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Legal Interpreters

7 Steps to Successful Legal Interpreting


The following are 7 sure-fire steps for legal professionals such as attorneys, solicitors, lawyers and barristers wanting successful dealings with an interpreter.

Step One

Always always use a qualified, professional and experienced interpreter. A friend’s girlfriend who speaks Spanish and lived in Chile for 6 years is not good enough. Even if she has a degree in the Spanish language it does not make her an interpreter. Yes, she would be convenient and cheap, but it could result in evidence thrown out of court, poor communication and downright messy results. Professional interpreters are qualified linguists who do this for a living and understand how to do it well with standards, ethics and due process. You can use an agency to hire an interpreter or you can contract a freelance interpreter directly. The advantage of using an agency is that they have vetted the interpreters but they will be more expensive. Going direct to an interpreter is somewhat of a lottery but a little cheaper.

Step 2

If possible, have your interpreter come in early to meet with you, or if for court to meet with the client. This allows time to get to know the background to the meeting/hearing, go through issue and clarify any questions. Even if this means you will have to pay for the extra time it's worth it.

Step 3

Although it can mean a little extra work, always try to send the interpreter material about the meeting, client, criminal proceedings, etc. You don’t have to give every single bit of documentation you have but bringing the interpreter up to speed with the situation is valuable. No interpreter likes to walk into such a setting “blind”, i.e. not knowing who they are interpreting for and why. In fact, there are occasions where interpreters have refused to work on assignments due to ethical reasons or conflicts of interest. How is an interpreter supposed to know if they know a key witness if they don’t know anything about the trial in the first place?

Step 4

Always use the second person when addressing your client or other parties and look at them directly. Do not speak to the interpreter. Actually, you should almost forget they are there. For example, you should say "please confirm your name and address," rather than "ask him to tell me his name and address." Keep your language simple. When addressing a client whose first language is not English, stay away from long, complex sentences with multiple subordinate clauses. Avoid humour, idioms, sayings and the like which will simply get lost in translation across the linguistic and cultural lines.

Step 5

Don’t be afraid to make requests of the interpreter. If you find that the interpreter is too loud ask them to speak in a lower tone. If they are talking too fast, tell them to slow it down. If you are unsure as to whether or not something has been really understood then check with them. This is not in the least bit demanding and in fact an interpreter worth their salt will appreciate this.

Step 6

Interpreting is mentally exhausting work. You must take into account that the accuracy decreases of translation will decrease with fatigue. If you are planning to use the interpreter for a considerable length of time then consider asking or agreeing with them when breaks should be taken. If you believe the day may last too long for one interpreter then investing in a pair to take turns during the day is not such a bad idea.

Step 7

Remember that interpreting takes time. Most interpreting in the legal sector will take place consecutively (also known as face-to-face). Everything is being said twice plus on top of that there will be pauses or delays to check meanings or clarify statements. Accept that things will take at least twice as long and allow for this. Hurrying proceedings or putting people under stress does not solve problems but rather creates problems.

If you have done your homework, stuck to the 7 Steps and thought the process through then you’ll have nothing to worry about.