Offering Your Cultural Opinion As A Court Interpreter

The Dangers of Offering Your Cultural Opinion As A Court Interpreter

Court Interpreter and cultural issuesThe role of a court interpreter can, at times, be unclear. As a conveyor of information between multiple parties, you are expected to be as accurate as possible to create an atmosphere that models a direct conversation between those parties as if an interpreter wasn’t even needed. However, language isn’t as straightforward as this, and at times cultural differences can come into play when providing context for particular words or phrases, or even to account for certain behavioral characteristics of a particular party.

This in mind, as an interpreter, and particularly as a court interpreter, is it your place to give that insight for clients for whom you providing legal interpretation? While you might expect this to be a whole topic of a court interpreter program - the answer is relatively unclear. However in a study of interpreters, judges, magistrates and tribunal members in Australia, more than half of the interpreters participating noted that they indicate whether or not they think there could be a potential mistranslation or misunderstanding due to cultural differences.  


What Can Happen If A Cross-Cultural Opinion is Provided?

Court InterpretingSo what could potentially be some of the drawbacks to providing an opinion on a cross-cultural difference as a court interpreter? A few could be -

  • Some interpreters believe it could be seen as generalizing an entire population
  • Interpreters aren’t technically cultural experts, even if they are bilingual – therefore, it is out of the role of an interpreter
  • Depending on the situation, an interpreter may not be trained to provide an opinion on a certain matter
  • At the end of the day, it is the interpreter’s opinion which can be difficult to keep objective

Some responses from the before mentioned study indicated that if an interpreter felt his or her interpretation would not be faithful without expressing a concern due to cross-cultural differences, he or she would be more likely to state their concerns. Aside from the interpreter, court officials also have an opinion on this topic, with a majority from the same study indicating they would expect an interpreter to provide information on cross-cultural differences.

Interpreting in courtThe question still remains rather unclear as to whether or not court interpreters should provide their opinions on potential cross-cultural differences. In practice, a well-trained interpreter will be aware of the scope of work they can and cannot provide. If he or she feels a mention of potential cultural differences is necessary to faithfully interpret, while still remaining objective and true to the context of the conversation, he or she may choose to provide this information to other legal parties. Granted this skill may be difficult to obtain right away without experience from a court interpreter program, or in the field. An important point to make is legal officials must also be aware of what can and cannot be expected from a professional court interpreter, and to take any additional information an interpreter provides outside of relaying conversations, with a grain of salt.


Will a Court Interpreter Program Teach Me When To Give My Opinion?

Although one court interpreter program will vary in some methodologies of teaching from another, most will cover the code of ethics by which court interpreters are expected to abide. While providing opinions on cross-cultural differences may not be specifically mentioned in the code of ethics, it is good to request information from the instructor of the court interpreter program in order to obtain insight from a professional who has real experience in the field of legal interpreting. There are certain instances in which a court interpreter should never provide their opinion – in assisting the client with their answers for example, and these will be covered by any court interpreter program.

Get the necessary, in person training to become a certified Legal Interpreter, with Language Connection’s Legal Interpreter Training Program.

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