What Attorneys Should Know about Different Modes of Court Interpreting to Work with Court Interpreters More Effectively

Every week our deposition translation and legal translation and legal interpretation firm receives requests for services of  simultaneous legal interpreters or legal translators.  After spending a few minutes on the phone with the law firm’s representative we often discover that the law firm wants to hire a deposition interpreter.  After the differences between the consecutive and the simultaneous modes of court interpreting are explained to the litigator, that attorney often changes his or her mind and decides to hire one of our deposition interpreters, who is well-versed in the consecutive mode of court interpreting.


So, what should attorneys and, especially, litigators, know about the two different modes of court interpreting- the consecutive mode and the simultaneous mode- in order to work with court interpreters more effectively?  To answer this question, it is important to bear in mind what role– active or passive- the non-English-speaking witness, or deponent, or defendant, or participant will play in the given judicial or quasi-judicial setting.

If the Limited English Proficient (LEP) individual, who requires services of a legal interpreter, plays a passive role during the proceedings and is not required to speak (as is often the case during arraignments, hearings or trials), then simultaneous interpreting is called for.  The court interpreter will interpret everything that is being said in the open court simultaneously for that non-English-speaking defendant.  This helps preserve the defendant’s due process rights.

However, when the LEP individual plays a more active role in the court proceedings and is required to speak or respond- as is the case during depositions, debriefings, EUOs, proffer meetings, cross-examinations and examinations– we recommend using consecutive method of court interpreting.  Consecutive (sequential) interpretation requires the speaker to pace himself and to stop after a few sentences in order to let the interpreter interpret the speaker’s statement.

Source: NAJIT POSITION PAPER: Modes of Interpreting: Simultaneous, Consecutive, & Sight Translation.

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