Can Dialects Lead To Legal Interpreting Mistakes?

The goal of a legal interpreter training program is to prepare individuals to interpret in legal and court settings with as few mistakes as possible. However, mistakes can happen despite the extent of preparation provided by a legal interpreter training program.

When legal interpreters make mistakes they risk the livelihood of those involved in the trial. A poor interpretation of witness, defendant, or attorney statements can lead to wrongful convictions of those on trial, or even a guilty individual walking free.

Therefore, it is important to cover the different ways in which one’s interpretation can affect the outcome of a trial.

We’ve discussed in the past how summarizing statements, adding or omitting words, and mistranslating words across languages are all potential mistakes interpreters can make that impact the outcome of a trial.

One area we have not touched upon is the risk involved when the individual involved in the trial speaks a dialect of the interpreter’s native language.

How Can Dialects Impact Legal Interpreting?

Dialects Can Cause Legal Interpreting MistakesIt can be wrongly assumed by third parties unfamiliar with languages, that the standard form of a language and its various dialects are similar when there are in fact substantial differences.

In the context of legal settings this can lead to interpreting mistakes for a variety of reasons:

  • Idioms and phrases can vary across languages and dialects, as often dialects originate alongside cultural and social differences across geographical locations
  • Words that may appear similar between a language and its dialects may carry different meanings
  • Individuals who speak a dialect don’t necessarily speak the standard language

On top of these issues, if the individual involved in the trial speaks a rare dialect it may be difficult to find a qualified legal interpreter for him or her.

As a legal interpreter you are bound by the interpreter’s code of ethics - among other requirements, these include ensuring that both the court and LEP individual are able to understand the court proceedings as if there were no language barriers.

As such, if a legal interpreter is called in to interpret for an individual who speaks a dialect of the interpreter’s native language, there is the risk that the LEP individual will not understand the proceedings to the fullest extent possible.

This could lead to the LEP individual misunderstanding what is being asked of him or her, and as such providing incomplete information to the court that could damage the case or potentially lead to a wrongful conviction.

The issue could also affect the interpreter’s understanding of the LEP individual, and cause mistakes in the interpretation as well.

How Do You Avoid Legal Interpreting Mistakes

Legal Interpreting MistakesIf a legal interpreter is asked to interpret for an individual speaking a dialect that has distinct differences from the standard language, it is generally best for the interpreter to turn the assignment down. In an ideal world, even if the dialect and the standard language are extremely similar it would still be best to use an interpreter who speaks the dialect.

Generally speaking, if an interpreter is offered an assignment that they do not feel they are qualified for they should not take it.  Some courts attempt to prevent mistakes arising from lack of qualification by requiring individuals to pass examinations before they become court interpreters (courts can also place interpreters in different tiers based on their skill levels).

Preventing potentially life-altering mistakes in the courtroom comes down to preparing by studying the legal materials well beforehand, keeping up to date with terminology and the legal system where the interpreter is working, and finally to know when to turn down an assignment.

Gaining Experience Through A Legal Interpreter Training Program

Legal Interpreting Working as a legal interpreter requires an individual to have a full understanding of the legal system he or she is working under, and his or her language pair. An individual should also be able to recognize situations in which they are not qualified to interpret – such as if the LEP individual speaks a dialect with significant differences from the standard language.

As such, it requires much more than being bilingual to work as a legal interpreter – training and experience is necessary in order to perform a high-quality interpretation in the courtroom.

A Legal interpreter training program is a good option for individuals with no prior interpreting experience, looking to learn the basics before they pursue a legal interpreter certification exam or work.

Language Connections offers a 7 week, Legal Interpreter Training Program structured to teach individuals about the Massachusetts Legal System and the best practices of legal interpreting.

All courses are taught by practicing legal interpreters who are fluent in English and the target languages. Class sizes are small, and allow students to interact one on one with instructors to get the language and practical help they need.

Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter Training, Legal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.

See the course schedule here:  Schedule >>>

Contact us for more information:
Phone:(617) 277-1990

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Yana Fisher

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