Qualifying a Foreign Language Legal Interpreter as an Expert

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A foreign language legal interpreter must be established as an expert before acting as an interpreter in a court proceeding. In general, the Rules of Evidence define an expert as anyone with “specialized knowledge (that) will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue“.

Anyone qualified as an expert may testify in the form of an opinion as to their specialized knowledge. (Federal Rule of Evidence 702).

In order to qualify as an expert, the foreign language interpreter must be shown to have “specialized knowledge in the language or particular form of communication sufficient to assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence.”

The process of establishing the interpreter’s qualifications becomes even more important when no court-certified interpreters are available in a particular foreign language (e.g., in cases of less commonly used languages, also known as languages of limited diffusion). To do this, the questioning attorney should ask the following voir dire questions:

  1. 1. Do you have any particular training or credentials as an interpreter?

2. What is your native language?

3. How did you learn English?

4. How did you learn the foreign language?

5. What was the highest grade you completed in school?

6. Have you spent any time in a foreign country?

7. Did you formally study either language in school? To what extent?

8. How many times have you interpreted in court?

9. Have you interpreted for this type of hearing or trial before? To what extent?

10. Are you a potential witness in this case?

11. Do you know or work for any of the parties?

12. Do you have any other potential conflicts of interest?

13. Have you had an opportunity to speak with the non-English speaking person informally?

14. Are you familiar with the dialect or idiomatic peculiarities of the witness?

Angeles v. State of Indiana, 751 N.E.2d 790 (Ind.App. 2001).

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