Interpreting Depositions: A Fact Sheet


María Cristina de la Vega is sponsoring this article by Veronica Perez Guarnieri, an AIIC colleague, because of its relevance to the legal interpreting profession.

VERÓNICA PÉREZ GUARNIERI was born in Argentina. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Translation and Interpretation from Universidad del Salvador in 1989.  She is also a certified translator and has a postgraduate degree in English Translation from City University in London, a Master’s Degree in Specialized Translation from Universidad de Córdoba, Spain, and is currently pursuing her doctoral studies. Since 1990, she has worked as a free-lance interpreter and translator Verónica is a member of AIIC and ADICA.  She is involved in the development of standards on interpreting at home and abroad, as Convener of the ISO group of experts working on the subject.


Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are ever contacted to interpret at a   deposition:

1.   Prepare very thoroughly: learn not only the facts of the case and points of law, but also the names of the law firms, the companies and/or individuals, exhibit numbers, and amounts involved. Figure out in advance which symbol you’ll use for each name.

Lawyers tend to speak very fast during depositions, perhaps to buy time or to obfuscate, and those names and numbers need to be ready to roll off your tongue.

        2.    Rehearse the situation using YouTube and other online sources.

There is plenty of material about preparing for depositions. Although it is mostly meant for lawyers, it will help you too. There are even lots of videos of actual depositions.

        3.    Hone your consecutive skills. Remember to rely on your memory above all.

This is the toughest, most demanding consecutive interpreting assignment I can think of. You’ll be tempted to regress to early training days, when notes were more of a crutch than a signpost – don’t.

        4.   Be as literal as possible: reformulate only if there is no alternative.

This is in aid of your memory: try too hard to understand in great depth and you’ll lose track.

         5.   Only interpret. Never try to answer a question made to you by the witness or talk aside with them during the hearing itself or breaks.

If this happens, immediately translate what the witness is saying, e.g., “The witness is asking me whether I know a good place to buy leather around here” or “The witness is telling me his wife is also a translator.” It is very important for both parties to trust you and be sure that you would never take sides, no matter which party actually retained your services.

         6.   Ask speakers to repeat names as many times as necessary.

Never hesitate to do this; better to appear “dense” once than to call Obama “Osama” and remain forever on tape to be heard over and over again.

         7.   Expect scapegoating. Don’t take it too personally if someone claims you have mistranslated something.

Once, a witness with excellent English claimed he would be more comfortable testifying in his own language, but then proceeded to correct my every word – with less-than-perfect results. He also kept asking me to repeat, so I was forced to explain to the lawyers that the witness wanted me to repeat my translation, then restate what I had said to the best of my memory, and finally accept the criticism and the correction. It was hard to keep a poker face, but I soon realized it was merely a tactic to wear out the other side: I was just collateral damage.

          8.  Be prepared for abrupt changes in register; don’t get caught off-guard. Highly educated language may be followed by colorful street slang.

Harvard-graduate lawyer: “Sir, I need to ascertain the genuineness of the exhibit I am about to present to you. For the record, this is Exhibit A453. Can you unequivocally attest to the fact that this letter was written by your Uncle Tom?”
Deponent:  “Listen, man, you’ll have to give me a full ear here. I’m no hobnocker[1]. I told ya’ already, I ain’t gonna pretend I recognize the letter if I wasn’t with Uncle when he wrote it.

[1]          A hobnocker is someone who does something illegal and gross.


This article first appeared in Communicate!/The AIIC Webzine (Issue 54, Summer 2010)

8 thoughts on “Interpreting Depositions: A Fact Sheet”

  1. Judy Jenner says:

    Interesting article indeed; thank you! I wish we had more literature on this topic, as depositions are very common but we have relatively few books and guidelines (written for interpreters). As a veteran of 100+ depositions, I have to say that as much as I’ve tried, I have never had the chance to get my hands on any materials before the deposition — actually, I just did once, which was quite a feat. And it was a 10-hour deposition as well, so I was very glad to have the materials. However, these depos are so routine for attorneys (and for court reporters, too) that many don’t see the point of giving you discovery materials (or even the caption) ahead of time. That might be frustrating, but after a while, certified court interpreters will find out that the questions are quite predictable (the answers: not so much) and follow specific guidelines. BTW, I think it would be great to include specific links to resources. Here’s one:

    I wanted to point out that here in Nevada no attorney is willing to do depositions and have an interpreter work consecutively — we always do simul (or whispering, really). I’ve tried to do consecutive, as that’s better for everyone’s hearing and clarity, but have encountered much resistance, as it just takes so long, which makes sense. I’d love to see some clear guideline/best practices report by NAJIT on this issue of simul versus consecutive for depos!

    With that, I am off to a deposition later this afternoon. Thanks for the article!

  2. Clarence Williamson says:

    Ah, yes, Ms. Guarnieri; a very good article it is that evokes a great deal of memories. One deposition I interpreted at resulted in the husband of the affiant actualy calling 911 and the police charging one of the four attorneys present with bringing undue stress on his wife and causing her additional illness. After being asked to leave his wife’s side and the room by all four attorneys because he couldn’t help nor stop himself from answering inquiries instead of his wife and proceding to time and again burst into the room throughout the deposition asserting he would; he ultimately did call the emergency authorities. I was astounded by it all. Preparation is always essential, but I was not prepared for that particular way it ended.

  3. Elizabeth Salazar says:

    You’re not to believe this, I will have my first deposition next week. I was trying to get more info about that, and with this article I found some. Thanks for post this information.

  4. Vicki Santamaria says:

    My most unusual deposition featured a deponent whose truck had been hit by a train as the young man was trying to beat the train across the tracks. The deponent had suffered severe brain damage. At one time, he had been perfectly bilingual, but after the accident, he only spoke and understood Spanish, his native language. The problem was that his speech was extremely garbled. I finally had to have his father repeat what the deponent was saying (the father had more practice understanding him), and then I would interpret it into English. It was extremely stressful.

    For anyone new at depositions, I would recommend the interpreter asking the attorneys and the reporter at the outset if they prefer consecutive or simultaneous interpreting.

    Also, many depositions seem to be related to injuries suffered on the job (Worker’s Comp) or in accidents. It is therefore extremely important to know the names for all body parts in both languages, and well as being familiar with names for common surgeries, words used to describe pain, etc.

  5. Abel says:

    I always prefer to use a radio transmitter and headset and do simultaneous so as to not take much longer and also to have only the intended listener hear what I am interpreting (and leave those who also may understand my interpretation out of the loop so to speak) After you have “trained” the attorneys they seem to prefer this method. Thanks

  6. Very good post. I’m dealing with a few of these
    issues as well..

  7. Interesting article. Here’s another one that talks about the use of deposition interpreters in civil litigation “Court Cases Involving the Use of Legal Deposition Interpreters” available here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *