Interpreting: Keeping Calm Under Fire

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Court interpreters oftentimes have to deal with attorneys who can be quite aggressive (part of the job!) not only with the other party, but also with the interpreter if the latter does something that counsel doesn't like, even if it's correct. In her frequent assignments as a court interpreter, Judy occasionally runs into that challenge, and she tries to stay calm and collected while explaining the issue. However, let's face it: some attorneys can behave like playground bullies, especially when the stakes are high (full disclosure: Judy is married to an attorney, albeit a very mild-mannered one). Here's a report on how Judy recently handled a tricky situation that was resolved very quickly to everyone's satisfaction.

Judy was interpreting a relatively informal proceedings via video conference, which can be challenging, as the audio tends to be subpar. The defendant and his attorney were in one location, while Judy and a government official were at another location.

Defendant to attorney: ¿Tengo que contestar eso?
Judy: Do I have to answer that?
Attorney to Judy: Don't translate [sic] that.
Judy to attorney: I am sorry, counsel, but my code of ethics dictates that I interpret everything that's being said so everyone has the same access to the language as if everyone were fully bilingual. 
Government official: I agree. I need to hear what the defendant said.
Attorney: OK, no problem. Let me mute the sound on my end, talk to my client in private, and unmute the sound when I am ready.
Government official: That works!
Judy: Fantastic. Thank you, counsel.
Attorney: My pleasure.

Sometimes, it's really that easy. You speak up, calmly state your concern, and hope that everyone is reasonable. In this case, it worked out. What about you, dear colleagues? Have you had good experiences with resolving potentially difficult situations with attorneys or other parties?


On Site Interpreting on January 4, 2015 at 1:44 AM said...

It matters a lot to practice patience and stay calm as an interpreter especially whenever things heat up in the courtroom. These are virtues that can still bring out the best in an interpreter even under the most difficult situations.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 5, 2015 at 9:35 AM said...

@On Site Interpreting: Um, yes. Practice does make perfect. Thanks for commenting!

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