Language Interpreting Services:
Tips for Working with
Court Interpreters in Civil Cases

How to Successfully Work with Legal Interpreters

Engaging in dialogue with a person through an interpreter takes getting used to. Understanding that the interpreter is there to be a voice to both parties, but not take part of the conversation is challenging. After all, they are standing right in front of you! But a language interpreter’s role is to remain accurate and impartial throughout the communication. The following tips will help you accomplish your duties most effectively when working with an interpreter.

Don’t look at the interpreter.

It is intuitive to want to look at the person you’re speaking to, but whether you are cross-examining a witness or simply preparing your defendant, speak directly to the person that speaks limited English. Remember, body language plays a huge role in communication and you should be interacting with the individual as if you were both speaking the same language. Speak directly to the subject and avoid directing the interpreter to repeat what you are saying. It is not necessary to tell the interpreter to ask the subject a question. Simply ask the question, looking directly at the person being questioned. When you pause the interpreter will repeat what you just said, in the other language, exactly how you said it. The interpreter will then become the other person’s voice as they respond in the foreign language. Speaking directly to the subject will make your dialogue go smoother and before you know it, you’ll forget the interpreter is even there.

Brief your interpreter.

Knowing the subject matter ahead of time will allow the interpreter to prepare subject matter or review bilingual glossaries ahead of time. While trained court interpreters have extensive practice in courtrooms and manage legal terminology very easily, it’s the specific subject matter that will be discussed that can catch an interpreter off guard. Are you discussing an accident that occurred on an offshore platform, or will you be interviewing several gang members as witnesses regarding drug smuggling activities? To give the interpreter the best chance at a smooth translation, allow them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the operations of an oil rig or research drug slang in the language being interpreted.

Lastly, and most importantly, give your interpreter a break. People underestimate how exhausting interpreting can be. While the interpreter is not actively participating in the dialogue they are hanging on every single syllable that is said throughout the discussion. The interpreter’s mind doesn’t wander for one second as they must hear, process, translate, and speak in a matter of seconds. Even the most experienced interpreter is at risk of making mistakes when they begin experiencing fatigue. Take a break, at least, every two hours and for long, complicated, and/or overly emotional trials, hire two interpreters and allow them to alternate throughout the trial.

Court interpreting is a skill that goes beyond simply speaking a second language. Trained court interpreters have extensive training and follow a strict code of ethics and professional behavior. Their ability to translate messages from one language to another, retaining cultural context. These tips will allow these trained professionals the adequate working conditions to be more successful and give you the best possible service.

For more information about retaining the services of a trained professional court interpreter, contact us!




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