An Interview with Katty Kauffman

Katty KauffmanKatty Kauffman is a Federally Certified Court Interpreter, member and Advisory Board Member for South America of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and the National Association of Judicial Translators and Interpreters (NAJIT). She is also a graduate of Pedro de Valdivia University School of Law in Santiago, Chile where she currently resides.  In addition to working in the freelance market where she has interpreted at four Summits of the Americas among other major international events– Katty serves as translator, interpreter and consultant on interpreter qualification and selection policy to Office of the Public Prosecutor of Chile.  Since the roll out of new criminal procedure in Chile in 2000, Katty has interpreted at numerous international conferences on comparative criminal procedural law and trained prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and judges in the use of interpreters in the courtroom.  She has also put her skills to use at numerous trials and hearings under the new system in Chile.

In this interview, Katty affords us a peek into the judicial process in another country, Chile.

TNO- What stands out the most about cases that use interpreters?

Under the Criminal Procedure Reform instituted over a decade ago, interpreters are now clearly distinguished from translators in criminal proceedings. This is not the case in civil proceedings where the two terms continue to be erroneously deemed interchangeable.

Most of the proceedings, both civil and criminal, involve only Spanish-speaking parties, so what makes cases with an interpreter stand out is their rarity. Having an interpreter present creates a whole new dynamic! The parties rarely know what to expect from an interpreter, but are, fortunately, usually very open to learning and are grateful for the guidance and orientation of qualified professionals.

TNO- Other than understanding their English, what are markers we should look for in determining whether or not the interpreters provided are performing up to the minimum standard, especially in a language we do not speak?


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In Chile’s criminal courts, the languages most in demand are English and Chilean Sign Language. For most other languages, the Prosecutor’s Office (responsible for hiring interpreters in all cases, as per a Supreme Court ruling) looks at the qualifications of the individual using a checklist I helped develop. Unfortunately, most are not trained court interpreters and many have no interpreting experience at all. It’s a shame, but it is also a fact of life. On the bright side, when a trained professional is not available, the Prosecutor informs the court and asks the parties to take that into consideration by speaking more slowly, in chunks, lowering the register, etc. Interpreters too can interrupt, ask for repetition, and so forth in order to ensure effective communication without fear of angering the litigants or the court. In sum, the parties tend to be very tolerant and cater to the interpreter’s needs. It’s actually kind of nice.

TNO- From your perspective, how do judges react to the use of translated documents and interviews?

In Chile, documents must be introduced by a witness, so the translator will be called in to testify both to the process used in the translation and to the content of the document. If the translator doesn’t remember what they translated (due to elapsed time, for example), they may be shown the document to refresh their memory. But it is the translator’s testimony that will serve as the record, not the document. The translator is paid as an expert witness. Fortunately, on cross the translator’s version is rarely impeached.

TNO- What are the greatest difficulties in dealing with remote interpreting? And the best part?

In some cases, the courts authorize witnesses to testify from abroad. Unfortunately, they do not use high-tech systems and–over interpreter objections– the connection is frequently via Skype. Suffice it to say, this is highly problematic.

TNO- In your opinion, how can proceedings involving interpreters go more smoothly?

At the risk of preaching to the choir, having the court provide good equipment, ensuring the use of team interpreting during trials or any proceeding over 45 min in length is, of course, a boon. That said, we are incredibly fortunate in Chile to be at the forefront of a new era in oral proceedings and to be trailblazers for the generations to come.

It behooves us, therefore, to adhere as carefully and as strictly as possible to Codes of Ethics from jurisdictions with a longer-standing tradition, such as NAJIT’s, so that we can set a solid course for the future.

TNO- Is there a memorable experience involving a different culture or language in your portfolio that you cherish or hate?   


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At the beginning of the reform in Santiago, a case came before the 1st Magistrate Court of Santiago. It so happened that the judge spoke very good English and had been trained in oral litigation in the US… where he learned the difference between a translator and an interpreter.

In this particular case, a LSP (limited Spanish proficiency) defendant was brought in for an initial appearance, but there was no interpreter. The judge agreed to a continuance to give the prosecutor time to find one. The prosecution called the local Interpol office and they sent someone over to the court. The first question the judge asked was: Are you able to interpret these proceedings here today? The response was classic: No, Your Honor, I am a translator, not an interpreter. The sound clip of the judge’s reaction is music to any interpreter’s ears: Mr. Prosecutor, my order was very clear. I told you to bring before this court an IN-TER-PRETER not a translator. Mr. Prosecutor, what part of IN-TER-PRETER did you not understand?

Needless to say, that judge is one of my favorite people.


2 thoughts on “An Interview with Katty Kauffman”

  1. Gio Lester says:

    Nice to be part of the birth of a new process. Neat experience, Katty.

    And thank you for sharing the differences in procedure. Many lawyers here in the US are now aware of the impact of these procedural differences on how witnesses react and respond during deposition.

  2. Emma Cohen says:

    It is inspiring to be on the forefront of a new movement! So many places and people in the US still do not know the difference between an Interpreter and Translator and it makes it that much harder for effective communication in most proceedings I partake in.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I studied and lived in Chile for two years, and now work as a Court Interpreter AND Translator for my hometown. It is really inspiring to know that I can come back to Chile one day and have a career. I have been dying to go back since the day I left.

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