Interpreting for a Trial: Questions, Considerations, and Recommendations
When asked if you are available to interpret for a trial it is important to ask several questions before accepting. When is the trial? Make sure you have enough time to prepare adequately. What other interpreter will I be working with? Some attorneys may not be aware that two interpreters are needed for a trial. What is the trial about? Is it a criminal trial? There may medical terminology involved. It may be a civil trial between manufacturing companies and you will need to be familiar with technical vocabulary. If you honestly feel the material is beyond your range of expertise, do not accept the assignment. If you accept the assignment and have negotiated a contract for your services, quickly make arrangements with the attorney to obtain information for your preparation. Most attorneys or administrative offices of the court will pay for the interpreters’ preparation time although they sometimes set a maximum amount of hours the interpreter can bill. Ask for deposition transcripts, medical records, and expert witness reports. Ask for a list of all witnesses with details of the languages they speak and the countries they are from. Ask to be informed of any impediment that may affect a witness’s ability to comprehend or speak. Offer attorneys resources so they can familiarize themselves with and process of working with interpreters. Visit the courthouse before the trial. Inquire about their interpreter equipment and demonstrative evidence display. Many courtrooms modernized their facilities by hard-wiring computers and strategically installing monitors to allow everyone to view demonstrative evidence at once, including the twelve members sitting in the jury box with one monitor across from each juror. Contrary to some courtroom visitors’ beliefs, these monitors are not for each juror to vote the defendant guilty or not guilty from the comfort of their chair as if taking part in “Ask the Audience” on “Who wants to be a Millionaire.” The monitors are only placed there to display written documents, charts, photographs, videos, etc. Make sure to ask the attorney for hard copies of these documents since most courtrooms have no accommodations for interpreters. Create a glossary of terms using your preparation material. Use the deposition transcripts to become familiar with the vocabulary. Since the non-English language will not be in the transcript, it will be up to the interpreter to research unfamiliar terms. Preserve all the names, definitions, and translations in a computer file, and print it before the trial. Make sure that your language set to English when you begin your digital document so there is no automatic correction and especially no accent placement. By doing so, you can use your digital glossary as an instant bilingual dictionary in the courtroom by operating the program’s “Find” tool. The “Find” function will not detect words with accents. If your trial takes several days you may have to update your glossary every evening then save or reprint for the next day of trial. If dealing with very specific technical vocabulary, believe that during witness testimony there will a word or two that you cannot immediately recall or that you simply do not understand, so have your interpreter phrases memorized such as “May the interpreter inquire?” “May the interpreter have a moment?” “Could you please explain for the interpreter?” Do not be surprised if the attorneys are more familiar than you with the terminology. They have probably been dealing with the case for months or even years. Some firms may have even hired bilingual attorneys and technical translators for the preparation of the case. If your interpretation is challenged, ask for a minute to consult. Check your glossary, dictionaries, and ask your colleague! He or she probably already knows if you made a mistake. Remain calm and professional. Some attorneys may be impatient although most of them are respectful and do not want to give a bad impression in front of the judge. If the interpreter indeed made a mistake, ask permission and correct the record. If the correction was unwarranted, meaning that the interpreter’s original translation was correct, say “The interpreter stands by his/her interpretation.”
While interpreting on the stand you may be corrected by the witness. When errors are due to the misunderstanding of a proper name, witnesses tend to correct the interpreter as they hear the interpreter make the mistake. For example, if the witness says his or her address is Holloway Street then notices during your interpretation that he/she meant Calloway Street and whispers the latter while you're interpreting, simply correct and continue; “Holloway Street...Correction: Calloway Street” and continue interpreting. If this is the only mistake there is no need to abruptly interrupt the flow. Make sure to do everything in your power to be rested and confident. Study the documentation early, create an excellent glossary and understand the purpose of the trial. Remember the duties and responsibilities of a certified court interpreter. Pay attention to meaning and accurately convey register and tone to preserve the integrity of the testimony.