court, it is very telling that SOSi, the sole agency providing interpreting services in immigration courts nationwide, under a public contract reviewable every year until 2021, has remain silent on this issue. They already showed how willing they were to win that contract a few years ago when their lowest bid ousted long-time provider LionBridge. We all remember how the first thing SOSi did was to reduce interpreter fees from $60 to $35 dollars per hour (they later lost to the interpreters before the National Labor Relations Board NLRB). We must not forget SOSi is a well-established, powerful contractor with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) with a vested interest and a priority to keep its client: The United States federal government happy.

Dear colleagues, all immigration interpreters: staff or contractors, will face a terrible environment where they must do more, much more, with a high probability of a less than perfect rendition, because of the erroneous, and in the long-run more expensive policy enacted by the EOIR. Independent contractors will also have a less profitable immigration practice because all Master Calendar Hearings will be gone. How do you like this: tougher work, less income, providing interpreting services for an agency focused on keeping a federal contract, that cares nothing about interpreters or quality service, all to comply with an absurd government policy that brings nothing favorable to the interpreter to the table?

Healthcare interpreting.

In compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin, including language proficiency, and President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 (2000) during President Barack Obama’s administration the U.S. Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare” in 2010.  Section 1557 of the Act prohibits discrimination in federally-funded or administered healthcare programs on basis of national origin, including language proficiency.

Once the law came to full force, healthcare providers had to provide “qualified” interpreters to those who are not English proficient. Since then, we have come a long way; there are now healthcare interpreter certification programs in several languages, criteria to resort to other qualified individuals in those languages lacking certification programs, and explicitly banning interpreting services by children and relatives of the patient. Interpreting services for languages of lesser diffusion, and for remote areas of the country where in-person certified interpreters were not physically available, a video remote interpreting (VRI) option was developed. I want to make it clear: I dislike VRI for many reasons, but I understand that it was better than the alternative: having a child doing the rendition or no interpreter.

On May of this year, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Health and Human Services Department (HHS) issued a proposed change to Section 1557 which affects many segments of the population, including the elimination of written translated notices informing non-English speakers of their right to have an interpreter, and the option to get interpreting services by video in regions where no interpreters were physically available. Citing savings of $3.2 billion dollars over a 5-year period, the 204-page amendment proposes telephone interpreting instead of the more expensive video remote interpreting.

The patient-physician relationship is very private, often it happens during difficult times, and it could include communicating the worse possible news. Medicine is an imperfect science and it depends on accurate diagnosis, precise instruction, and strict compliance by the patient. Unless a patient is English proficient, none are possible without an interpreter.

VRI is a horrible solution, interpreters who provide this service are at the mercy of the weather, the speed of the internet service, the reliability of the electric company, and the quality of sound, among other things that have nothing to do with interpreting. Telephonic interpreting, maybe good for a 9-11 emergency call, or to make an appointment to the hairdresser, when used for healthcare interpreting is borderline criminal.

Those who think interpreting is all about hearing what a person says and translating it into a different language show their ignorance. Interpreting is much more than that. Communication includes facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and many other factors that need to be picked by the interpreter to do a good job. Interpreting for a medical examination, laboratory work, therapy session, need this visual component more than many other human interactions.

How can an interpreter be satisfied and confident of a telephonic interpretation where the doctor asks the patient: “Is the pain sharper here… or here?”  How can a physician diagnose correctly if the patient reveals his injury by pointing to a body part and nothing else?

Many of the non-English proficient patients come from cultures when it is difficult to take about the human body, even to mention human parts by their name. They solve this uncomfortable situation by pointing to their intimate body parts instead. Hated VRI at least allows the distance interpreter to see what the patient is doing and render an accurate interpretation. Same is true for those patients, many farmers and construction workers from Spanish-speaking countries, wrongly name a body part, or refer to their own body by the name generally applied to animal parts. Hearing “my foot hurts” when they hold their thigh, or “my gizzard is swollen” can be accurately interpreted when the interpreter sees on the screen how the patient holds his thigh or points at his stomach. With telephonic interpreting this would take a lot of time and many questions to the patient. Sometimes it is impossible.

Medical insurance paperwork without a translated notice informing non-English speakers they can request an interpreter for their medical appointment, and long, often uncomfortable telephonically interpreted doctor visits will cause many discouraged patients, who are not proficient in English, staying home, skipping medical appointments, and waiting until it is too late, and more expensive, to provide medical treatments. To say that healthcare services, arguably the most profitable activity in the United States, needs to cut expenses by amending Section 1557 is difficult to buy. This is the business that charges you $75 for the plastic pitcher of water you used during your hospital stay.

To the interpreter, it will mean a more difficult task, a professional practice that goes beyond interpreting and into the world of having to divine what a patient said. More difficult work, same pay, and a diminished rentability. When patients stop going to the doctor because of telephonic interpreting, when people stay away from hospitals because nobody ever told them they could have an interpreter during the medical examination, the need for interpreters will plummet. If implemented, on top of the thousands of deaths it will cause, HHS decision to eliminate right to an interpreter translated written notices, and to replace VRI with a telephone line will be remembered as the decision that killed healthcare interpreting as a profitable practice.

If you are a practicing immigration court or healthcare interpreter, and you want to continue in your filed, working in a fulfilling profession that makes you a nice profit, join the activists working on behalf of immigrants, patients, immigration attorneys associations, the immigration judges union, and healthcare rights activists, and share with them your perspective, make them understand that the quality of your service will suffer because of reasons with nothing to do with the way you practice your craft; explain to them that less profitability will be the easiest way to show the door to the best interpreters practicing immigration and healthcare, leaving only (with a few exceptions) those of a lesser quality and professionalism. Share stories like the ones I have included here. I now ask you to tell us what are you doing as a contingency strategy if profitability leaves immigration court and healthcare interpreting.

We must protect the interpreter, not the middleman.

June 12, 2019 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Think of a colleague, anywhere in the United States, who is battling a devastating illness and cannot get the treatment she needs because she has no health insurance, and medical expenses are so high she cannot cover them. I am sure you know an interpreter who has tried to get a job because he is worried about retirement years from now, but cannot get one because nobody is hiring. Language service providers want independent contractors because they have no legal obligation to provide employment benefits: health insurance, retirement plan, paid holidays and vacation, maternity leave, worker’s compensation insurance. If you prefer, look very carefully at your interpreter colleagues who have a sick parent, a disabled child, or another powerful reason to stay where they now live, and for that reason, they have to interpret for the agencies in town (local and multinational) and they do it in silence because they are afraid of losing these assignments, even when they are poorly paid, and they have to endure terrible, and sometimes humiliating working conditions.

Of course, you can always look at your own practice; I invite you to do so and honestly answer these questions: Do you enjoy having to check in and out with the agency every time you do an assignment? do you feel comfortable asking the person you just interpreted for to write down the hours you interpreted and to sign the form so you get paid by the agency? Do you find amusing having to spend hours on the phone and writing emails so you can get paid for a last-minute canceled assignment the agency does not want to pay? Maybe some of you like staying at the venue after interpreting is over because the agency makes you stay for the full time they retained you, even though all your work is done. Perhaps your definition of professional services includes cleaning up files or making photocopies until your time is up. Do you like it when the agency prints you business cards under their name and forces you to give them to the client? Do you like dodging all clients’ interpreting services questions by referring them to the agency every time? How about micromanaging your time on the assignment?

I doubt you enjoy any of these things, but even if you do, please understand that these intermediaries are taking advantage of you. They are forcing you to perform as an employee without paying you any benefits. Agencies distract you by telling you what a wonderful lifestyle you have, how flexible your schedule is, and everything thanks to them, your benefactors who find you work while you do not even lift a finger.

This is what the California State Legislature is trying to stop by forcing those employers who treat their “independent contractors” as employees to provide all benefits and protections people who do what these interpreters do for the agencies are legally entitled to. Think like an interpreter, stand up for your colleagues and the profession. Do not buy the arguments agencies are propagating. They do not see this legislation from the interpreters’ perspective. They see it from their business perspective.

For a long time, agencies have enjoyed this cozy business model that lets them charge their client for your service, pay you a part of it, and get you to do anything they want without incurring in any human resource expenses. It is a win-win situation for them. It is an abusive scheme for the interpreter.

Big multinational agencies are campaigning hard to defeat these legal protections not because they will “destroy the industry” as they put it, but because they will lose their golden egg goose. There will be no more freebies. They come at you with their lobbyists and make you believe they are on your side, they portray themselves as your savior and use scare tactics to make you think there will be no work for you if they are forced to lower their profits by living up to their legal and moral obligations to the interpreters.

Freelancing is not going to end after the bill becomes the law of the land in California or anywhere else. I am a freelance interpreter and I am not afraid. I do not work with these agencies, big or small, who now claim they are on a quest to save us all. New legislation or status quo will not impact my practice, and it will not impact that of most colleagues I work on a daily basis; however, leaving things as they are, giving back these agencies a position of power over the interpreters who work for them, will keep our less fortunate colleagues in the same deplorable conditions they have been working for all these years. This is a decisive moment. Multinational agencies and their lobby know it. They will fight the State of California with everything they have because they know the Golden State is a place where they can be unmasked and lose their privileges. Interpreters have organized labor backing their efforts because there are unions and guilds in California. Other States do not have them. The middleman knows that California is a decisive battlefield and they are spending money and sending their PR people to “convince” interpreters that defeating this legislation is best.

They argue they will not be able to hire interpreters because it would be too expensive. That many agencies will not survive and interpreters will lose a source of work. That is the point. The bill will only be successful when this serf-owner business model is erased. Will interpreters be more expensive because of the labor benefits? Yes. Interpreters deserve these protections. Agencies will either close or adjust their business models to comply with the legislation. Will agencies hire less interpreters? Of course, but the need for interpreters will not go away. There will be many more interpreters hired directly by clients. Is this going to hurt small agencies? It should. Small agencies should not exist in this business model because the essential condition for their survival is the denial of workers’ rights under the law.

Complaints that the legislation has exempted other professions like physicians and attorneys, but not interpreters are nonsense. Doctors and lawyers are well-established professions. Nobody would ever think of calling a “medical agency” and ask for a brain surgeon for tomorrow at 8:00am. If we want to be treated like these professions, we need to look like them. First step: get rid of the middleman. I know, some will say: “but…hairdressers are excluded and they are not a profession like doctors and lawyers” That is true and it is wrong. They should be covered by the legislation. The difference is: They got a better lobbyist and got their sorry exception in detriment of the people providing beauty services.

What about the argument that smaller agencies will not be able to stay in business because they will not afford it? In my opinion, these so-called agencies are not really agencies; most of them are a solo operation where somebody with connections acts as a referral service. I find this dangerous because these “agencies” just want a warm body with the right language combination for the assignment. I do not get the impression that messages on social media that read: “need French interpreter tomorrow at 2 pm” project exemplary quality control. Moreover, these people are not an agency, they should think and act like professionals and do what I do, and many of my colleagues do (all doctors and layers do the same thing): When your client asks for interpreters in a language combination different from mine, I just suggest a list of trusted experienced professional friends I am willing to vouch for, and let my client decide who he will retain and for what fee. I do not get involved, I do not get referral fees.

Finally, to the argument the ABC test is impossible to overcome: This is false. It can easily be overcome by a real independent contractor relationship. That is the point. If any agency could disguise a de-facto employee as an independent contractor the law would be pointless.

I understand what multinational agencies, their lobbyists, small agencies, and those solo practitioners who call themselves an agency without actually being one are doing. They are defending their very lucrative status quo. They have a right to fight for it and save their “industry”. As always, my concern are the interpreters and the profession, and from this perspective, I see the new California legislation as a step forward to our professionalization because, on top of protecting our colleagues in need, it will weaken the agency model, a necessary condition to become a true profession worthy of a place in the pantheon of professions. This is the time to listen to our colleagues and defend our profession, not the middleman interests.

Do many interpreters experience vicarious trauma?

May 7, 2019 § 26 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

I ask this question because I have been an interpreter for over 30 years and I have experienced no symptoms of vicarious trauma. When I started my career, nobody ever talked about vicarious trauma whether by its name or by any other name; however, in the last few years I have read many articles and attended many interpreter conferences where some of my colleagues dealt with this issue. I did my homework before writing this post. I read about the symptoms and activities that, as interpreters, put us at a higher risk because of the exposure to people or situations involving suffering, injustice, and many terrible things.  I read about empathy, compassion, internalizing your feelings, emptiness, denial, coping with big world tragedies through psychic numbing, and even sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder) and discover that none apply.

I consider myself “normal”. My friends see me as a regular guy. I am kind and considerate to those around me; I am a happy guy, and I have been told that I am a good friend, relative, and colleague. I will never be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but I have a full life doing what I like with those I care for.

After much consideration, I concluded that my attitude towards my profession has kept me from vicarious trauma. My background is in Law. I was an attorney before I was an interpreter. During the years I practiced my former profession, I was exposed to many bad things. I got to see the dark side of human nature. Then, my interpreting career began in the courtroom. I now work as a conference interpreter, and I have never worked as a healthcare interpreter, but I spent my days in courthouses and jails for many years. Both occupations put me in the middle of murders, rapes, drug crimes, child molestation, ugly divorces, loss of parental rights, domestic violence, wrongful dead, bankruptcies, deportations, and similar situations. For years I interacted with people: defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, and victims, providing my professional services on what had to be the worst day of their lives. People do not get up in the morning and say: “I think I would love to be arrested today”; or “today is a good day to terminate my parent-child relationship forever”. Unless they go to get married or to adopt a child, regular humans do not go to courthouses just because.

I have worked side by side with many interpreters during trials involving vicious criminals and people found not guilty by a jury. I have interpreted testimony of children graphically describing sexual crimes committed against them, and have interpreted when a mother described to the jury how the bad guys killed her son in front of her.

I have sat next to individuals charged with murder and facing the dead penalty, and with parents of young children who know they will be deported on that day. During those hundreds of cases throughout several decades, I never heard a fellow interpreter say they were feeling the symptoms of vicarious trauma. I now wonder if they, like I, experienced none of them, they did not recognize them, or they were just hiding them.

I think that I have never suffered the effects of this trauma because, even though I cry at the movies, I have always focused on the task and delivered the service, always knowing these were cases, not my personal life. I have always treated the client with respect, addressing them by their name and accommodating their professional interpreting needs regardless of the charges they were facing. To me, a murder trial is never about the gross details of the killing. It is about the theory of the defense, the prosecutorial strategy, the skill needed to get certain evidence admitted to trial. It is never about the small kid telling the judge who he rather be with: his father or mother; it is about delivering the rendition with the proper register, hearing everything that child is mumbling from the stand, staying out of the judge’s field of vision so she can better evaluate the witness’ testimony. I have never injected myself into a case or the personal life of the parties. Unlike most of my colleagues, after a rendition, I remember the legal arguments in a motions hearing much better than the testimony of an eyewitness. When I do legal interpreting without ever thinking about it, I have always seen myself as a person looking through a window, a spectator, a professional doing his job. I never identify my life or feelings with those of the parties in a case. I act professionally around those I interpret for, but I have never held a conversation with them; not even small talk beyond inquiring their place of origin so I can hear their accent and know what to expect. I never asked them if they want a glass of water. I never ask them if they have questions. Those are things for their lawyer or the Marshall to ask. When they occasionally ask me to convey a message to a relative in the courtroom, I simply tell them I cannot. It is not part of my job. Except for the names of those who I first interpreted for many years ago, unless my client was a celebrity for the right or for the wrong reasons, I never even remember their names or faces.

I never planned it; this is how it always was. This is how it always will be. Therefore, when I leave the courtroom after the convicted felon has been sentenced to life, after I interpret the deportation order, or when I hear the still doors closing behind me as I leave a prison, I go home, meet friends for happy hour, or catch a baseball game at Wrigley Field without ever thinking about the things that took place at work. I close the drapes of that window.

The question at the beginning of this post is real: Have you experienced vicarious trauma? I am sure some of you have, but I would like to know if I am in the minority or not. Please share your experience; I would love to hear from you. It is fine if you just want to tell us yes or no. The last thing I want is for you to bring back your bad memories again.

Lack of understanding, common sense = constitutional conflict in court?

November 12, 2018 § 1 Comment

Dear colleagues:

I recently learned that some federal district courts got involved in the way federal prosecutors pick their interpreters for hearings. I have practiced in federal court for many years, and the decision on who will interpret for the office of the United States Attorney has always been left to the prosecutors who know the case better than anybody else. This means they, and their prosecutorial team of paralegals, investigators, detectives, and law enforcement agents, know the language complexities of a particular case, and therefore, better equipped to decide who they need for that interpreting assignment.

I do not dispute that some districts, because of a lack of federally certified court interpreters, or out of plain ignorance, have never tried a case where the assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSA) have their own interpreters for a trial. Some districts are so small, the AUSA office does not even have a staff interpreter. Some districts are so remote, that even the court tries cases with unqualified court interpreters (usually certified or accredited at the state level) because it is next to impossible to get somebody to the courthouse. Evidentiary hearings and trials require that an interpreter be physically present at the hearing. Remote interpreting is not a viable option for these proceedings.

That some have always followed this practice does not make it right, and courts in districts in urban centers where federally certified court interpreters are available have no reason to inject themselves in what should be an internal process of the Department of Justice. Let me elaborate:

The American legal system, and all legitimate legal systems in the world, are based on an independent judiciary free to decide with no pressures or fear of retaliation. The United States Constitution recognizes and enshrines this principle through the separation of powers. The Executive Branch of the federal government originates from Article 2. The Judicial Branch stems from Article 3.

With administration of justice in a criminal case, all individuals in the United States have the rights and protections established by the Constitution and secondary legislation; mainly, the right to a public and fair trial by their peers, starting with a presumption of innocence, charging the Executive Branch of government, through the United States Department of Justice, with the burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, in an orderly regulated process, presided by and controlled by the Judicial Branch of government. To put it simply: Because the government cannot be judge and party, it is an agency from outside the Judicial Branch, in this case the Justice Department, who prosecutes the case on behalf of the U.S. government, including the citizens that the government must protect from the bad guys.

We can see that having the burden of proof is no small task. Federal prosecutors must investigate de facts, test and evaluate the evidence found, and prepare a case that will persuade the jury and judge of an individuals’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. If successful, the Justice Department will meet its duty to protect society. This is no easy task; it also means that individuals will lose their assets, their freedom, and even their life.  A prosecutorial team must have the best team available to fulfill its function, and that is extremely difficult.

Federal prosecutors must call witnesses to testify in the trial. When these witnesses do not speak English, their testimony must be interpreted into English to benefit the defendant, the defense attorneys, the judge, and the jury. It is only then, after the rendition of the interpretation, that the defendant will have exercised his constitutional right to confront the witness or accuser. It only after the rendition that a judge or jury can assess the credibility of the witness. It is this time they will decide if they believe all, part, or nothing of the witness’ statement.

But most of the work is done before the witness steps in the courtroom and takes the stand. Prosecutors and their teams test, evaluate, and prepare their witnesses before a trial. Questions are asked many times, in many ways; adjustments are made. Not to influence testimony, but to present the truth clearly to the trier of fact (judge or jury). Usually the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution is very complex, specialized, scientific. Dense concepts and sophisticated terminology must be interpreted into English during the trial; cultural concepts must be clarified before the final rendition (many expert witnesses come from abroad just for the trial); legal systems compared so the accurate term in the target language is rendered by the interpreter. Leaving loose ends is not an option: The prosecution must prove, and the standard could not be any higher: beyond reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and their teams, assisted by the interpreters, go over the testimony with every witness as many times as needed. These interpreters must research, study, practice, develop a common glossary for each testimony. The witness gets used to that team of interpreters and the interpreters get used to the witness.

The interpreters for the prosecution know the case, they are familiar with names, dates, places, and other key information that must be interpreted with accuracy. From gang slang, to amounts of drugs, to family relationships. It all needs to be well-understood so the interpretation heard in trial is accurate, pristine, and truthful.

Confidentiality is essential to our justice system. It lets the parties tell the truth to their attorneys so they can represent, in a criminal case, a defendant or society with full knowledge of the facts. Confidentiality is also very important when it comes to the lawyers’ strategy. Prosecutors and defense attorneys develop a strategy to win a case. The interpreters for the prosecution know the strategy and facts, and they are covered by the veil of secrecy. Using a court appointed interpreter to interpret for the prosecution generates a conflict of interest. You cannot be judge and party simultaneously. Even the most professional, trustworthy interpreters should never be placed in such situation. The sole appearance of conflict is enough to cast a shadow on the proceedings. Client-attorney privilege only exists when there is an expectation of privacy. How could this be argued when the same interpreter hears all confidential details?

The independence of the prosecutorial interpreters is so important, that even their payment differs from that court appointed, public defender, and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorney interpreters receive.  I am not referring to staff interpreters, I am talking about independent contractors retained to work in a case. While interpreters for the court, public defender, and CJA attorneys are paid through the judicial system (Judicial Branch of government) interpreters for the prosecution are paid by the United States Department of Justice (Executive Branch). The funds come from different budgets to assure independence, absence of conflict of interests, and separation of powers. The Office of the United States Attorney pays better that the courts, and unlike the latter, fees are negotiable between the parties (interpreters and AUSAs). This can also be relevant if you think that most more experienced, better trained interpreters would rather work for the prosecution, leaving a smaller pool of top-level interpreters to work for the courts, and increasing the risk of an inaccurate rendition of a prosecutorial witness’ complex testimony during the trial.

The widely, and constitutionally backed, practice of having a separate interpreter team for the prosecution in federal cases must continue as long as we have separation of powers, and a system where one party has the burden of proof. There is no rational justification for this practice by the executive branch of government, to be changed by court staff, from a different branch. Such decisions are being made in courthouses where none of the issues above were given any thought, where prosecutors did not reflect on the implications of such changes, and a decision was unilaterally made, perhaps due to a lack of understanding that lead to this policy deprived of common sense. If the decision at these district courts was made unilaterally, we have a separation of powers issue; if it was decided for monetary reasons, remember that interpreter fees are paid from two budgets (executive and judiciary); if it was decided to avoid comparisons between experienced prosecutorial interpreters, and perhaps less qualified court appointed ones, it was motivated by unethical reasons and it shows a disappointing level of professionalism; and if this was a joint decision by the courts and AUSAs in some districts, they must address the conflict of interest and at the least the appearance of conflict.

Our legal system has been around for 250 years. It has organically adjusted its parts to observe the fundamental democratic principles, starting with an independent judiciary, a separation of powers, and the rights and protections to the individual and society. In today’s world where many things that were, are no longer, let’s hope this is not changed by the capricious decision of a few. I invite you to share your thoughts on this issue.

Interpreter checker in a hearing or deposition.

October 1, 2018 § 1 Comment

Dear colleagues:

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.

Interpreting CJA cases is a bad business decision.

March 26, 2018 § 37 Comments

Dear colleagues:

A recurring theme among my court interpreter colleagues in the United States is the extreme difficulties they must endure when working under the Criminal Justice Act program (CJA). There are complaints about absurd paperwork procedures and unimaginable payment delays. Some colleagues’ invoices for professional services rendered under this program have been outstanding for over a year!

I worked with attorneys under the CJA program, but when the system changed about 18 months ago, and interpreters’ invoices had to go through the defense attorneys to get paid, and I heard some of the delayed payment stories from colleagues nationwide, I decided not to take CJA cases anymore.

For those of you who do not do federal court interpreting work in the United States, in 1964 the United States Congress enacted the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C. § 3006A) to provide a system for appointing and compensating lawyers to represent defendants financially unable to retain counsel; and providing for payment of experts, investigators, or other needed defense services in federal criminal proceedings, including interpreters. Today, the Office of the Federal Public Defender, with the over 10,000 private “panel attorneys” who accept CJA assignments annually, represent the vast majority of individuals prosecuted in U.S. federal courts.

CJA panel attorneys are paid an hourly rate of $132 in non-capital cases, and, in capital cases, a maximum hourly rate of $185. These rates include both attorney compensation and office overhead. In addition, there are case maximums that limit total panel attorney compensation for categories of representation (for example, $10,000 for felonies, $2,900 for misdemeanors, and $7,200 for appeals). These maximums may be exceeded when higher amounts are certified by the district judge, or circuit judge if the representation is at the court of appeals, as necessary to provide fair compensation and the chief judge of the circuit approves.  CJA attorney appointments are made by the Court on a rotating basis among members of the panel. Freelance federal court interpreters are paid with the same system, but with an additional step: Before their invoice goes to the judiciary, it must be reviewed and approved by the CJA panel attorney who requested the interpreter’s services. I guess interpreters are officers of the court of a lower tier, so they must be policed by the CJA panel attorney, apparently an officer of the court of a tier higher than the interpreter.

This process, not required when interpreters work directly for the federal courts interpreting court hearings or out-of-court interviews for public defenders or probation officers, created a burden on freelance interpreters who now devote a considerable, uncompensated time to the paperwork and its unavoidable eternal follow up process, that often takes many months and even years. Interpreters are billing for the time they worked as interpreters in a case, but that time represents but a fraction of the hours interpreters spend on paperwork, and follow up telephone calls, emails, and in-person visits to the courthouse, trying to discover the status of a payment for a service provided long before. This time goes uncompensated, and interpreters cannot work somewhere else, and generate income, while they are tied up in bureaucratic nonsense and begging for payment of rightfully earned professional fees.  For all these reasons, and to keep my health, sanity, and dignity, as soon as the system started I decided not to take any CJA panel cases, and I have taken none.

I suggest you do the same. Once you do it, you will be surprised at the money you will save just by rejecting these cases. Those of you who know me, or have read this blog for years, know that I am always suggesting diversification in the profession among freelancers so you can keep steady income, and a stream of interesting assignments instead of a boring monotonous routine. Dear colleagues, there are plenty of options even if court and legal interpreting is your thing and you do not want to step outside your field.

The most desirable practice would be civil cases with well-established high-profile law firms. They generally handle interesting cases, have clients who understand and appreciate your work as interpreter, and pay excellent, professional fees when you negotiate correctly. Smaller civil law firms and solo practitioners are also a good alternative.

Next, you have the criminal defense private attorneys. They have time to handle their cases and they usually retain you for the entire case. Here your interpreting services are well paid, and you are exposed to challenging, but interesting cases. It is rare to work in a case involving white collar crimes when you spend your time providing services to public defenders and CJA panel attorneys.

Foreign law firms are also a very good choice. Globalization has generated a big multinational litigation practice, and those top-notch attorneys coming from countries where they do not speak English may need the services of a local court interpreter team. Fascinating topics, including intellectual property, foreign trade, mining, hazardous materials, are common with these clients. Family Law practitioners from these countries are also looking for interpreting services in cases of divorce, child support, international child abduction, and others.

If you want to fill in the rest of your agenda with more court/legal work, you can also provide interpreting services to the Office of the United States Attorney in your jurisdiction. Witness preparation, proffers, transcriptions, and other services are required by the AUSA. An added benefit: They are not bound by the (every-day lower) federal fees, so you can negotiate a much better compensation for your professional services.

If you like working with the federal prosecutors, then you must offer your services to the United States Trustee Program (USTP) for their exams and interviews in federal bankruptcy court cases. This is another source of legal/court interpreter income that pays well when you negotiate your fee correctly.

Finally, you can still work with the federal public defender and, if you want to interpret hearings instead of interviews, negotiations, and depositions, you can interpret for the federal courts. You will only make the set half –a-day or full-day fee, and you will usually get the same type of cases, but you will stay away from the long, demeaning, and never-ending invoice procedures associated with CJA panel attorney cases. As a less desirable option, but in many ways better than dealing with the CJA system, you could always work at the state-court level.

Dear friends and colleagues, there are plenty of alternatives to CJA assignments, even within the court/legal field. I believe that if you all were to do what I did from the beginning, the CJA system would have no choice but to change and become more interpreter-friendly. I do not believe on “fantasyland solutions” such as talking to chief judges and court clerks; it was tried in some districts and they accomplished nothing. We cannot continue to lose income, health, and dignity backing up a system that proved ineffective. I now ask you to share your comments with the rest of us.

Tony Rosado’s CMIC interview. Mi entrevista con el CMIC

March 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

Dear Colleagues:

I would like to share with you my interview with the Colegio Mexicano de Intérpretes de Conferencias about our new court interpreting book that was presented during the International Book Fair in Guadalajara Mexico. I apologize to those colleagues who may not be able to read the text because the interview is in Spanish.

En esta ocasión quiero compartir con ustedes la entrevista que me hizo el Colegio Mexicano de Intérpretes de Conferencias con motivo de la publicación de nuestro libro de interpretación judicial en México, mismo que fue presentado en el Congreso de la Organización Mexicana de Traductores (OMT) durante la Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL) en Guadalajara, Jalisco. Gracias a Edna Cerf por la entrevista y al Colegio por permitirme reproducir en este blog la entrevista publicada en el número de febrero del Le Petit Journal du CMIC. La entrevista queda muy bien en este momento en que me dispongo a impartir un taller en la CDMX este fin de semana.

“Tony, muy buenos días. En nombre del Colegio Mexicano de Intérpretes de Conferencias, te agradecemos mucho esta entrevista. Presentaste un libro hace un par de meses en la FIL de Guadalajara. Para los intérpretes y el público en general que todavía no lo conoce, preséntanos tu libro y quiénes intervinieron para que saliera a la luz.

Este libro: “Manual del Intérprete Judicial en México”, es la primera publicación en español sobre interpretación judicial conforme al sistema jurídico adoptado por el gobierno mexicano hace unos años donde se cambia del sistema de juicios escritos, donde la necesidad de interpretación era mínima, a un sistema de juicios orales semejante al de los Estados Unidos y otros países anglosajones, donde la función del intérprete es esencial. En el libro, mis coautores y yo, intentamos llevar de la mano al intérprete judicial por todos los recovecos relevantes para un trabajo de interpretación judicial profesional. Abordamos temas jurídicos fundamentales como los derechos humanos, garantías individuales y demás derechos y valores jurídicos protegidos por la constitución, hasta las normas jurídicas procesales relevantes para la prestación de servicios de interpretación judicial, todo enfocado a la perspectiva del intérprete, no del abogado, logrando de esta forma que intérpretes profesionales, no abogados, comprendan el cómo y porqué de lo que están haciendo en los juzgados. Después, el libro presenta desde la perspectiva del intérprete, el proceso judicial y la participación del intérprete en cada etapa del mismo, adentrándonos en detalles como el tipo de interpretación necesaria para cada audiencia o comparecencia judicial (consecutiva corta, simultánea, o traducción a la vista). Esta sección del manual también va enfocada al abogado y a los jueces, para que los intérpretes puedan emplearlo como una herramienta de información y educación sobre lo que necesitan para hacer su trabajo. Finalmente, el manual trata del código deontológico que debe seguir todo intérprete, y en particular el judicial por ser auxiliar de la impartición de justicia. Esta publicación va dirigida a todos los intérpretes y cubre específicamente la interpretación judicial por intérpretes de lenguas de señas, lenguas indígenas y lenguas orales extranjeras.  Me parece que un gran logro fue la participación de peritos en todas las disciplinas cubiertas ya que mis coautores aportaron aquello de lo que yo carecía: María del Carmen Carreón es Magistrada del Tribunal Federal Electoral y como tal, aporta la visión del juzgador, parte fundamental para la prestación de este servicio. Daniel Maya es una institución ampliamente reconocida a nivel nacional e internacional en interpretación señada, concretamente la Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM) y yo aporto mi granito de arena como abogado e intérprete judicial con más de 2 décadas de experiencia en juzgados de varios países y en todos los niveles, además de mi trayectoria como instructor de interpretación judicial y autor de libros.


¿Cómo y con quiénes nació esta aventura? ¿Cuál es su propósito?

El manual nace en un momento de esos en que se alinea el universo y Carmen, Daniel y yo nos encontramos en un “green room” esperando pasar a un auditorio para dar una presentación cuando al platicar, nos damos cuenta que tenemos muchas cosas en común y una misma inquietud: Contribuir a la impartición de justicia en México de una manera incluyente donde nadie sea víctima del sistema por no entender el idioma del juzgado, en este caso el español. Daniel y yo teníamos anos de conocernos. Carmen y Daniel habían colaborado juntos por mucho tiempo, pero Carmen y yo estábamos conociéndonos. Carmen, en ese entonces Magistrada del Tribunal Electoral del Distrito Federal, es una persona incansable y alguien que me ha abierto los ojos a un nuevo tipo de juzgador en México, personas capaces y honestas dignas de confianza, y listas a luchar por la justicia. Ella fue instrumental en este proyecto al abrirnos mil puertas en el sistema y al aportar su energía, conocimientos y compromiso social. Daniel Maya es el presidente de la asociación profesional de intérpretes de lengua de señas mexicana más grande del país, con miembros en todo México. Además, Daniel ha estado muy activo a nivel internacional y es bien conocido en todo México ya que su imagen aparece constantemente en recuadro en los televisores mexicanos. Los conocimientos y el entusiasmo de Daniel fueron clave para poder soñar con un proyecto así de ambicioso. Yo siempre había anhelado el poder desarrollar algo que alcanzara e incluyera a los colegas de lenguas de señas y esta oportunidad, aunada con mi previa relación y confianza absoluta en la capacidad de Daniel, hicieron que este proyecto no solo arrancara, sino que llegara a su destino. De este proyecto ha surgido una relación profesional de los tres coautores que ha resultado en muchos proyectos que estamos evaluando en este momento, pero a nivel personal, lo mejor de esta experiencia es la gran amistad que ha surgido entre los tres y muchas otras personas que tras bambalinas han sido indispensables para que este proyecto viera la luz. Una empresa como esta requiere de mucha gente valiosa y trabajadora, no solo de los autores que firman el libro.


El “Manual del Intérprete Judicial en México” está presentado por el Dr. José Ramón Cossío Díaz, Ministro de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación y Miembro de “El Colegio Nacional”. ¿Por qué involucrar a la sede judicial?

El Ministro Cossío llegó al proyecto en circunstancias muy especiales. Por un lado estaba su relación con Carmen que era quien mejor lo conocía, por otro lado, en mi caso, estaba un antecedente de hace algunos años, cuando se inició este proyecto de la interpretación judicial en México para satisfacer las necesidades de los nuevos juicios orales, una colega muy querida, amiga mutua, y miembro del CMIC, Georganne Weller, tuvo un encuentro con el Ministro en la Suprema Corte donde ella le platicó de nuestra profesión y en cierta forma despertó su interés en esto. Daniel también fue parte instrumental ya que el Ministro Cossío había manifestado su interés en la interpretación para los ciudadanos sordos en el sistema de justicia mexicano, incluso acompañándonos en una ocasión en un foro que tuvimos en la sede de la Corte y donde él se dirigió a los colegas intérpretes de Lengua de Señas Mexicana de toda la república, a invitación de Carmen y de Daniel. Tuve la oportunidad de participar y me pareció un interés genuino que se cristalizó en esta intervención en el prólogo del libro, lo cual nos brinda una legitimidad mucho mayor y nos abre las puertas de muchos juzgados y despachos de abogados no solo en México, sino en todo el mundo. Hasta donde yo sé, ningún otro Ministro de una corte suprema ha brindado este tipo de deferencia en un libro de interpretación judicial.


¿Está dirigido únicamente para intérpretes de señas o para intérpretes de lenguas indígenas que desean ser intérpretes en el sistema penal acusatorio?

El manual ha sido presentado en varios foros y ante diferentes públicos, pero su destinatario es todo intérprete que sea o que quiera dedicarse completamente o parcialmente a la interpretación judicial. Es un error creer que va dirigido a los intérpretes de Lengua de Señas o a los intérpretes de lenguas indígenas. Va dirigido a todos los intérpretes. Esta confusión es prueba de que los intérpretes de lenguas orales extranjeras están tan acostumbrados a que todas las publicaciones vayan dirigidas a ellos, que cuando aparece un manual incluyente de todos los intérpretes, lo vean como algo no destinado a su ejercicio profesional. Les invito a que lo lean y vean como todos los temas del proceso y práctica profesional son abordados con comentarios y conceptos generales aplicables a todos los intérpretes, seguidos de comentarios, conceptos y recomendaciones dirigidas específicamente para los intérpretes de lenguas orales o de señas, y cuando es necesario, mencionando las diferencias y circunstancias especiales para los intérpretes de lenguas indígenas. El libro trata de la interpretación de relevo (relay interpreting) entre intérpretes orales e intérpretes de lenguas de señas, cosa nunca antes vista.


¿Un intérprete de lenguas judicial debe de saber derecho? ¿Es un perito en derecho?

Un intérprete judicial debe saber derecho procesal y tener las bases de las ramas del derecho sustantivo en el que vaya a especializarse (civil, penal, internacional, etc.) a un nivel semejante al de un paralegal o asistente jurídico. Obviamente, no estorba saber más y ayuda tener una licenciatura en derecho o criminología. El intérprete judicial certificado es un perito en interpretación judicial, mas no en derecho. No es abogado. En realidad, es como todo trabajo de interpretación. No se puede interpretar lo que no se comprende y para comprender lo que se ventila en una audiencia, hay que entender lo que se está litigando (derecho sustantivo) y el contexto en que se está ventilando la controversia, o sea el momento dentro del procedimiento en que se están presentando alegatos o desahogando las pruebas. No pasa lo mismo en una audiencia intermedia que en una audiencia de juicio oral, por ejemplo (derecho adjetivo). La belleza de la interpretación (y la traducción) es que el idioma siempre cambia, así que hay que seguir estudiando. La belleza de la interpretación judicial es que el derecho no es estático, así que también hay que actualizarse constantemente. Si te gusta estudiar y eres intérprete judicial, tienes pretexto para hacerlo por partida doble.  


¿Los intérpretes actuales en los diversos procesos judiciales que se llevan a cabo en nuestro país saben cómo comportarse y están certificados?

Aún no existe en México un programa de certificación para la patente de perito intérprete en juicios orales, pero se están barajando varias posibilidades. México cuenta, con una herencia del ahora caduco sistema indagatorio en la figura del perito traductor, o perito intérprete traductor. Sin embargo, dicha patente no respalda ningún tipo de conocimientos o experiencia con juicios orales. Ahora, actualmente existen intérpretes en los juzgados mexicanos que saben comportarse en ese entorno judicial,  ya sea porque poseen una certificación de interpretación judicial extranjera (generalmente del gobierno federal o de algún estado de la Unión Americana) porque se han preocupado por aprender de manera autodidacta, o simplemente porque tienen muchas tablas y por puro instinto hacen un trabajo bastante bueno. La meta es la certificación para la patente de perito intérprete en juicios orales, ya sea a nivel federal, o estatal si algunos estados se adelantan al gobierno federal y ofrecen algún programa a nivel de su entidad.  


¿Cómo conseguir la certificación en México? ¿Cuáles son las recomendaciones de Tony Rosado para profesionalizar a los intérpretes?

Creo que ya he contestado la primera parte de esta pregunta en mi respuesta anterior. Mis recomendaciones para profesionalizar a los intérpretes son específicas para México donde hay que aprovechar el momento histórico que se presenta: El advenimiento del sistema acusatorio y por ende los juicios orales, es un fenómeno que se presenta a todas las disciplinas jurídicas al mismo tiempo. Se trata de algo nuevo para los intérpretes mexicanos, pero también para los jueces y abogados. Existe la oportunidad de que todos aprendan al mismo tiempo, y cuando algo se hace en un terreno nivelado, la cooperación, deseo de aprender, y la humildad ante lo desconocido es la misma. En otros países un intérprete recién formado o aún en proceso de formación tiene que enfrentar un sistema de jueces con años de experiencia, abogados que dominan el sistema y han trabajado con intérpretes judiciales por décadas, personal administrativo en los juzgados que a veces no es paciente con los intérpretes nuevos. Aprovechemos esta circunstancia para sobresalir profesionalmente.

Pienso que el sistema de certificación, ya sea estatal o federal, deberá incluir tres requisitos fundamentales: (1) Demostrar en un examen que el candidato posee los conocimientos de interpretación judicial (consecutiva corta, simultánea susurrada y en cabina, traducción a la vista bidireccional, interpretación completa, incluyendo interjecciones y comentarios aparentemente irrelevantes, registros y variaciones de lenguaje y terminología desde lo más culto hasta lo más soez, etc.) y de terminología y procedimiento jurídicos al nivel ya mencionado en otra pregunta. (2) Demostrar en un examen que el candidato entiende y domina los principios deontológicos de interpretación en general; aquellos aplicables a su especialidad de interpretación (existen preceptos de ética solo aplicables a los intérpretes de lenguas de señas o a los de lenguas indígenas, por ejemplo) y los cánones de ética específicos a la interpretación judicial como el secreto profesional, las reglas de evidencia, las declaraciones testimoniales, visitas carcelarias, imparcialidad, o parcialidad según sea el caso, etc.); y (3) La educación continua necesaria para actualizarse y conservar la patente, garantizando que el perito está al día en cuestiones de interpretación, derecho y ética. A mí me gustaría que la calificación de las credenciales y la decisión de quienes pueden ser peritos intérpretes debería estar a cargo de sus pares, o sea: otros intérpretes, quizá el CMIC o algún otro colegio o asociación profesional de nueva creación, como sucede en otras profesiones en los países más avanzados (en esos países la Barra de Abogados admite a los nuevos abogados, el Consejo de Medicina admite a los nuevos médicos, etc.) o como sucede con la certificación de intérprete sanitario en los Estados Unidos. Para mí siempre es mejor que otros colegas, y no el gobierno, decidan si el candidato es apto para el ejercicio de la profesión.


¿En Estados Unidos los intérpretes de lenguas sí están certificados? ¿Cómo logra un intérprete certificarse en E.U.?

Los Estados Unidos han contado con intérpretes comunitarios por mucho tiempo debido a la fábrica social del país. Un gran [porcentaje de población estadounidense no habla inglés. Históricamente, primero de manera orgánica, para satisfacer una necesidad y posteriormente de manera sistemática y profesional, los intérpretes que interactúan con la población en general se encuentran sujetos a rigurosos programas de certificación ya sea judicial o sanitaria.

Existen dos sistemas paralelos para la certificación judicial: Un sistema federal para los juzgados federales y 56 sistemas locales para cada uno de los 50 estados y 6 territorios del país. Además, existe un programa de certificación para los intérpretes de Lengua de Señas Estadounidense (ASL). El sistema federal es más riguroso y su certificación más difícil de alcanzar, pero en general, todos los programas, estatales y federales buscan que el candidato demuestre su dominio de ambas lenguas (origen y destino) de conocimientos jurídicos básicos, ética y profesionalismo, y que tenga una habilidad mínima en la interpretación simultánea, consecutiva corta y traducción a la vista, así como en los cambios de registro, incluyendo terminología jurídica en ambos idiomas, lenguaje soez y expresiones idiomáticas. Finalmente, los estados requieren un mínimo de educación continua anualmente o bianualmente (según cada estado) en interpretación, derecho y ética. No es necesario vivir en los Estados Unidos para certificarse, así que yo invito a que nuestros colegas en México intenten una certificación en Estados Unidos al menos para practicar para la certificación mexicana.  


Si en la sede judicial se requieren intérpretes calificados, ¿por qué considera Tony que esta certificación todavía no existe en nuestro país? ¿Qué se necesita? ¿Cuáles serían los criterios?

La certificación aún no existe debido a lo reciente del cambio de sistema procesal en el país. No me cabe duda que en un futuro próximo existirá al menos un programa federal de certificación como perito intérprete judicial. Contestando la segunda parte de  tu pregunta te diré que se necesitan dos cosas: Una mayor conciencia de parte del pueblo de México para que exijan servicios de interpretación en los juzgados y también una mayor participación de los intérpretes de México. A mí me ha sorprendido la apatía por parte de nuestros colegas que siento no han evaluado las posibilidades ni considerado los beneficios de ejercer la interpretación judicial, al menos de medio tiempo. Con tantas reformas necesarias para implementar completamente el sistema acusatorio, no cabe duda que serán prioridad aquellas cuyo gremio sea más vocal. Los intérpretes están compitiendo con los médicos forenses, criminólogos, criminalistas, fiscales, policías, defensores públicos, secretarios de juzgado y otros por un lugar en esa lista de prioridades. A todos les va a llegar su turno, pero la pregunta es ¿Quién quiere ser de los primeros y aprovechar ese momento histórico de aprendizaje colectivo que te mencionaba en una respuesta anterior?  Me imagino que los criterios para Lengua de señas Mexicana (LSM) y lenguas orales extranjeras serán los aceptados universalmente y mencionados en otra respuesta. El caso de las lenguas indígenas será más complejo y diferente debido a las diferencias culturales, usos y costumbres, falta de conocimiento sobre los valores indígenas y la desconfianza de dicho sector de la población, justificada por siglos de maltratos y negligencia.

¿Crees que con este libro los intérpretes en un proceso judicial serán tomados más en cuenta? ¿Por qué?

Definitivamente. El hecho que una Magistrada del máximo tribunal electoral del país sea coautora; que el libro trate temas que incluyen la protección de grupos de mexicanos como los sordos e indígenas, que se ofrezca la herramienta necesaria para dirimir controversias comerciales, civiles, familiares y penales entre mexicanos y extranjeros ya sean personas físicas o morales que no hablen la misma lengua, y que el prólogo haya sido escrito por un Ministro de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN) son evidencia del gran peso de este manual. La tremenda aceptación, tanto en su venta en México y el extranjero (por toda Sudamérica, Centroamérica, Estados Unidos y España entre otros) como por la asistencia y participación de muchísimos jueces, intérpretes y abogados durante la presentación del libro en todos los lugares de la república donde lo hemos presentado son evidencia de que el libro está teniendo un efecto positivo en todo el sistema.


De acuerdo con el Dr. Cossío en este libro hay una ausencia de la descripción de los procesos ordinarios federales con la totalidad de la función jurisdiccional encaminada a los estados. ¿Se considera un tomo 2?

Se consideran varios tomos. Es importante lo que comenta el Ministro Cossío, sin embargo, tuvo que quedarse en el tintero porque nuestro objetivo era el de producir un manual práctico para el intérprete, no para el abogado; queríamos publicar algo lo suficientemente, portátil, claro y conciso para que acompañase al intérprete a la sala del juzgado, el despacho del abogado y los separos del reclusorio.  La observación del Ministro es acogida y será incorporada más adelante, por ahora, sin adelantar mucho, parece que el próximo tema a tratar será el comportamiento ético y profesional del intérprete judicial tanto dentro como fuera del juzgado. ¡Estén pendientes!


El Colegio Mexicano de Intérpretes de Conferencias, A.C. (CMIC), tiene 35 años de existencia. Ninguna asociación de intérpretes es tan longeva en América Latina y el CMIC es un referente importante en México y en otros países de habla hispana. En Colombia la más antigua tiene alrededor de 15 años. ¿Qué les dirías a los agremiados al CMIC?

Primero les enviaría un saludo muy afectuoso y una enorme felicitación por el aniversario. Tú sabes que lo hago de corazón ya que cuento con muchísimos amigo en el Colegio (algunas de mis mejores amigas son miembro del CMIC) y a continuación les invitaría, como referente de la profesión el América Latina y conociendo la capacidad individual de sus miembros, a que tomaran en serio y con gran entusiasmo la interpretación judicial en México. En épocas de globalización y de interpretación simultánea remota (RSI) cada día habrá más colegas (muchos de ellos sumamente capaces) compitiendo por los mismos trabajos desde todo el planeta. La interpretación jurídica mexicana les da una oportunidad de aprovechar esta globalización que además de tecnología genera disputas jurídicas con litigantes de todo el mundo, para ser los intérpretes en controversias judiciales internacionales ventiladas en el sistema judicial mexicano en temas como propiedad intelectual, fusiones y adquisiciones, incumplimiento de contratos de importación o explotación de materias primas, testamentos de extranjeros, divorcios, pensiones alimenticias y guarda y custodia de menores cuando las partes en el divorcio no tengan el mismo primer idioma, declaraciones bajo protesta de decir verdad (depositions) y muchas otras.

Hay que recordar que no todo el trabajo de interpretación judicial tiene que ver con la comisión de delitos. Si, habrá trabajo en el campo penal, sobre todo para los intérpretes de Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM) que también son miembros de este ilustre Colegio, y para los intérpretes de Lenguas Indígenas, pero una buena parte del trabajo, y sin duda la mejor remunerada, será para los intérpretes de lenguas extranjeras.  Esta es la oportunidad para que nuestros colegas mexicanos se pongan las pilas y asuman los servicios de interpretación judicial en las declaraciones bajo protesta de decir verdad (depositions) que se dan por miles en el territorio mexicano cada año y que casi en su totalidad son interpretadas por colegas que vienen acompañado a los abogados desde el extranjero y que, ante una oferta profesional y seria de parte de los miembros del CMIC, pondrían en evidencia dos desventajas de traer a los intérpretes desde el extranjero: (1) El costo, y no me refiero a los honorarios que deberían ser los mismos,  sino al costo de transporte, hotel, viáticos, etc.; y (2) La cultura local, los modismos, las expresiones idiomáticas, la historia del lugar, etc. Yo siempre creo que un buen intérprete mexicano es mejor para un trabajo en México con mexicanos, o que un buen intérprete colombiano es mejor para un trabajo en Colombia con colombianos. Aprovechen esta oportunidad, diversifiquen su ejercicio profesional, y asuman la dirección y margen el destino de la interpretación judicial en México.


¿En qué radica para Tony la importancia de pertenecer a alguna asociación?

Es un síntoma de profesionalismo. No podemos imaginar a los abogados de México sin el Ilustre y Nacional Colegio de abogados o la Barra Mexicana de Abogados. No podemos concebir a los médicos de Estados Unidos sin la American Medical Association (AMA) a los intérpretes de conferencias sin la Asociación Internacional de Intérpretes de Conferencias (AIIC) o a los traductores estadounidenses sin la American Translators Association (ATA).  México necesita del CMIC tanto, o más, que los intérpretes de conferencias mexicanos necesitan al Colegio. Educación continua, condiciones de trabajo, defensa de la profesión, son temas que competen a las asociaciones de profesionistas y en mi opinión no puede ser de otra manera. Ejercemos una profesión bella pero muy difícil y poco comprendida, necesitamos del apoyo de nuestros colegas y nuestras asociaciones profesionales para mejorar la calidad de nuestro trabajo, mantener los estándares de la profesión y para poder vivir la vida que nos merecemos.


En el Manual de Intérprete Judicial en México se especifican todos los artículos del Código de Ética del Colegio Mexicano de Intérpretes de Conferencias. ¿Por qué consideras importante que se siga un código de ética como el del CMIC o del INALI?

Te faltó mencionar el código deontológico de los intérpretes de Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM). La interpretación es una profesión como la ingeniería o la arquitectura, pero además es una profesión fiduciaria. A diferencia de otras profesiones donde más de una persona puede darse cuenta del desempeño del profesionista, al menos hasta cierto punto, en la interpretación en general, y en la judicial en particular, una vez elegidos los intérpretes para un trabajo o un caso, todas las partes ponen su confianza ciega en la honestidad, profesionalismo y ética del intérprete. Imagina un proceso para decidir si te quitan  a tus hijos, o si pierdes tu empresa, o si te mandan a la cárcel, donde no entiendes la mitad de lo que se dice y no sabes si quien está hablando por ti lo está haciendo bien. ¡Tremenda responsabilidad! Por ello, un código de ética es indispensable tanto para el buen funcionamiento del servicio profesional, como para la paz y tranquilidad de quien contrata los servicios del intérprete.


Las redes sociales han revolucionado la comunicación en el mundo. ¿Crees que Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat u otras pueden suplir a las asociaciones bien organizadas? ¿Qué opinas sobre la recomendación de intérpretes por medio de una red social?

La asociación profesional es un grupo colegiado de individuos con una actividad profesional en común para tomar decisiones y acciones que protejan o avancen los intereses comunes y de la profesión. Yo soy un gran defensor de las redes sociales, pero Twitter, Facebook y las otras tienen cometidos diferentes. No se puede comparar. Yo las empleo cotidianamente para difundir información, externar opiniones, promover mis servicios, fortalecer mis redes profesionales de colegas, pero jamás con la idea de reemplazar a una asociación civil del tipo que sea, mucho menos una profesional. Nunca he recomendado intérpretes por redes sociales ya que lo considero un tema un tanto delicado y no solo por lo que hay que decir sobre un colega; también por la percepción de mis otros colegas a quienes no recomendé. Sin embargo, Yo no veo ningún problema cuando se trata de ciertas situaciones como por ejemplo los recientes sismos en la Ciudad de México donde las redes sociales sirvieron enormemente para poner en comunicación a intérpretes y personas necesitadas de sus servicios. Lo que si detesto es la oferta de trabajo por Facebook o LinkedIn donde un colega o una agencia simplemente dice: “intérprete el martes a las 10 am en Pachuca”. ¿Qué tipo de trabajo? ¿Qué tipo de intérprete? ¿Por cuánto tiempo? Para mí eso es una falta de respeto a la profesión y al colectivo. No hace mucho opiné al respecto en mi canal de YouTube “The Professional Interpreter’s Opinion”.


¿Desde cuándo eres intérprete? ¿Con quién te gustaría o te hubiera gustado compartir cabina?

Empecé profesionalmente a mediados de la década de los 80s (ya llovió) Siempre quise ser intérprete, pero sucumbí a la presión de estudiar primero una carrera “de verdad”, así que estudié derecho, de lo que no me arrepiento ya que me dotó de un cúmulo de conocimientos y la metodología para investigar, leer y sintetizar, que me ha servido en mi carrera.  Me hubiera gustado compartir cabina con todos los intérpretes legendarios de la historia, formados profesionalmente y empíricos, conocidos y anónimos: Patricia Vander Elst, Ruth Hall, Christopher Thiery, Italia Morayta, Rosa María Durán, Harry Obst, Squanto, Malintzin, el intérprete de Marco Polo, y todos los intérpretes con quienes he trabajado y sigo trabajando muy a gusto (ellos saben de quienes hablo) además de los valores jóvenes con muchas ganas de aprender y de enseñar algunos trucos nuevos a un veterano de la profesión.  


¿Cuál es tu mayor defecto y tu mayor virtud?

Defectos tengo muchísimos, virtudes muy pocas y sería muy injusto que yo sea quien me juzgue a mí mismo, por aquello de nunca ser juez y parte, sin embargo puedo decirte que la gente se queja de que como compañero de viaje o trabajo soy demasiado hiperactivo, duermo poco y hablo demasiado (claro que esto describe a muchos colegas) y también he escuchado que pongo mucha energía en la defensa de los colegas y la profesión en general, que soy buen amigo y me dicen “tonypedia” porque sé de varias cosas. Mejor ahí lo dejamos. 


¿A quién admiras?

A todas las personas que triunfan a pesar de los obstáculos, a quienes no se rinden o conforman, a quienes jamás se resignan. No soporto a los mediocres o conformistas. Me cuesta trabajo conversar con intérpretes que se quejan de que no hay trabajo pero ni lo buscan, ni están dispuestos a sacrificar nada por alcanzar el éxito. Admiro a todos los intérpretes que son buenos, a los traductores que son buenos, a los científicos, humanistas y políticos que son buenos, a todos los colegas que dedican su tiempo desinteresadamente a las asociaciones profesionales. Admiro y respeto a los miembros de las fuerzas armadas y las policías porque cada mañana salen de su casa sin saber si regresarán por la noche. Como personaje histórico admiro enormemente a Thomas Jefferson


Por favor dinos en dónde podemos adquirir tu libro.

Mi primer libro: “The Professional Court Interpreter” en inglés y sobre el intérprete en el sistema judicial de los Estados Unidos puede adquirirse por internet de Amazon, Barnes and Noble y muchas otras librerías en todo el mundo. El nuevo libro “Manual del Intérprete Judicial en México” se puede adquirir por internet directamente de la editorial Tirant Lo Blanch en México, visitando su página web: y para quienes nos lean desde el extranjero, pueden pedirlo por email escribiendo a: También pueden adquirirlo en las librerías Porrúa, Gandhi y demás lugares de prestigio.


¿Algo más que quieras agregar?

Solo reiterar la importancia de al menos probar la interpretación judicial en México. Hay futuro. Mientras se definen los requisitos para certificarse como perito intérprete de juicios orales, les recomendaría que estudiaran el tema. La educación continua es muy importante para ello. Creo que pronto tendremos algo al respecto con el Colegio; además existen los cursos con Georganne Weller y me parece que otras promociones en el interior de la república. Creo que voy a andar por Chetumal y Mérida en un futuro próximo, tenemos ya un taller para intérpretes y traductores jurídicos con Georganne en marzo, y desde luego, como todos los años algo en la CDMX para los intérpretes de Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM) este otoño y el San Jerónimo en Guadalajara en noviembre


En nombre del CMIC, muchas felicidades por el Manual del Intérprete Judicial en México. Enhorabuena.

Mil gracias, Edna, y felicidades por tu trabajo al frente del Colegio.”

Ahora les invito a que incluyan sus comentarios a esta entrevista o a lo que está sucediendo con la interpretación judicial en México.

Interpreting depositions correctly.

March 27, 2017 § 20 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Next to interpreting in a hearing, legal depositions are the most common professional service provided by court interpreters. They are in high demand, the field is full of potential direct clients, and they usually pay much better than an assignment by the court. With so many apparent advantages, the question that first comes to mind is: Why so many court interpreters do not pursue these assignments? And even among those who provide the service regularly, why is it that so few of our colleagues know what depositions are for, and how to correctly provide the service to ensure top accuracy and quality? Let’s see:

A deposition is the testimony of a witness taken orally (oral deposition) or in writing (interrogatories) outside open court, but in compliance with a court order or statute. It is a pretrial discovery device by which one party, through their attorney, ask oral questions of the other party or of a witness of the other party. It is conducted under oath or affirmation, without a judge, usually at the law office of one of the attorneys or at a court reporters’ office, and a word-for-word transcript is made. Interrogatories are answered in writing under oath or affirmation as well.

Depositions take place in both, criminal and civil proceedings and they are an extremely important part of the discovery process that takes place in an adversarial system, so that the attorneys of one party know what the counterpart or their witnesses will say during the trial. (Fed. R. Civil P.26 et seq.; Fed. R. Criminal P.15)

Oftentimes I run into colleagues who complain about “having to interpret” during a pretrial hearing “instead of interpreting during the trial”. My usual answer has to do with the importance of the pretrial motions and the discovery in general. I try to convey the concept that most cases are won or lost during the pretrial. Ascertaining the facts, excluding illegally obtained evidence, impeaching a witness based on statements made during a deposition, are invaluable as these legal actions and decisions determine what a jury will and will not hear at trial. A litigant exits the pretrial process with a strong winnable case or weakened by the discovery and pretrial motions argued before the judge.

Because of the importance and complexity of a deposition (and all pretrial actions and motions in general) it baffles me how extreme professional interpreting services can be at this stage of the process.

As depositions do not take place in the presence of the court, interpreting services for non-English speaking deponents are left to the professionalism, knowledge, and pocket of the attorney who represents the client. Because many attorneys seldom deal with foreign-language speakers, and for that reason know very little about interpreters and their services, they tend to seek the services of an agency, not for its quality or reputation, but because it was suggested by another colleague who had a case involving a non-English speaker in the past. For the most part the recommendation by the other attorney has to do with things such as: “they are cheap and they are quick”. Quality and experience are mentioned every once in a while.

We all know that, for the most part, there are no standards or policy regulating who can be an agency in the United States. This is an invitation to those with little to no interpreting knowledge to throw their hat in the ring and profit from this very popular professional service.

For the same reason: lack of basic quality standards, many paraprofessionals who unsuccessfully attempted to become certified court interpreters and failed, gravitate to this goose with the golden eggs where they will be on high demand by the above-mentioned ignorant agency owners who in turn will satisfy the requirements of the law office by providing interpreting services that are quick and cheap, regardless of their questionable quality.

But the landscape gets more complicated: For the same good reasons that bottom feeder agencies and paraprofessional interpreters are attracted to depositions, the best of the best in the world of legal interpreting participate in this market as well.

You see,  federal and state court systems retain the services of certified court interpreters, these professionals are for the most part better than non-certified, and from that point of view they are in demand. The problem is that the judiciary does not pay that well, with federal fees being half or less of what a conference interpreter makes, and under constraints of fixed fee schedules and budget cut limitations, the courts are less attractive to the very best in the profession. On the other hand, these top-notch court certified interpreters can negotiate with responsible and experienced law firms that value quality over rock bottom prices. This is the world of the direct client. Reputable agencies who handle big law firms and have a name to protect will also approach and retain these same high quality individuals. In fact, the field is so attractive that even interpreters from the highest caliber who usually do not work in the court system, and despite their vast experience and great skill have never pursued a court certification (but no doubt that candle these assignments because of their knowledge and capacity) provide interpreting services in depositions.

The result of all of the above circumstances and the participation of the wide range of individuals involved in this professional service is a reality where some depositions are interpreted at the highest possible level while at the same time many others are being butchered by paraprofessional interpreters, unscrupulous agencies, and careless lawyers. What a mess!

The good news is that, if they choose to do so, the best interpreters will be able to find good professional profitable clients whose clients will benefit immensely of a properly conducted discovery. The bad news is that many litigants, unaware of this reality, will trust the judgement of their advisers and end up with a defective interpreting service that most likely will impact the outcome of their case one way or another.

The solution to this problem, from the interpreters’ point of view, is relatively simple: stick to the good clients and ignore the bottom feeders. You do not need them, and they think they do not need you.

To me the biggest problem for the best interpreters who work depositions is, dear friends and colleagues, the alarming practice followed by so many of the top interpreters who accept to work alone in a deposition. Yes, I am referring to all of those who work solo, even when they provide services to the richest law firms in the world, including the work they do in very high-profile cases.

Team interpreting is a typical professional practice where two (or more) interpreters work as equal members of a team, rotating responsibilities at prearranged intervals and providing support and feedback to each other. This practice provides continuity and accuracy in the message transmission as it avoids fatigue and allows for word and concept checking during the rendition.

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators of the United States (NAJIT) clearly spells out the function and the need for the second interpreter: “…The typical team is comprised of two interpreters who work in tandem, providing relief every 30 minutes. The interpreter engaged in delivering the interpretation at any given moment is called the active interpreter. His job is to interpret the court proceedings truly and accurately. The other interpreter is called the support interpreter. His job is to… (2) assist the active interpreter by looking up vocabulary, or acting as a second ear to confirm quickly spoken… 4) be available in case the active interpreter has an emergency; and (5) serve as an impartial language expert in the case of any challenge to interpretation…” (NAJIT Position paper Team Interpreting in the courtroom. Primary author: Andrew Erickson. 2007)

Scientific studies have shown that mental fatigue sets in after approximately 30 minutes of sustained simultaneous interpretation, resulting in a marked loss in accuracy. This is so regardless of how experienced or talented the interpreter may be. A 1998 study conducted at the École de Traduction et d’Interprétation at the University of Geneva, demonstrated the effects of interpreting over increasing periods of time. The conclusion of the study was that an interpreter’s own judgment of output quality becomes unreliable after increased time on task.  (Moser-Mercer, B., Kunzli, B., and Korac, M. 1998. “Prolonged turns in interpreting: Effects on quality, physiological and psychological stress.” University of Geneva, École de Traduction et d’Interprétation. Interpreting Vol. 3 (1), p. 47-64. John Benjamins Publishing Co.)

It is true that most reputable agencies and experienced law firms grant the solo interpreter, who is providing the services at the deposition, the choice to take as many breaks as needed. This is often the justification I hear from my colleagues as well.

I am glad that they get to rest their brain and voice every now and then, but it is not enough. There is no scientific conclusion as to how long the interpreter needs to rest before being back in optimum shape in order to continue the rendition with the same quality and at the same level as it was done at the beginning of the session. Obviously, the University of Geneva’s findings suggest that it takes about 30 minutes to get back to the top of your game.

I do not work under these “solo” conditions, but I could assure you that interpreters do not get a 30 minute break for every 30 minutes of service, and if they do, the attorneys would be better served by having a second interpreter actively interpreting during those 30 minutes. You see, it is a myth that having short breaks here and there will protect the interpreter and assure the quality of the service. This “solution” was developed to make everybody feel good even though nothing is really accomplished from the interpreter’s and the interpretation’s perspective. The only “positive” outcome of this solo work with “as many breaks as needed” has to do with the pocketbook of the law office and the profits of the agency. That is all.

But moving beyond that, there is a second, and equally important issue that goes unsolved without team interpreting.

Interpreting is a human task. It is extremely complex and delicate. Depositions present difficult situations that interpreters must solve in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the deposition: to ascertain the facts of the case, and to learn the unknown, to be able to ultimately prevail in court. In a deposition setting, interpreters need to understand and convey the message in two different languages, often spoken by individuals of different backgrounds, education, and willingness to disclose the truth. Interpreters need to find in their brain the appropriate scientific terminology, technical word, and regional expression that a deponent has used in the source language. The need to double-check a term, clarify an idiomatic expression, and research a concept are always present; In fact, they are the regular practice of the best interpreters who understand the relevance of the task at hand, and professionally look for the appropriate equivalency with the right syntax and grammar. This is not a job for one. Team interpreting allows the active interpreter to remain mentally fresh, while the support interpreter takes on other functions that would lead the active interpreter to cognitive overload.

For these reasons, it is universally accepted that team interpreting is the standard practice in courtrooms, conferences, international organizations, government events, and any other assignment that may last over 30 minutes. I only agree to do a deposition when I am working with a partner. My sense of professionalism, my reputation, my health, and my sanity, would not allow me to do anything else.

I invite you to stand up for what is right for you and for the profession. Just as you refuse to interpret a trial unless you have a partner, I encourage you to demand team interpreting in all depositions. It is only then that you will be living to the highest standards that a legal process requires. It is only then that you can unequivocally say that you did your best job at a deposition. Working solo, even if you take short breaks, will not relieve fatigue and it will not magically produce a support interpreter who will help you navigate the treacherous waters of legal interpreting.  I now invite you to share your thoughts on this extremely important issue and the terrible practice that permeates deposition interpreting.

What is the appropriate consecutive rendition from the witness stand?

November 15, 2016 § 7 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Court interpreting is a complex task that requires of all main modes of interpretation: simultaneous, sight translation, and consecutive.  There seems to be a consensus among court interpreters as to when simultaneous interpreting and sight translation are required during a judicial proceeding. I am afraid that we cannot say the same about a consecutive rendition.

Consecutive interpreting is convenient, and for that reason, widely used during client-attorney interviews at the law office, detention center or courthouse. It is also the mode most attorneys use to prepare their witnesses for the stand.  Even those attorneys and interpreters who favor simultaneous interpretation partially use the consecutive rendition. It is common to have a situation where the interpreters simultaneously interpret the attorney’s questions or remarks to the client or witness while resorting to the consecutive mode for the answers.

For reasons we will not discuss on this post, many courthouses have adopted this system for direct and cross-examination of foreign language-speaking witnesses during a trial. They employ the services of two court interpreters: One interpreter, located away from the witness stand, sometimes in a booth, others at a dedicated table in the courtroom, simultaneously interprets the questions for the witness who gets the rendition via a receiver and an earpiece. The other interpreter, sitting or standing next to the witness stand, waits for the foreign language-speaking witness to answer the question aloud in his or her native language, and then interprets said answer consecutively. Some have proposed that both, question and answer be interpreted simultaneously from a booth using standard interpreting equipment, with the jury, judge, attorneys, and others listening to the answers through a receiver and an earpiece, the same way a question and answer session is conducted in a conference setting. So far, I have not seen this anywhere, and later we will address what I believe are the reasons why this has not been attempted.

Therefore, most courtrooms use consecutive interpreting at least for the answers given by the witness, defendant, victim, or expert, from the witness stand. The controversy arises at the time of deciding what kind of consecutive interpretation is best suited for a trial.

We all know that there are two main types of consecutive interpreting: long consecutive, used in conference settings, press conferences, diplomatic and ceremonial acts, and others; and short consecutive, generally considered as the rendition of choice for court proceedings. Recently healthcare interpreters have entered the professional stage as a major presence; they generally use an even shorter form of consecutive interpreting than the one chosen by many court interpreters.

Dear friends and colleagues, I constantly travel for professional reasons, and my trips take me to places where I have a chance to meet and talk to local interpreters who share their concerns, ideas, and experiences with me. This, together with my own experience as a court interpreter for many years, and what I have observed in courtrooms of several nations, made me realize that there are two distinct schools of thought: Some of our colleagues believe that interpreters should use long consecutive from the stand, and others think that short consecutive is more appropriate.

Let’s see:

We call long consecutive the interpretation of a segment of a speech in the source language that the interpreter renders into the target language after the orator has spoken for about 10 to 15 minutes (sometimes longer) relying on his concentration, memory, visualization, and note taking, rendering longer messages with more complete ideas and more separated in time. It is used by diplomatic, media (press conference) and conference interpreters. It requires of a skilled interpreter who knows the basic consecutive interpreting techniques, and allows for the source speaker to convey more complete thoughts, as he is not encouraged to cut the ideas short for the sake of shortening the segments. Interpreters who defend this type of rendition argue that it fosters a more comprehensive answer or narration of facts, helps the jurors and judge understand the answers, and because of its complexity, it requires more seasoned, capable interpreters, eliminating mediocre ones who simply cannot provide a lengthy consecutive interpretation. A lot of formally educated, and current and former conference interpreters favor this modality.

Short consecutive works with shorter segments of speech, often lasting between 10 seconds to one minute, or about fifty words (U.S. Federal Court Interpreter Examination handbook) and it is used in court hearings and other legal settings such as depositions and witness preparation sessions. It requires a skilled interpreter who mainly relies on memory, but also uses concentration, visualization, and a note taking system that is quick enough for the interpreter to begin the rendition almost immediately after the speaker finishes the segment in the source language. The length of the segment makes it difficult to embrace very long elaborate descriptions, as the orator is encouraged to stop for the interpretation after one or two sentences.  The interpreters who advocate for the short consecutive rendition argue that it is more accurate and detail-oriented as the interpreter can easily recall everything the witness stated, and it offers a more dynamic exchange and rhythm between witness and interpreter, which is often needed when witnesses are nervous, intimidated by the process, reluctant to testify, or not very sophisticated. It is true that, for many reasons, some court interpreters believe that they cannot render a long consecutive interpretation (lack of proper training, note-taking skills, practice, etc.)

In general, not speaking of court interpreting, I personally like the long consecutive mode better because it lets the speaker stitch together his thoughts and ideas, and it allows me, as the interpreter, to understand the message better. This results on a better rendition.

However, to determine what is more appropriate for a testimony during a court proceeding, first we need to answer the most fundamental question: Why is it necessary to interpret what was said at the witness stand?

Unlike interpreting the entire court proceedings for the foreign-language speaking parties (plaintiff, defendant, victim) interpreting the testimony of a witness who does not know, or is not fluent, in the language used in court is not done for the benefit of said individuals, after all, they speak the same language as the witness; it is done for the attorneys, and more importantly: for the judge and jury so they can properly evaluate the witness’ testimony and determine if they will believe all, part, or nothing of what the person said. Because the judge and juror do not speak the foreign language, they could not evaluate the credibility of the witness without the interpretation. You see, interpreting for the witness, is an essential part of the process of reaching a decision about the facts of a case.

But understanding the statement of a witness through an interpreter is not enough. In order to assess credibility, judges and jurors must look for, and consider, other clues such as body language, facial expressions, utterances, reactions to a question, demeanor, and others.  Sometimes a witness may be saying one thing with his words and a very different thing with all these other clues.

Therefore, judges and jurors must be given a chance to perceive and link all of these clues in real time. A short consecutive will allow them to consider all of these elements as closely to the verbal answer as possible. A long consecutive removes the jury from the moment when the words were said by the witness, making it more difficult to associate all clues and reach a reliable conclusion. Long consecutive will showcase the interpreter’s skills, but will foster distraction as it is difficult for a juror to follow a speech that he does not understand for several minutes. This happened in the defunct League of Nations, a precursor of the United Nations Organization born after World War I. The delegates to the League would speak in their native language and then the entire speech would be consecutively interpreted into a second language, and then into a third language, and so on. Because these delegates did not understand the original speeches, or their consecutive interpretation into other foreign languages, they could not pay attention to the speech itself, and in many cases would leave the session because they knew that the interpretations would also take a long time. Eventually, when the United Nations were founded, this consecutive interpreting practice was eliminated and replaced with the new, technologically more advanced simultaneous interpretation.

It is also true that court interpreters must interpret everything a witness says: false starts, stutter, utterances that may not be a word, redundancies, repetitions, and so on. Remember, the jurors and judges are assessing the credibility of the witness and all of these elements are very important during that process.

When the rendition comes right after the witness’ answer, there is no doubt that judges and jurors will be able to link one of these renditions to the original speech and to the body language.  It is also more likely that the interpreter will remember all of these circumstances better when he just heard them a few seconds ago. It is widely held that short consecutive is more precise than a long rendition, and in these circumstances it is more evident.  Also, a short consecutive will allow the attorneys and judges to direct the witness to answer a question or to object to an answer more efficiently.  It makes it possible for an interpreter to clarify a term or expression with the person speaking from the witness stand.

In my opinion, even though I like long consecutive better, I believe that a short rendition is more appropriate for court.

We still need to determine how short that rendition needs to be.

There are two main tendencies when it comes to short consecutive court interpreting from the witness stand: Those who want an extremely short segment of just a sentence or a couple of phrases, and the interpreters that believe that consecutive interpreting in court should be short, but it also needs to make sense, fulfill its purpose.

During my years of practice in court I saw some interpreters who were busy stopping the witness every other sentence, according to them: for accuracy; according to me: because of mediocrity on the part of the interpreter. I do not believe that you can argue accuracy when faced with a rendition that goes like this:

“…can you please…” stop. Interpretation follows.

“…tell us your name for the record…” stop. Interpretation follows.

Extremely short segments risk the possibility of producing a testimony that nobody can understand, and cutting the witness’ train of thought, resulting in unintended omissions by a witness who can never get to the point of concentration, and that could be very serious.

Short consecutive in court must be long and flexible enough, for a witness to tell part of his story in a coherent, logical fashion where he feels free to finish an idea before having to stop for the interpretation. Sometimes, this can be achieved with a ten second segment, but sometimes the witness may need three or four minutes to share the facts of the case in a way that is clear, complete, detailed, and gives the judge and jurors the necessary tools to evaluate the credibility of that witness.

It is also important to mention that the court interpreter should always allow the witnesses to finish his statement (unless the judge orders him not to). Because of this complex interpretation, that is almost like a dance between witness and interpreter, a good interpreter must talk to the witness ahead of time, explain what is needed to have a good accurate rendition, and in my opinion, the interpreter must be in the proximity of the witness (being careful not to obstruct the view of judge and jurors) so that clarifications, repetitions, and hints as to stop at the end of a segment (maybe through eye contact, a hand signal, or other) can be done without disrupting that rhythm. This is, in my opinion, the main reason why we have not seen the proliferation of two-way simultaneous interpretation from the witness stand. The interpreter needs to be with the witness, not in the booth or somewhere else.

You see, court interpreting is sui generis; it often breaks the rules of other more conventional types of interpreting. It is not just about the message, it is about the credibility of the individual delivering the message, and for that reason, the obvious, the redundant, and the obscene have to be interpreted from the witness stand. I now ask you to share with us your comments about consecutive court interpreting from the witness stand.

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