05 Jul Sensational, not Sensationalist, please!
I must admit, it simply rubs me the wrong way to think of interpreters getting stars in their eyes when encountering or assisting in high-profile court cases. Sure, there’s a mixture of nerves and excitement in knowing that we’re going to be involved in something a little different than the norm, but there’s a line that we shouldn’t cross.
We want to be sensational interpreters, but have no business taking on a sensationalist attitude. When we respect our professional duties and ethics, our performance will be top-notch whether or not the case attracts public attention. Our ability to consistently perform with excellence is bolstered by our ability to control feelings that are part and parcel to a high-profile case, thus allowing us to be the epitome of neutrality as per our ethical standards.
The recent Zimmerman trial in Florida involved a witness who was Spanish speaking and used an interpreter. Although video of the testimony will long be an excellent educational tool for current and future court interpreters, I was glad to see that the interpreter was hardly depicted at all in the footage. Sure, he knew he was being recorded and could have been putting on a show rather than simply performing his linguistic duties, but hopefully the world will forever remember him as simply the voice—as it should be.
Our colleagues in the downtown Los Angeles courts are probably old pros at ignoring the media frenzy surrounding the cases that come to their buildings. I would imagine that when a celebrity is being tried in a court where the media is rarely present, however, it is tempting to peek in and see what all of the action is about. Nonetheless, because we are ethically bound to uphold the tenets of professional conduct and remain neutral about the happenings in our courts, trying to avoid all the hullabaloo seems to be the safest game plan, whether or not we’re expecting to be involved in that matter.
So, let’s say we are assigned to a high-profile case, perhaps one involving a public figure or (gasp!) a rock star: how can we possibly be sensational—not sensationalist—with all that pressure?!?! Ironically, I think we may sometimes have to employ acting skills to mask our excitement or nerves and make extra, extra sure we don’t get caught up in the current. If this means we’re the only ones who are indifferent, so be it. What good is the ethical duty of neutrality if we’re going to let a media-worthy case rattle our nerves or ignite our hopes to be caught on camera?
I think the sensational interpreter strives to have the same deep respect for both “big” and “small” cases, preparing and being on his game no matter what stakes, participants, cameras or attention are involved. After all, if we assign the highest importance to every case, can we truly be shaken by that rare occasion when a reporter—or the world—is observing our performance?
Even if we’re able to maintain a poker face, we’re always susceptible to some level of anxiety, no matter how adept we are at not succumbing to media frenzies. Here’s what a few sources say about controlling our nerves in high-stress situations, all of which are readily applicable to our performance as interpreters:
As always, taking the time to think about what we can encounter in our work is half the battle. When faced with an interpreting situation in which we could be in the hot seat, we would do well to over-prepare by being ready for any contingency we can foresee, perhaps studying the prior word choices of the witness and attorneys, if there is a record, and reading all available accounts of the event to formulate a comprehensive glossary. Rather than this preparation being a search for the gossip, however, it must be grounded in an attitude of respect for our performance and the profession.
Big or small, each case we work on deserves our full attention. When we find ourselves involved in something outside the norm, let’s not forget about how crucial it is to remain neutral. If we are able to see the importance of excellence in all we do, avoiding sensationalist attitudes should come as second nature. This way, we are not only giving a solid performance; we are showing the beauty and grace of our composure in midst of everybody else’s turmoil.