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How to Work with Interpreters

By Mr J. Schulze posted 09-20-2016 09:41 PM


One of the sessions at Fall Legal in Rogers on Thursday was a panel discussion for lawyers on the topic of how to work with interpreters. We had an impressive panel, including Mara Simmons (Director for Court Interpreter Services for the Administrative Office of the Courts and a certified Spanish/English interpreter), Anne Yancey (a Federal and State certified Spanish/English interpreter), and Cheryl Thomas (the staff sign language interpreter and a  certified sign language interpreter).   It was a privilege and a lot of fun to work with this knowledgeable and entertaining panel.

We talked about strategies for working with interpreters to benefit your clients.  If you are working with a client or a witness with limited English proficiency (LEP), the panelists gave useful advice, including:

  1. Assess the need for an interpreter as soon as possible.  If you suspect limited English proficiency, make sure that your client or witness is understanding you.  Ask questions.  Listen to the answers.
  2. There is a difference between someone who is simply bilingual and someone who is trained as an interpreter.  Do not depend on family members or friends to communicate with your client.  There are services available for lawyers through the Administrative Office of the Courts
  3. Give the interpreter time and information to prepare.  It is good for the interpreter to talk to the witness to assess language skills and any possible problems with dialect.  If the subject matter of the discussion is unusual in any way, let the interpreter know so that he or she can prepare with specialized vocabulary that might be necessary.  Word-for-word correspondence is not always available.  Some words in English may have multiple translations in the target language, and vice-versa.  If the interpreter knows the general fact situation involved, it is easier to avoid confusion.
  4. Remember the role of the interpreter.  The interpreter is there to translate from one language to another.  The interpreter is not allowed to add any content to the conversation.   Don’t ask the interpreter to “explain” the court system to the witness.  The lawyer must give the explanation.  The interpreter will translate what is said.
  5. An interpreter is not a “lie detector.”  Don’t take the interpreter aside and ask if the witness is telling the truth.
  6. The greatest need for interpretation in Arkansas is Spanish-English and American Sign Language-English.  The Administrative Office of the Courts has interpreters available in other languages as well, and has contact with interpreters all over the country.  With technology, telephone and Internet based translation are becoming more common.
  7. Even the best computer-based translation is not ready for prime time.  Don’t depend on computerized translation for anything important.

The most interesting thing about the presentation was the stories the interpreters told to illustrate some of these points.  Most of those would be hard to summarize.

We are going to present another session on how to handle problems in interpretation at the Mid-Year meeting.  We are hoping to make this presentation available in other venues over the coming years.