More on Interpreters

Public Defender Dude followed up with more great thoughts on interpreters. I read it and kept saying, "Yes! I meant to say that too!"

I, too, am amazed at the work interpeters do. I have a great friend who is fluent in both Spanish and English and I keep telling her that she should study to be an interpreter - in some places, they make great money. But it truly does take some sort of ability that not all people have - the ability to speak and think and translate and do it quickly. To get the point across as literally as possible, but so that it makes sense.

When I started at my job, one of the interpreters in our office gave us a little intro to using an interpreter. Two of the biggest tips that I remember are (1) look directly at the person you're speaking to, not the interpreter, and (2) speak directly to the person you're speaking to, not the interpreter.

Like I said, I understand quite a bit of Spanish (but I definitely still need an interpreter). I can't tell you how many times I interview clients with a Spanish interpreter and I hear the client start every sentence with, "Tell her I said..." "Tell the lawyer..." "Tell Miss Justice..." If I know that it's going to be a longer conversation, I'll usually stop so that either the interpreter or I can explain that the client can just speak to me directly. But if it's just a quick conversation in the hallway of the courthouse, for instace, I usually don't bother.

And PDD's comments about a certain Asian interpreter reminded me of one Chinese interpreter that I work with often. I don't know whether it's a cultural thing or what, but it always seems to me that she's YELLING at my clients. I thought that if it wasn't cultural, maybe it's just this interpreter's character, but she's perfectly soft-spoken in English. I'd try to explain it better, but how do I type Chinese shouting? I remember one day, I was interviewing a female client who was crying hysterically. I said to my client, "It's going to be ok. Don't worry. Just tell me what happened." The interpreter interpreted, shouting at my client, and my client started crying harder and louder. What could I say to the interpreter? "Are you sure you're interpreting this right? And could you try to portray my gentle tone a little bit better?"


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  2. Your Chinese interpreter story kills me. Sounds like a funny SNL skit. But from the late 80's - 90's. These new kids could screw up a wet dream.

  3. I clerk in a fed. district court. We once had a Korean interpreter refuse to interpret for a criminal defendant because she thought the person was guilty. She went on and on to the judge about how the person was guilty, and just a bad person. That was kind of funny, but they are usually excellent!

  4. I had a Vietnamese interpreter who knew my client from the Vietnamese community, where he had burned a few bridges with his alcoholism.
    'He is bad man." "He no good." I also had the problem where Id ask a question, my guy and the translator would talk animatedly for 2 minutes, and the translator would turn to me and say, "no."
    I got a different translator who was fantastic. Two years later I'm still helping my guy, and my translator still helps too - we're both doing it pro bono.

  5. Chinese is spoken much more loudly than English is, generally. Dont' worry about it at all, she's not yelling at clients.