Fresh from a delicate interpretation assignment involving some private family and legal matters, Judy has been thinking about the interpreter training she has received and how it works in the real world. We wanted to share some of our thoughts about this particular situation, which shows that while we certainly have to uphold our ethical principles and our code of conduct, sometimes minor adjustments need to be made in order to achieve the best possible communication result.
- Third person versus first person: It's widely known -- and taught -- that interpretation needs to be done in the first person, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise. In this difficult conversation between an adult and his elderly family member who suffers from dementia and has trouble following complex conversations, Judy decided to opt for the third-person summary style of interpreting. It felt awkward, at first, to move away from the classic interpreting mode in community settings, but it was a good decision: communication went relatively smoothly.
- Taking sides: As interpreters, it's essential to be impartial and to not take sides, as compelling as they may be. Both sides had very good points, felt very strongly about certain issues, and everyone's heart was in the right place. It was difficult at times, but Judy managed to stick to her interpreter role. An interpreter is not an advocate.
- Enforcing frequent pauses: Ideally, our clients and their parties would speak slowly and make frequent pauses to make the intepretation process easy, and they would speak one at a time. Unfortunately, when things get heated, both parties tend to talk at the same time. The traditional hand signals for pausing were not working for Judy in this conversation, so she had to use the "please stop so I may interpret" phrase. While hand signals are the preferred way to ask a party to slow down, sometimes you have to ask verbally. It worked in this case.
- Taking notes: It was very helpful that one party had prepared written notes that he was reading off to his family member to help him ensure he wouldn't forget anything. He read them slowly, which enabled Judy to take good notes and use those as a basis for the interpretation for the other party, who was speaking freely. While good memory is essential for being a good interpreter, good note-taking skills are vital, too.