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7 Things You Didn’t Know About the World of Legal Interpreting

— June 2, 2020

Legal interpreting services will be on high demand for as long as immigration continues among countries. Many imagine legal interpreters in courtrooms only, but there’s more to it.

In a globalized world, with multicultural and multilingual societies, legal interpreting is crucial for an efficient administration of justice. If people implicated in a controversy can’t understand each other, the consequences could be severe. 

With this article, we’ll take you through some interesting key points on legal interpreting that you may have not been aware of to this day. 

First, let’s understand what this term stands for. Legal interpreting is a very specific interpretation field, specialized for those situations where people who speak different languages are involved and they need to communicate in a legal or paralegal context. 

These situations range from speaking to law enforcement personnel to properly understanding court proceedings as a foreigner and conversations between counselors and clients. While legal translation deals with written documents, legal interpreting is about spoken (or even signed) communication. 

Keeping that difference in mind, it’s easier to understand the importance of legal interpreting. 

Did you know…?

  1. 911, what’s your emergency?

Some things are needed immediately, and communicating an emergency is one of them. In these cases, people wouldn’t have the time to write down the problem so that it can be translated later. 

Having access to language interpretation in legal affairs affects the ability of victims and possible witnesses to report a crime or help in an investigation procedure. Maybe it is not one of the first things that comes into one’s mind when thinking about legal interpreting, but this service is crucial, especially in societies with a considerable number of immigrants who might not be familiarized with the local language yet. 

  1. Records don’t always get it right

There are several institutions with low reports of criminal activity, not because of the absence of crimes, but because of the small rate of registered complaints. Immigrants, especially those who fear deportation, tend to be targeted by criminals since they know that they won’t seek police protection. 

Did you know the number of unreported crimes that result from a failure to obtain interpreting services for limited-English-proficient targets?

Reported crime records shouldn’t be the only source to review when assessing the needs a city has for legal interpreting services, because of this reason. The index might seem low, but only because the resources to reflect real conditions, like the hiring of interpreters, wasn’t considered available when incidents occurred. 

  1. Not an universal thing to do

This is not really a specialization in law that works the same way everywhere. And, not just for the obvious language differences. 

Because of it being a very specific discipline, legal interpreting implies terminology and procedures that change significantly from one place to another. 

There are countries where the presence of a court interpreter is mandatory to aid the defendant or witness. In some countries like Wales, the requirement is imposed on the prosecutor: if the defendant chooses to use the Welsh language in court, even if he/she speaks and understands English, a Welsh-speaking prosecutor can be demanded. 

The key takeaway is this: it’s fundamental to verify the regulations on each specific state to learn about the scope and needs for legal interpreting.

  1. The ethical challenge

Being a legal interpreter, particularly a court interpreter, sometimes can mean facing a big ethical challenge. They’ll be asked to repeat exactly what is being said, with no exceptions or omissions, even if they disagree with what’s being said or find it inappropriate. This answers to the legal interpreter’s code of ethics. 

All along, as professionals, interpreters must make sure that their opinions remain private. There can be no signs of their own feelings regarding the conversations that are happening and, believe or not, this is one of the toughest things for a legal interpreter since it takes a lot of practice and self-awareness to moderate and restrain a personal reaction.

The goal is to transmit the message as accurately as possible. So it is to be expected that during the interpretation process a particular content of the speaker’s words may be against his/her personal ideas, beliefs, and morals. 

  1. Compliance 

Another thing that many ignore about legal interpretation is the collaboration with law enforcement and compliance. 

Some districts, communities, and entire ethnic groups have been frequently criticized for law avoidance when sometimes there’s a strong misunderstanding on what the law stands for and what can and can’t be done. 

Legal interpreting can help build a bridge for those groups who are unaware of their responsibilities as members of a society, as well as aiding the people from other origins to know their rights and stand by them. 

  1. What does it take to become a legal interpreter?

The first requirement is always a high school diploma. Additionally, it helps to count on specialized high school courses related to English, communication, and comprehension. Foreign language courses can build up a great background as well. 

Getting a Bachelor’s degree in translations studies, and practicing with additional courses of phonetics, diction, and composition is essential as well. Enrolling in a professional court interpreter certificate program is a fantastic idea for aspiring interpreters. These are very interesting and they generally involve a lot of real-time situations that will help those on this path make the transition from student to practitioner in the interpreting world. 

In this field, experience is highly appreciated and wanted. So, having worked for a translation company, for instance, can really make the difference when applying for future positions. 

  1. On-Demand Services

    Selective focus shot of globe with airplane on desk; image by Frank Vex, via
    Selective focus shot of globe with airplane on desk; image by Frank Vex, via

Legal interpreting services will be on high demand for as long as immigration continues among countries. Many imagine legal interpreters in courtrooms only, but there’s more to it. When a family is planning on moving abroad and starting a new life, there are always very important mandatory documentation requirements.

In the United States, it is required that personal documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, comply with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ policies. Additionally, interpreters might be needed for immigration interviews, when the individual is not fully fluent in the new language just yet, and the need for immigration is urgent. 

For these and other instances, counting with an on-demand interpreting service like DayInterpreting is crucial. 

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