Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tips for Working with Legal Interpreters

A few tips I came up with to help our legal clients better work with interpreters. If you have any to add, please feel free.

1) Work with professional interpreters, as opposed to bilingual grocers/wait staff/etc. You are a professional and your client expects professional service from you and everyone you contract on his/her behalf.

2) Ask for the right type of interpreter. For legal proceedings, a legal interpreter is the easy default; however, if you're deposing an doctor about a malpractice suit, then you might need an interpreter who's worked in medical situations as well. Make sure your interpreter specializes in the case's subject matter.

3) Request the right language. Many languages have multiple dialects. Spanish, for example, has 19 major dialectal forms.

4) For appointments slated to last longer than three hours, schedule two interpreters who will work in half-hour blocks. When working with only one interpreter, schedule regular breaks.

5) Allow for extra time. Everything everyone says will have to be said twice and, in addition, some languages simply take more words to say something than others. Spanish, for example, uses 33% more words to say something than English.

6) Prepare the interpreter. Provide him/her any police report, transcripts from preliminary hearings, and other materials. In cases where multiple translations are available, knowing the context will help your interpreter choose the correct one.

7) Practice working with the interpreter when you prepare your client for questioning. You'll get the kinks worked out ahead of time, everyone will look more polished, and your client will be more at ease.

8) Keep it in the first and second persons. Instead of telling the interpreter "Ask him where he was on the night of the 15th," say "Where were you on the night of the 15th?"

9) Be as precise as you can with your questions. Anything in your syntax that is unclear (i.e., dangling modifiers, unidentified pronouns like "it," double negatives), may be interpreted incorrectly.

10) Be aware that EVERYTHING you say will be interpreted, even if it's just to ask the secretary for more coffee.

11) Don't be surprised if your interpreter has questions about seemingly simple vocabulary words. What's only one word in our language could be one of many words in the other language, depending on the context. In French, for example, the English word meeting could be a "tête-à-tête," a "rendez-vous," a "conference," or even a "meeting."

(Blogger's note: Only after Tweeting this post did I realize I put this same article on the blog Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Must be something about June that makes me think legal! My apologies to those of you who are long-time readers.)


Yelena McCafferty said...

A good post. It's also useful to prepare a glass of water for your interpreters as they speak double the amount of time - interpreting you and who you are speaking to!

Nat said...

My name is Chan,
I am studying to become an Interpreter. I am currently carrying out an intership in a company.

I love this field. It is amazingly interesting and lively.