I Wish

What I Wish They Knew, Part II

 Below is an anonymized compilation of comments received by The NAJIT Observer in response to Bethany Korp’s blog post “What I Wish They Knew,” published November 25, 2016.  Thank you to all who responded!

I wish that everyone…

  • … understood the function of interpreters and respected their work.
  • … appreciated that the reason interpreters are so exacting about working conditions is their commitment to upholding equal access to justice and due process.
  • … was aware of variations in language between different countries.
  • … realized that people who speak another language/have a foreign name may also speak English fluently and not need an interpreter.
  • … knew that witness sequestration rules do not apply to a team of two interpreters and that excluding the second team member from the courtroom may cause the rendition to be inaccurate and/or misleading when the teammates change places.
  • … understood that interpreters are impartial and bound by their oath to keep confidential (and/or private, depending on jurisdiction and type of proceeding) any information gained from witness testimony.
  • … understood that interpreters need to have information about the case (often including seeing the case file) in order to do their job to the best of their ability, and provided that information ahead of time.
  • … did not expect interpreters to interpret (or sight translate) voicemails (or text messages) on the spot. Messages between intimates are notoriously difficult to translate, especially when the interpreter doesn’t know anything about the people, their relationship or the context for the message.
  • … knew that interpreters are professionally trained to choose the best rendition.
  • … knew that being natively or near-natively bilingual is necessary but not sufficient to be a professional interpreter (just as owning a good bicycle or having reliable access to one is necessary but not sufficient to be a professional cyclist).


I wish that attorneys…

  • … let the interpreter meet the LEP individual ahead of time.
  • … understood that we do not interpret “verbatim” (and stopped saying it).
  • … would prepare their clients ahead of time for how to testify through an interpreter (and that they knew what that preparation should be!).
  • … let the agency know, when scheduling a deposition, how long the deposition is likely to last and planned for hiring a team of interpreters when necessary.


I wish that bilingual attorneys…

  • … would, if they disagree with an interpretation, ask if there is an acceptable alternate meaning/rendition and why the interpreter chose the word s/he did, rather than accusing the interpreter of misinterpretation.


I wish that attorneys who speak a little bit of [language]…

  • … knew they are doing their clients a disservice, and their client will just be confused by the differences between the “little bit of [language]” the attorney speaks and the educated, correct [language] the interpreter speaks in court.


I wish that administrators and others who hire interpreters…

  • … understood that the interpreter needs to know the identity of the LEP party ahead of time to avoid conflicts of interest.


I wish that the people who decide where the interpreter should (and should not) sit/stand …

  • … understood that the interpreter needs to be able to hear and see the people they are interpreting for clearly.


I wish that my fellow interpreters…

  • … did their own terminology research. Just because it is in the dictionary, and/or everyone says it that way, does not mean it is the best or most accurate rendition.



2 thoughts on “What I Wish They Knew, Part II”

  1. Enedina H Davila says:

    Dang true on ALL these points, EACH and everyone of these incidents have occurred to me thru all my 37 yrs. In this career !!!

  2. Thank you for this detailed “whinge”, as the Brits call it – in this case, not whining, but the voicing of carefully stated, justified complaints about our working environment; the object to expressing them, of course, being the point that we are all dedicated to providing to litigants whose first language is not English as close to an equal footing under the law as our training ans skills will allow. Perhaps I am being generous when I attribute to fear of the unknown the apparent hostility of so many lawyers, staff and even judges to the process of judicial interpretation. It’s as if many of the people who seem to have a grudge against us interpreters think that a foreign language is a tool being used against them, and voice their mistrust tacitly or out loud in the ways described.. And perhaps you too have noticed that the current public discourse about immigration has most definitely caused those voices or silent behaviors to get louder or more pronounced. But “say not the struggle naught availeth” … we persist. And thank you for venting.

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