The “Invisible” Interpreter

PART I

My master’s thesis was on the “invisible” women who cut sugar cane for a living in Puerto Rico during the 19th and 20th centuries. They were there, but no one saw them because they blended into the general landscape. Something similar happens with interpreters, or should happen, if you’re really good. Of course, the women who cut sugar cane were invisible for many other cultural and sociological reasons, and were not invisible by choice. An interpreter, however, should be invisible by choice. No one should notice you’re there. No one should be paying attention to you at all.

In Puerto Rico, where I have been working for the past 24 years or so, people are very friendly. While we are in court waiting for the judge to come out, attorneys will come up to say hello to everyone who is already there. And I mean everyone: the court security officer, the courtroom deputy clerk, the court reporter, the defense attorneys and the prosecutors. Sometimes they include the interpreter. But if they don’t, I do a small victory dance inside: “I am invisible!”

The best compliment an interpreter can get is, “I didn’t even realize you were interpreting.”

Staying off the record is a good rule-of-thumb to start. What I mean by that is the requests interpreters often direct to the judge: “Your Honor, may the interpreter ask for a repetition?” “Your Honor, could you please instruct counsel to slow down?” “Your Honor, the interpreter needs to inquire about the meaning of a word the witness is using.” Those little and seemingly innocuous interruptions go on the record as the voice of the INTERPRETER, so the more you interrupt to ask for clarification or repetitions, the more visible you are, both on the record and in the eyes of everyone present in court.

Furthermore, judges in particular and attorneys in general are never happy about disruptions during proceedings, whether in court or out of court. So, asking one time for a clarification or repetition can certainly be justified and reasonable, but more than once? Perhaps you should be asking yourself if there is some other issue that needs to be addressed. One of those issues could be simply a lack of familiarity with the particular subject matter. For example, if you have a car mechanic as a cooperating witness giving details about the parts of a car that got stripped down in a chop-shop as part of a stolen cars scheme, and you have to keep looking up words in a dictionary or electronic glossary, that is going to shift everyone’s attention to you rather than the witness.

Or the issue could be a matter of regional variations in language use.  Staying off the record is advisable on many levels, and recusing yourself from a case in which you are not familiar with the terminology, or with a particular speaker’s accent and possibly regional variations in language use, is always an honorable and highly ethical alternative.

PART II

Our “cloak of invisibility” in the simultaneous mode is our volume. If you have a hard time keeping your voice down so no one except your client can hear you, then you need to practice, practice, practice. Few things are as annoying as a constant “rumble” coming from somewhere in the courtroom (i.e., the interpreter) all throughout a proceeding. Trust me, everyone will be aggravated and even if they cannot pinpoint the source of their aggravation, in the back of their minds they are building up this generic animosity that will eventually spill over onto you and every other interpreter they encounter from that point forward. So being invisible includes not being heard by anyone except your LEP client while interpreting in the simultaneous mode.

Some courtrooms—I have heard through the grapevine—are experimenting with interpreter booths. This may or may not contribute to the interpreter’s invisibility, because it is something new and everyone will want to know why it’s there, what it’s used for, why now and not before, and so on and so forth. So maybe when everyone gets used to an interpreter’s booth in the courtroom, it will help to keep us “invisible”. Until then, it may have the total opposite effect, I suspect.

In the consecutive mode invisibility is a bit more challenging. It means being seamless in your rendition. You establish a certain rhythm with both the attorney asking the questions and the witness answering them. Even if you do not engage in the practice of long consecutive, the points at which the source language speaker stops for you to interpret are natural pauses that do not break up a thought into awkward or even ungrammatical segments. It also means that your lag is minimal between that moment when the speaker stops talking and the moment when you start to render your interpretation. When everyone has to hold their breath while the interpreter finishes her notes, for example, and then tries to figure out what she wrote before starting her rendition, you have a sure way of drawing attention to the interpreter.

And, of course, your delivery has to be flawless. When all these elements come together, the interpreter becomes invisible and everyone stands in awe of your skills. A true conceptual oxymoron!

What makes you “invisible”?

31 Comments
  • Traductor
    Posted at 13:00h, 25 July Reply

    There is a very ignorant, dangerous and unethical underlying suggestion : the less an interpreter interrupts, the better he is. Any interruption is his own fault. That is how a lot of interpreters learned to fake interpret. They never ask for clarification or for the proceeding to slow down, even when the proceeding is impossible for any one to interpret. I have worked with colleagues who pretend at every single trial and the judges and coordinators just assume that they are the best ever. Those who are insecure about their own skills are afraid to draw attention to their inadequacy and therefore won’t speak up even when necessary.

    You address the court any time when it is necessary. You don’t withdraw from it just because of your own need to stay “invisible”.

  • Janis Palma
    Posted at 13:22h, 25 July Reply

    Dear Traductor:

    In Spanish we say “Lo poco agrada y lo mucho enfada,” meaning everything is good when done in moderation. The point of the article is that interpreters should become proficient enough that they have no need to be constantly interrupting. That does not mean you NEVER ask for clarification, if needed, or for a repetition. It’s a matter of degrees. If you have to be doing it constantly, then that should raise a red flag for you. Being “invisible” is not a “need”, it is a sign of quality, not to be confused with the incompetence you describe, which is the total opposite of what this article –and every one of my articles– advocates. I very much regret you got the wrong impression altogether.

  • Kevin Mercado
    Posted at 14:25h, 25 July Reply

    I like to compare this to note-taking. When I first started out, I could only take minimal notes. The more I practiced and applied note-taking, the better I got at it and the more notes I could take. As I worked my system, my memory improved. Soon enough I found myself taking less notes.

    I feel we are talking about the line between doing the job properly by addressing the court when necessary and when this action becomes an interruption.

    Sure enough, when I have to address the court I do, and believe me, I do. I’m bound to; Canon 8 of the NAJIT Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities delineates it clearly, as does Canon 7 of my state code in Ohio. If I am consistently addressing the court, every hearing, multiple times per hearing, I’d have to determine why.

    Analyzing the reasons for my “interruptions” is crucial. If the cause is my lack of vocabulary, I can work on glossaries, study and drill. If the cause is the rate of speech, overlapping voices or the likes, I may work on training scenarios, to educate the users of interpreter services.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 20:36h, 25 July Reply

      You are thinking right along the same line I am, Kevin.

      I most certainly will stop an attorney who is speaking so fast I can’t even make heads or tails in English, let alone convey it to the non-English speaker for whom I am interpreting. And I will ask a judge to repeat if I did not hear, or a witness to clarify if I did not understand.

      And when I do, you can be sure those judges and attorneys KNOW there is a very good reason for me to do so, and will gladly oblige. But something is definitely amiss when an interpreter constantly –I repeat, CONSTANTLY, not occasionally– asks for repetitions and clarifications.

      Introspection and self-assessment are crucial in our profession.

      Thanks for you comments, Kevin.

  • Hal Sillers
    Posted at 14:28h, 25 July Reply

    Thank you for a great post, Janice.

    The use of electronic equipment in the courtroom is one of the keys to interpreter invisibility. We have been using transmitters with microphones for the interpreter and receivers with earphones for the LEP party for many, many years, and they provide excellent advantages for both the court and the interpreter.
    1. The interpreter does not have to be next to the LEP party in order to whisper the simultaneous interpretation into the LEP party’s ear. This alone changes the perception and understanding of the interpreter´s role in the proceeding. When the interpreter is seated at the defense table next to the LEP party, the perception is that the interpreter is part of the defense team, which either consciously or unconscously calls into question the impartiality of the interpreter in the mind of all of the other participants and parties. Not sitting a the defense table also enhances the interpreter’s situation with regard to health and safety concerns.

    2. When interpreter transmitters and LEP receivers are used in conjunction with the use by the interpreter of the ADA mandated hearing assistance devices that every courtroom has, the interpreter can be any where in the courtroom and hear clearly, directly from the courtroom microphones, every voice coming through the courtroom sound system, and the LEP party can hear the interpreter clearly, as s/he can adjust the vol8ume on the receiver. This alleviates much of the interpreter stress and fatigue caused by having to strain to hear the voices of the speakers through the ambient sounds in the courtroom. In addition the interpreter can speak a normal low volume that can be heard by the LEP party through the receiver.

    3. If a team of interpreters is working a court proceeding, the interpreters can hand the transmitter back and forth when they rotate, or, better yet, each interpreter should have an individual transmitter that can be switched off or on when rotating interpreting duties, so that the change from one interpreter to another is seamless.

    4. When using electronic equipment, the interpreter should hold a notebook or paper in fornt of her/his mouth to help block the sound of the interpreter’s voice in the courtroom.

    I do a great deal of remote/telephone court interpreting. In simultaneous mode. With this method, only the LEP party hears the voice of the interpreter through a headset/earphones. The invisibility of the interpreter using this method is definitey enhanced, since no one else in the courtroom hears the interpreter’s voice or even the low whisper/rumble heard when the interpreter is in the courtroom. One of the disadvanatges, of course, is that the parties/particpants (especially attorneys) easily forget that the interpreter is interpreting the proceeding, and they can tend to accelerate their rate of speech, talk over one another, mumble, step away from the microphone when speaking and speak three or four times faster when reading or citing authorities. Is this new? No, but it is somewhat more challenging for the remote interpreter. The situation can be remedied with the help of a judge who is cgnizant of the issues, and by the ability of the interpreter to control the situation.

    When we first started providing simultaneous remote/telphone interpreting on a regular basis in the courts of our District, one judge in particular was very skeptical of the method, and he was not shy about expressing his opinion on the subject. After using the method for a while in his courtroom, however, he became one of its most outspoken proponents. The basis for his change of opinion was that with a simultaneous remote/telephone interpreter, there was one less body in the courtroom, he did not hear the low level “noise” of the interpreters voice in simultaneous mode, and the interpreter and interpretation were nearly invisible.

    Regards,

    Hal

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 20:42h, 25 July Reply

      Oh, Hal, I still remember those days when we had to sit at counsel table. One interpreter for each defendant in multi-defendant cases… in whisper mode! I don’t know how anyone could work, but we all did. Electronic equipment was one of the greatest steps forward for interpreters in judiciary settings. In fact, we have so many advantages today that we only dreamed of 30 years ago! Thanks for bringing up those points!

      As to remote video and/or telephone interpreting, I suspect we will be hearing a lot more about that in this blog space.

  • Traductor
    Posted at 17:56h, 25 July Reply

    “The point of the article is that interpreters should become proficient enough that they have no need to be constantly interrupting.”

    That is indeed the point. There is this presumption that interrupting, constant or not, has to do with the proficiency level of the interpreter. For some, especially those who don’t have enough work, the easy fix is to simply pretend.

    “Staying off the record is a good rule-of-thumb to start.

    The good rule-of-thumb is the ethics code. Staying off the record is neither the goal, the preferred practice, nor the rule of any digit.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 21:03h, 25 July Reply

      Dear Traductor:

      If you believe that you need to interrupt a proceeding for a legitimate reason, by all means please do so!

      And if you know for a fact there are interpreters where you work who do not ask for the proper repetition or clarification as they should, you also have an ethical duty to do something about that.

      I believe we are all advocating excellence in our profession. And excellence takes many shapes and forms. The invisibility I am talking about is just one of them. It is not the concealment of incompetence, but the open display of your exceptional skills and knowledge as a judiciary interpreter.

  • Leonor Sillers
    Posted at 20:19h, 25 July Reply

    Janis,

    You are correct about the invisibility of the interpreter. A good interpreter doesn´t have to constantly interrupt, but a good interpreter also knows when to interrupt and how. Receiving the proper information about the case prior to the proceeding in order to prepare ensure better understanding and therefore fewer or no interruptions. I know some interpreters say they do not need any information, therefore interpreters don´t ask for information. It is a vicious circle that can lead to poor performance. If the interpreter maintains a professional attitude and demeanor the information can be provided and the interpreter can be prepared to do a better job without interruptions. Even if you are called at the last minute, information can still be provided and there are a couple of minutes to review. I love your expression “Lo poco agrada y lo mucho enfada, I say “Ni tan adentro que te quemes, ni tan afuera que te hieles” the meaning is the same.
    Saludos

    Leonor

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 20:52h, 25 July Reply

      Yes, Leonor, glad you mentioned the part about getting ready before a case. I know it is not always possible to get documents ahead of time to prepare, but back in “the old days” we would create index cards, and lists and lists of terms that we would study and memorize after each case. Eventually they are all there, stored in your long-term memory, ready to be used any time.

      There will always be issues like people who mumble, and “if you can’t hear you can’t interpret”; or people who talk too fast who will need to be reminded a hundred times to slow down. But if we do have to interrupt the proceedings, it’s always better to do so because someone else is not doing their job, rather than us!

      Another twist on that saying is “ni tan poco que no te alumbre, ni tanto que queme al santo”… or something along those lines.

      Thanks for that perspective, Leonor!

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 22:21h, 26 July Reply

    So, the professional should not upstage the results of his/her work. No problem there. However, when most of those who use interpreters’ services have no concept about the quality of the work being performed, there is a bit of a disservice going on.

    I recently replaced a colleague during a court case and no one asked me about my name or credentials.

    If anything goes wrong, the Courts will have to back to the attorney to identify the interpreters they hired. Depending on how much time has elapsed, that information may not be readily available.

    On another case, a 16 year-old served as interpreter to her step-father. In my opinion that case should have been thrown out of court, but the judge has no qualms about it.

    Maybe if when the parties are introduced they also introduced the interpreters, those people would take their roles more seriously and we would have less “fake professionals performing in court. I mean, if we hear “Interpreting for the Court is Ms. Smith” or “Interpreting for the Prosecution/Defense is Mr. Smith” maybe people would more respect for our profession.

    Just a thought.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 21:20h, 27 July Reply

      Excellent point, Gio.

      This is something that could be brought up with the court administrators as a matter of record-keeping, if nothing else. In our court the courtroom deputies always write down the name of the interpreter, so even if they don’t ask you out loud or state it for the record, it IS noted in the minutes.

      Of course, that small step can lead to others, such as verifying credentials.

      It looks like state courts still have a long way to go when it comes to interpreters. That is a very sad state of affairs. A 16-year old interpreting? What century is this???

  • Margaret van Naerssen
    Posted at 20:56h, 27 July Reply

    I’ve appreciated reading all of these valuable insights. My deepest respects to professional judicial interpreters for your good work.

    I am an expert witness in forensic linguistics- in cases involving non-native English speakers so interpreting is frequently involved in a hearing/ trial, or in law enforcement interviews/ interrogations or even an issue in language evidence.

    In another area of my work I have done work abroad in which I’ve occasionally had interpreters. Usually it is consecutive–interview or small meetings.
    I became used to ;pausing after thought groups.

    BUT I recall an early court experience as an expert witness, when I was testifying/ As I was trying to focus on the questioning and preparing my responses, I forgot about the simultaneous interpreting.

    During a break– in the coffee shop down the hall, the interpreter casually approached me to tell me, “You are killing me! You’re talking too fast!”
    Wow, was I mortified to have forgotten about my speed. I tried to be more conscious of thought groups and slowing down my speed. I learned a good lesson. Glad he said something.

    But, I do have to be careful not to stop too obviously during cross-examination. When I’m trying get in an important point before the prosecution moves on, cuts me off or challenges me, and so on.

    Perhaps the biggest interpreting problem I’ve seen in my work are unqualified police interpreters. In one case the defense attny had to hire an interpreting expert in that language to verify the transcription against the audio-video recording. I have also found disfluencies in transcripts that then raise questions that I need to address as a forensic linguist.

    • Carlos
      Posted at 21:21h, 27 July Reply

      This is a good example of an interpreter who didn’t want to go on record, but opted for speaking to the WITNESS (!!) at the coffee stand. It means the interpreter was unable to properly follow the testimony before.

      That is the cost of invisibility, but others probably thought he was a good interpreter !

      • Margaret van Naerssen
        Posted at 21:40h, 27 July Reply

        On the point Carlos made:
        This is a good example of an interpreter who didn’t want to go on record, but opted for speaking to the WITNESS (!!) at the coffee stand. It means the interpreter was unable to properly follow the testimony before.

        This particular case I’m pretty sure he interpreter was properly following the testimony before he spoke to me, but I was exhausting him!

        But Carlos makes an important point about the possible implications when the interpreter CAN’T follow–and doesn’t go on record.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 21:27h, 27 July Reply

      Margaret –

      It is so good to hear from “the other side”. Being aware of your interpreter is a challenge, and your best strategy is to establish the rhythm that will allow you to get your point across while also allowing the interpreter to convey everything you want to convey, without leaving anything out because you exceeded her retention capacity in the consecutive, or the speed at which he can process information in the simultaneous.

      And, yes, unqualified “interpreters” are a nightmare, and we all look forward to the day when language service users realize that the complexity of the interpreter’s task requires special training, experience and CREDENTIALS, all of which have to be compensated accordingly.

      Thank you for reading our blogs and sharing your thoughts!

  • Carlos
    Posted at 21:02h, 27 July Reply

    >>The best compliment an interpreter can get is, “I didn’t even realize you were interpreting.”>>

    Since this is NAJIT, I assume this is about interpreting in a court setting. Getting a compliment about my shoes would mean more than just being invisible.

    A real sensible compliment is when people have a legitimate reason to know that you have done a good job. For example, those coming from bilingual attorneys, paralegals, family members or an LEP who understands a lot of English. Invisibility is about maintaining the mere appearance and proves absolutely nothing. Propagating this kind of myth gives others the wrong impression of what quality is really about in this profession.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 21:34h, 27 July Reply

      Dear Carlos:

      Did you read the part about my being in Puerto Rico? Where EVERYBODY speaks Spanish? And that means the judges, attorneys on both sides, jurors, and everyone else in that courtroom?

      Proceedings in federal court are in English. Proceedings in local court are in Spanish. Interpreters are under a magnifying glass all the time, and believe me when I say that becoming “invisible” means you’re doing a great job!

      • Carlos
        Posted at 21:54h, 27 July Reply

        If you are using a microphone, only the person who wears the headset can hear you. Everybody thinks the good rule of thumb for being a good interpreter is the one that nobody can hear.

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 13:22h, 28 July Reply

    Carlos,

    Janis is talking about the individual upstaging the product of his/her work. Nothing more than that.

    The few times I have had to be in court – I mostly do deposition, international and domestic arbitration- though there was no “interruption” on the interpreter’s part, it felt very good to hear from the witness a thank-you for making him/her feel comfortable; and a “Thank you, Madam Interpreter” from the lawyers or even the judge.

    During my work I was invisible, i.e. caused no conspicuous disruption of the proceedings, but the product of my work was noticed. That is what Janis is talking about.

  • carlos
    Posted at 06:52h, 29 July Reply

    That is how the myth got an interpreter to approach a witness at a coffee stand, instead of going on the record. Nothing more than that.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 07:41h, 29 July Reply

      Dear Carlos:

      You make a very valid point and I should have addressed it when you first mentioned it. Approaching a witness ex parte is NEVER good practice; especially when that witness is in the middle of testimony. Having said that, and based on my experience in the field as a practicing and supervisory interpreter, as well as an instructor, I suspect those “bad” interpreters that seem to upset you to no end would never have approached the witness, period. They would have continued on their merry way and be done with it.

      Sometimes we have to make hard decisions: do I continue to interpret at breakneck speed or do I ask the Court to instruct the witness to slow down? The direct or cross examination may have a rhythm going that the interpreter may not want to break up, for whatever reason. The best course of action, second to interrupting the proceedings, going on the record as the voice of THE INTERPRETER (in the third person) and asking the judge to PLEASE instruct the witness to slow down, would have been to approach the attorney who put the witness on the stand —at the first opportunity— and ask him or her to instruct the witness to slow down.

      As to the “myth” part of your comment, I am not sure if you are using the term because you think I am describing the feats of a “superhuman” interpreter, or because you think there is some fictional element to the scenario of an “invisible” interpreter, but in either case I must beg to differ. The role of the interpreter in a judiciary setting necessitates that he or she does not bring unwarranted attention to the interpreter’s performance so all parties involved can focus on the evidence that is being presented through witnesses. Unwarranted attention can ALSO be the cast on an incompetent interpreter, mind you.

      The message I am hoping to get across is that all interpreters should strive to achieve such level of competence as to become a seamless part of the communicative exchange between all parties involved in the legal proceeding that requires your services.

  • carlos
    Posted at 13:33h, 29 July Reply

    Most people don’t even notice what a serious issue it is to discuss the testimony with the witness because appearance comes first. Random rule of thumb trumps the ethics code, constitutional right and due process.

    Ex parte communication might cause the inconvenience of a mistrial, but chances are good that nobody would ever notice. Going on the record, on the other hand, would certainly let the ignorant bunch think that you must be a bad interpreter. We can’t possibly risk that automatic label. Maintain the invisibility and you get to do the happy dance.

    The fact is, there are bad judges who don’t want interruptions even if it means violating the LEP’s constitutional right. Bad witnesses who are eager to show off in front of their paying client instead of respecting the due process. Interpreters don’t go on the record because they want attention but because the ethics code, constitutional right and due process. However, as long as people keep propagating this rule of thumb myth, interpreters can’t afford to be good.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 22:25h, 29 July Reply

      Dear Carlos:

      I am very happy to continue this exchange, but it is it very difficult to maintain a minimal level of coherence when you don’t seem to be reading my responses, or if you are, then you are certainly not understanding them. Nor do you seem to be understanding what other colleagues are also commenting about the concept of interpreter invisibility. [See also a blog post from May 12, 3, 2012, THE INVISIBLE INTERPRETER: SOME TIPS ON LETTING THE WITNESS SPEAK (https://najit.org/blog/?p=234), by Kathleen Shelly.]

      Furthermore, you are “assuming facts not in evidence” to arrive at completely unfounded conclusions. “Most people don’t even notice what a serious issue it is to discuss the testimony with the witness because appearance comes first.” Who are these “(most) people” you are referring to? And where do you get this notion that “appearance comes first”? Excellence in your performance is not an “appearance” like a dress or shirt you can put on and take off. It is the result of many years of training, practice, and the will to challenge yourself every single day that you walk into a legal proceeding for the sole purpose of enabling all parties who do not speak the same language to communicate as if they did NOT have a language divide.

      A “rule of thumb” by definition is NOT “based on science or exact measurement” [http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/rule-of-thumb.html], but it IS “based on experience and common sense” [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rule%20of%20thumb]. There is no correlation between being unobtrusive (which is the meaning of “invisible” in the context of this blog) and “the ethics code, constitutional right[s] and due process” (although Canon 5 of the NAJIT Code of Ethics does state that “Court interpreters shall … perform their duties as unobtrusively as possible”.) Or are you proposing that frequent insertions on the record by the interpreter are necessary elements of due process? Or that constitutional rights cannot be protected unless the interpreter is addressing the record as often as possible? Or that the code of ethics somehow mandates the frequent interruption of proceedings to be asking for repetitions and clarifications?

      I believe I already addressed the ex parte communication issue, so I will not beat a dead horse. You disagree, or you did not understand my reply, and that’s your prerogative. However, I must take issue with your “tone”: who are those people you so flippantly characterize as an “ignorant bunch”? Are you referring to the judges, attorneys, and members of the jury? I suppose you have seen nothing on the code of ethics about being respectful of the people for whom and with whom you work. It is a very sad reflection on you, however, not “the ignorant bunch”. And your attitude towards your colleagues leaves a lot to be desired as well, although I am merely ASSUMING you are a judiciary interpreter. “Maintain the invisibility and you get to do the happy dance”? Please come and watch me interpret before you make such a snide comment about my “happy dance”. At least you would have some basis for it, if indeed you found I was “maintaining my invisibility so I could get to do the happy dance.” Otherwise, you are simply being gratuitously disrespectful. Code of ethics or not, I seem to have missed that turn on the road when being needlessly rude to a colleague became acceptable professional conduct.

      And finally, you mention that interpreters cannot AFFORD to be “good”—if I follow your logic correctly— when they have to stay off the record for appearances’ sake. Once more, I must beg to differ. When an interpreter is GOOD, (1) he/she knows it, (2) he/she is not concerned about others thinking he/she is not good, and (3) he/she will not make professional decisions based on what others may think. The latter would be a very childish attitude that, by its very nature, would be indicative of a “bad” interpreter.

  • Michelle
    Posted at 20:06h, 30 July Reply

    Commenting on the original blog…I think you are trying to motivate us all to improve our skills. Perhaps what you’ve described is the ideal. I know my interpretation has been seamless when I feel as if I had only been a fly on the wall listening to someone else’s conversation.

    But we should never worry more about the appearance of being skilled than the need to get an accurate record. I believe you would agree. After all, getting an accurate record is part of being a skilled interpreter. We should never let pride get in the way of that.

    I prefer to think of myself as transparent rather than invisible, like a very clean window. The viewer knows they are looking through a window and that it is necessary but can focus on the object beyond the glass because it is so clean.

    (For me one of the biggest challenges is understanding mumbling, especially in my second language. I don’t know how to train that roadblock away.)

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 20:36h, 30 July Reply

      Dear Michelle:

      I totally agree with you. And I love the “transparent” rather than “invisible” analogy for the interpreter! It is such a rich concept, I think I will adopt it. Evidently the “invisibility” concept has been picking up some really negative connotations since it was first introduced to the interpreting profession that we certainly do not want to perpetuate.

      Thank you!

      (I don’t know what to suggest for the mumbling issue right now, but I promise to give it some thought.)

  • @samiris
    Posted at 10:39h, 01 August Reply

    I would welcome the idea of a courtroom ‘interpreter in a booth’, it would ideally keep the flow of the dialogues going. However, its drawbacks would be less than ideal; the LEP and/or the interpreter would be unable to ask for necessary repetitions or clarifications. Since it is essential to avoid omitting anything, the booth setting could become a deterrent to achieve this.

    I think it is fabulous if anyone greets me while I am in a court setting. I feel just as fine if I am blending in the background and, like you do, that little victory ‘invisible cloak’ smile shows up. Once, after proceedings had already started, the judge finally asked me what was my business within the court. As I stood up, he noticed my identifying badge and immediately just asked me to sit back down. I never said a word. Win! 😉

    On another occasion a trial was in session when I was asked to interpret for a witness. Once their turn was over and we were being escorted out of the courtroom, the sheriff briefly commented, ” Wow, you know what you’re doing! We couldn’t hear you talking to them but it was like they knew everything that was going on at the same time!” “Well.. that’s the idea.” I smiled back at them…. I wondered about the quality of their previous interpreters. Something may have clicked; I have been asked repeatedly to that court system since!
    (Ironically, in that particular location, everyone knows my name now… and it’s OK with me.)

    As far as disruptions: I cannot avoid them if:
    – a lawyer barrels on with their questions or comments and conveniently ‘forgets’ that I am simultaneously interpreting for the person on the witness stand,
    -if the LEP uses a term I am not familiar with,
    -if there is a voice volume so low that I cannot distinguish what is being said
    any other similar situations, this is my simple solution:
    Raise MY right hand, address the judge, -or speaker if out of the court setting-, and simply say
    “INTERPRETER NEEDS CLARIFICATION”
    It is on record and we can continue after issue is addressed.
    “INTERPRETER RESUMES INTERPRETATION” is understood as ‘We can continue’

    Works for me. (Thank you Professor Chevalier!!!!!!)

  • Janis Palma
    Posted at 18:41h, 12 August Reply

    Dear @samiris:

    I apologize for taking this long to reply, but I must say I have enjoyed your comments very much.

    This is one blog I will never forget. Now every time I interrupt the judge (or anyone else) I remember what each and every one of you has said.

    Thank you!

  • David
    Posted at 01:46h, 03 December Reply

    I am Deaf, as in hard of hearing and sign. I have at my internship interpreters, some are freelance, some certified, and some are graduate students. I may make a mistake, I am friendly person. So when we are done for the day I will do short chit chat, such as after all the others leave thank the interpreter and say keep warm or I like the new sweater, etc. It seems to me that some of them take talking to them after off the clock as “getting familiar” and then slowly they decline in professionalism DURING work. Naturally hearing coworkers or clients will not know to ignore the terp, they want to be polite and will go around the room with introductions and ASK the terps to do this too, and later on they will even ask them to “tell us your favorite holiday” or whatever silly questions we are to do to warm up the group. One now, the student, is slipping I think. You tell me: she now is being asked in work to say things, and she does even after I tell the workers “she is the interpreter so she is not really here”…and then she interrupted me using VOICE to say that “ACTUALLY I am doing my thesis and yes interpreters are there so I WILL answer the question..” and she answered them in voice. Now I feel different about her, as that was not her place, and my workplace now will see her as a part of the team, and will address her, ask her more questions in the future, and I do not like that this has occurred. What do you think? And if you do agree that the student, even with a high degree of learning, is wrong, what do you suggest if anything I can do to remedy this now, or is it too late? I am thinking I may have to never be friendly to any terps from now on, just wave BYE, or I will not have any good ones. This sucks.

  • OPIInterpreter
    Posted at 03:44h, 07 April Reply

    Hello,
    I studied where we had loads of deaf people and I even kept in touch with a friend who is deaf but..
    Just tell the interpreter very politely that you did notice when this and that happened, and to please not speak for you, that you can speak for yourself and to tell others to talk to you directly. She is your interpreter, after all. You can be friends, but when it comes to talking to others, then the regular boundaries apply. She is there to help you communicate with others, not to speak for you.

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