Opportunities for Interpreters Outside Courtrooms

This post is by guest blogger Evelyn Yang Garland.

Evelyn owns Acta Chinese Language Services, a growing translation company specializing in Chinese translation for business, legal, and government clients. Evelyn is an ATA-certified English-Chinese translator and Maryland court-certified Mandarin interpreter, and has been granted “expert member” status by the Translators Association of China for her professional achievement and leadership roles in the translation industry. She is based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and truly enjoys both the technical and business aspects of translation and interpreting.

If you are a court interpreter and you would like to both grow your business and cultivate a diverse client base, I hope you find this article helpful—

Let us first look at what professional advantages you, as a well qualified court interpreter, already possess—you are accurate; you have learned legalese; you observe professional boundaries; you practice all three modes of interpreting on a regular basis; you stay calm in face of the unexpected; you know how to respond properly when your interpretation is challenged; and— many but not all— often work in teams and have mastered the art of teamwork.

Where can your advantages be put to good use in non-courtroom assignments? It is quite obvious that you have an edge over other interpreters in a variety of legal assignments outside courtrooms, including depositions, client-counsel meetings, arbitrations, mediations, and administrative hearings. With good preparation, you are also well poised for other assignments such as:

Business negotiations. These require a high degree of accuracy and often involve discussions of contracts. Interpreters who are familiar with legalese make good candidates for such assignments. An additional requirement is knowledge of business. Business negotiations do not always take place in boardrooms. Negotiations—or parts of negotiations—may be done at a formal banquet, in a loud bar, or on the way to a cowboy show. Therefore, it is important to know the etiquette in each setting and be sensitive to nuances in the language in each context.

Inter-governmental talks. Again, these assignments require a high degree of accuracy. They also often involve legalistic language as many inter-governmental talks are centered on treaties, policies, laws, and regulations. Frequent topics for discussion include law enforcement, legislation, and interpretation of the law. Such talks usually require the interpreter to be knowledgeable in an area other than law, for example, knowledge of a particular industry may be necessary when a treaty regarding that industry is under discussion.

Conferences. Even though training programs often distinguish court interpreting from conference interpreting, there is overlap between them. Some conferences focus on legal issues and are attended by judges and attorneys, while others have a legal component. For example, a conference on investment may discuss how the laws and regulations in a country or state affect foreign investment. A good understanding of legal terms certainly eases the stress of interpreting  abstruse issues.

The assignments above can be fun, challenging, and a good supplement to your work in the courts and law offices.

Now, you may wonder: how can I get my foot in the door leading to these different types of assignments? Here is my advice:

– Talk to your colleagues. Let them know what types of assignments interest you.

– Attend professional conferences, such as NAJIT’s Annual Conference, the ATA Annual Conference, and your local translators’ association meetings. Meet colleagues who are already doing the type of work you would like to do, including colleagues who work in other languages.

– Try to be helpful to your colleagues, and be reciprocal. Referral is common in the private market. In my own experience, some of my most interesting assignments were referred to me by colleagues. But it never goes one-way—it is “give and take.” There are many ways to be helpful and reciprocal: refer a client; share a glossary; answer a question; volunteer for a professional association; and so on. Writing a blog article for NAJIT and participation in online discussion groups (like the NAJIT listserv) are also contributions you can make to help your colleagues.

– Read widely. Business negotiations, inter-governmental talks, and conferences can cover a wide range of topics—from agriculture to electrical engineering, from world economy to medical technology. Furthermore, interpreters for these assignments frequently find themselves interpreting lines from ancient poems, quotes from a foreign author, as well as idioms and jokes, in addition to whatever legal, business, political, or diplomatic language they are dealing with. The interpreter may not need to be an expert in everything, but a wide knowledge base is necessary for success.


2 thoughts on “Opportunities for Interpreters Outside Courtrooms”

  1. Qualified legal interpreters will also find interesting opportunities in the area of international arbitration. For details please see:
    “Legal Translation for International Arbitration” https://www.languagealliance.com/blog/legal-translation-services-can-help-win-the-day-in-international-arbitration/

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