glass façade of building photographed from the bottom to the top.

When your “check interpreter” becomes your “team interpreter”


I was recently in the lobby of an office building on my way to a deposition when I heard my name called. It was a dear colleague, and of course I was happy to see her, so we kissed and embraced, as is the custom in our Hispanic cultures.

– Where are you headed?

– I’m here for a deposition.

– Me too. I think we’re going to the same place!

– To “XYZ” law office? I asked her.

– Yes!

Then she skipped a beat and said: “I’m going to be your check interpreter!”

I laughed, of course. So did she. Without giving it a second thought, I replied:

“Oh, good! I heard there may be some technical terminology involved here. I can use the help!”

And with that little statement I got every attorney around us confused as we entered the conference room and I asked for the “check interpreter” to sit close to me.

Who’s who?

“So who’s going to be my interpreter?” the client asked. He did not hire me directly so he didn’t really know who was who. “I am,” I said. No explanation. I did not feel I needed to give anyone an explanation. My colleague and I knew exactly what we were doing. Even though she would not be taking turns with me, she was going to be on my team now.

Co-workers talking about something on a tablet.
We were team

Of course, after the first three hours of deposition, I wished she could have taken turns with me, but that’s another story for another time.

It’s never as simple as we are told

What I first thought would be a maritime case turned out to be about ships and shipyards but, more specifically, electricity. The cause of action in that case involved what was later called an “arc discharge” or “electric arc.” My colleague had a small laptop where she could look up terminology, thank goodness. She was also great about giving me the local usage for certain terms. Being from Puerto Rico and now practicing in South Texas, I sometimes need a little help in that area.

For example, when they were talking about “energy” I used “energía” because that’s what we use back home. As a matter of fact, our electric power company is called Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica. She quickly whispered “corriente”, which I would use only to refer to a current, but as it turned out it was the perfect choice for this particular witness. As to “energize” or “de-energize”, terms that came up throughout the entire deposition, she discretely wrote down “electrificar/deslectrificar” for me after a quick internet search. I immediately added that to my notes so I could remember, and the process continued to flow seamlessly thanks to my very competent teammate.

Of course, not every “check interpreter” may be willing or able to become your teammate, but you should think about it for a moment. We could use it to educate our clients about the demands of our profession without having to explain much. They can see it in action. Clients tend to think we know every word in the universe, no matter how technical. Seeing us help each other, teaming up to look up difficult or unusual terms, and suggesting others that may help the interpreting process flow with greater ease, could be a first step.

Eventually we could move up to bigger steps, like team interpreting during depositions. After all, they are paying two interpreters! And they are splitting the cost! Is it really that far-fetched to think team interpreting could become the standard in depositions someday?

We can shape our future

I feel hopeful. I feel that if we set our minds to it, we can make this happen. Of course, we have to take ownership of this “check interpreter” arrangement. We have to take affirmative steps to transform that “check interpreter” into a real teammate. Whether you are the one checking or the one being checked, the mere concept of a second interpreter being in the room just to check up on a first interpreter is, in fact, letting attorneys set the rules for us and the way we work. Check interpreters are there to find “fault” in the active interpreter. There is a presumption that we are not good enough, not professional enough, to know what we are doing without someone else being there to check up on us.

Are we not the professionals? Are we not the ones who should be setting the rules for the way we practice our profession? Think about it! I can tell you what I’m going to do next time I encounter a “check interpreter.” I know I loved the experience, I loved having that professional support from a colleague during a deposition. So here’s what I have to say to my next check interpreter: I am looking forward to having you on my team!



Janis Palma has been a federally certified English<>Spanish judiciary interpreter since 1981. She worked as an independent contractor for over 20 years in different states. Her experience includes conference work in the private sector and seminar interpreting for the U.S. State Department. She joined the U.S. District Courts in Puerto Rico as a full-time staff interpreter in April 2002. She has been a consultant for various higher education institutions, professional associations, and government agencies on judiciary interpreting and translating issues. She is a past president of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. Contact: janis.palma@gmail.com

Article photos by rawpixel.com and by Paul Volkmer from Pexels

22 Comments
  • Ortiz Schneider Lorena
    Posted at 15:22h, 29 March Reply

    Fabulous article! I love this teamwork mentality and the example it sets for our clients.

  • Athena Matilsky
    Posted at 15:29h, 29 March Reply

    I love this story! Thanks for sharing. It should always be like this. 🙂

  • Diana-Beatriz Katz Biiro
    Posted at 15:32h, 29 March Reply

    Excellent article, winning strategy for the good of all concerned. Kudos!

  • Terri Shaw
    Posted at 15:33h, 29 March Reply

    That is a very smart way to deal with the “check interpreter” situation. We should all be on the same team.

  • Kamal Abou-Zaki
    Posted at 15:38h, 29 March Reply

    Nothing wrong with this it always happen on immigration interview .and some time happen on cases Like Car accident ..for Insurance company …….
    Each one doing what he/she suppose to do ..

    • Liviu-Lee Roth
      Posted at 00:59h, 30 March Reply

      Correct.
      In most Affirmative asylum interviews, there is Monitor on the phone and we work as a team.

  • Josephine J. Baldwin
    Posted at 15:41h, 29 March Reply

    Very interesting article that focuses on taking things in a positive way, that is, turning what some might see as an antagonistic situation into a positive, constructive arrangement. Cooperation between interpreters, how professional and how desirable!
    Last week I had to interpret during a lengthy deposition; The case was also about ships and shipyards!

    Thank you for such an uplifting article!

  • Brooke B. Crozier
    Posted at 15:43h, 29 March Reply

    This is an excellent article! I am sharing it with my court interpreters just in case they do not see this article on their own. I want them to know that they are indeed empowered to promote the proper way court interpreters should be used, and that by taking control of such situations to promote their proper use will improve their ability to perform and will also help educate attorneys about the profession. It’s a win-win! It is too often I hear from interpreters who report frustration by what an attorney or judge asked or expected them to do, but who also took a pass on speaking up to explain or defend why what was being asked was inappropriate. It is frustrating to know an opportunity was lost that could have benefited the profession, but instead served to reinforce the layperson’s incorrect assumption/expectation about it.

  • Daniel
    Posted at 15:52h, 29 March Reply

    Very good perspective. I have checked and been checked many times, and it has always ended up teamwork, including, one time, actually switching roles, because the other translator was just out of her depth on the technical terminology in a patent case, and another time the check interpreter taking over from me on detailed medical particulars of an insurance dispute.

    And everyone was ok with it, and it made for overall less adversarial situations in the deposition room. More cooperation was more joint truth-finding, less gotcha, less stonewalling. It’s a good thing.

  • James W. Plunkett
    Posted at 16:09h, 29 March Reply

    Janis, what a great way to team up with a colleague! If the goal is to have an accurate and complete record, it is logical that attorneys on both sides accept that the interpreters can team up. Thanks again for empowering us!

  • Ketta Foraker
    Posted at 16:17h, 29 March Reply

    As always Janis, you hit a homerun with this piece! I always look forward to reading your articles. Keep them coming!

  • Sarah Pfefferle
    Posted at 16:51h, 29 March Reply

    Oh, thank you for changing the mindset of errorless perfection, which is intimidating and belittling, and shifting to creative partnership and professional competence! Tools for my toolbox 🙂

  • David Mintz
    Posted at 17:08h, 29 March Reply

    Nice move there, brilliant in its simplicity — bringing the “check” interpreter onto your side. Some people might be too defensive and fragile to think to do that, so this article may prove really helpful to them.

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 18:37h, 29 March Reply

    Very cool ⚡️

  • Nina Ivanichvili
    Posted at 19:04h, 29 March Reply

    Very good article. Here more on the Pros and Cons of Check Interpreters in High Stakes Depositions:
    https://www.translationforlawyers.com/2016/03/deposition-check-interpreters-high-stakes-litigation-pros-cons.html

  • Gabriela Munoz
    Posted at 19:30h, 29 March Reply

    Janis, it’s like this article was divine intervention! For the first time, I will be acting as the “check” interpreter in a deposition that’s coming up. This is a great strategy and has given me an idea of how to keep everything collegial instead of adversarial!

  • myrna wallace
    Posted at 21:49h, 29 March Reply

    Great idea and great article! I second that emotion!

    Thanks Janis!

  • Konnie Garrido
    Posted at 22:12h, 29 March Reply

    When the “checking interpreter” is not licensed, that changes the situation. That is what I have typically come across. I am the interpreter with the license, the experience, and I am being “monitored” by an office assistant who may or may not even have a college degree. And once we establish with any client that every interpreter needs a checker, or a team interpreter, haven’t we then set the precedent that any depo or other service performed by only one interpreter is to be suspected of containing, and even expected to contain, errors? Our blogger is right – we the interpreters need to control the process of team interpreting. And we need to pledge amongst ourselves to stop using the words “checking interpreter” or any such term that suggests, implies, connotes or otherwise indicates we all need “checking.”

  • Ruth Aleskovsky
    Posted at 03:12h, 30 March Reply

    I love this idea for language interpreters. I am an American Sign interpreter and we rarely work without a team and we switch the ‘active’ interpreter every 20 minutes. The off seat interpreter’s job is to watch for missed it distorted information. Research had shown that the quality if simultaneous interpreting begins to decay after 20 minutes. At the Nurenberg trials the hearing language interpreters (I think for one of the first times) announced that accurate fully translated simultaneous interpretation was impossible. That the biggest job an interpreter has is what to leave out while interpreting context, subtext, cultural idioms etc. Glad you are getting some help!

  • Violet Romero
    Posted at 17:56h, 30 March Reply

    I concur! Thanks for bringing this to light, we all need to work with each other, not against each other. Again, thanks for mentioning this in this forum.

  • Michelle Jean Gonzales
    Posted at 17:22h, 03 April Reply

    Nina, thank you for the article that you referenced. I think it actually shows how attorneys are still out-of-date with their view of interpreting. Sadly, even the courts seemed to fail to understand that team interpreting would be the best practice. To me the article promoted the adversarial role of a 2nd interpreter. I don’t think “check” interpreters should be promoted at all. Team interpreting is so much better. Working together as a team does not mean that errors will not be caught. And no matter who is paying the interpreters they are both neutral parties. The only “side” they are on is the side of getting an accurate record.

    Janis, thank you for this blog. Now I will know how to handle this situation in the future.

  • Carmen L Sáenz
    Posted at 20:13h, 28 April Reply

    Great article! Indeed very smart the way you handled the situation. I will certainly put this into practice the next time there is a check interpreter, or if I am placed in that role. Thank you for sharing. Very useful.

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