5 Ways to Tell Whether You Have a Good Interpreter
Nevertheless, having a good interpreter is essential to making the most of your attorney-client or doctor-patient interactions. So, how do you tell whether you have a good interpreter?
1. A Good Interpreter Stays Out of the Way
One of the first ways to notice a good interpreter is how they position themselves in the room. Do they sit just outside of the clients’ line of sight? Do they stay close enough to hear everything that is said, but far enough away that you are not attempted to talk to them instead of the client? Do they take up a reasonable amount of space? If so, you may have a good interpreter
2. A Good Interpreter Makes Introductions
Not every interpreting session includes time for a pre-conference or even a 10-second introduction (I’m looking at you, Emergency Services!), but when time permits a good interpreter will introduce herself and explain some basic principles of interpreting. In the interpreting certificate courses I teach, I often recommend that interpreting students a) request that the attorney and client or doctor and patient speak directly to one another, b) explain the appropriate use of first person (e.g. “nice to meet you” not “she says nice to meet you”) and third-person (e.g “the interpreter requests a repetition”), c) note that everything during the session will be interpreted, and d) promise complete confidentiality.
3. A Good Interpreter Observes the Rule of Three
Impartiality is one of the key ethical cannons that all good interpreters observe. One important way for interpreters to stay impartial is to observe the Rule of Three, meaning that the interpreter should only stay in a room when both attorney and client (or doctor and patient) are also present. By avoiding being alone with one party, a good interpreter can greatly reduce the chance of side conversations.
4. A Good Interpreter Establishes a Comfortable Rhythm and Keeps Pauses to a Minimum
Since most non-courtroom legal interpreting and all medical interpreting take place in consecutive (i.e. not simultaneous or sight translation) mode, rhythm is essential for good interpreters to keeping conversations moving. Good rhythm means that the interpreter speaks at an appropriate pace and volume and mirrors the style and register of the person speaking (more on these terms in another post!). Since pausing too often or for too long also draws attention to the interpreter and unnecessarily prolongs the conversation, good interpreters also pause as little as possible.
5. A Good Interpreter Takes Notes
The best interpreters make the job seem easy because they’ve already developed great memories and can repeat a paragraph or more of conversation without notes. However, all good interpreters take notes during an interpretation session because they care about being as accurate and complete as possible. Even though interpreters sometimes don’t need their notes, interpreting is an in-the-moment job and easy assignments can become difficult very quickly. Interpreters often encounter confusing fact patterns, emotional clients who forget to pause for interpretation, and long lists in the middle of conversations. Keeping these straight no matter how suddenly they pop up means always taking notes.