Interview With A Court Interpreter: Elena

By: Jack Xu

=I had the opportunity to speak with one of our wonderful court interpreters, Elena, and ask her to answer some of my questions about court interpreting!

How did you become a court interpreter?: It was something I had to work hard for. I had gone to court in other interpretation capacities, and I saw a need for court interpreters. There was even an instance when a court proceeding had to be cancelled because there was no court interpreter available, and the judge could not accept my credentials without accreditation. I thought that court interpretation would be a great new challenge for me, and that would take my interpretation skills to a new level, so I got myself trained and certified.

What is the most important thing for new court interpreters to know?: You have to trust yourself and stand up for yourself. Nobody is going to tell you how to do your job, and in fact they will be relying on your skills and training. You are in charge of making sure that the interpretation happens properly, so you need to speak up about what you need to make that happen; whether you feel that something needs to be put on the record or if you need to take some time to look something up. Sometimes other parties will try to tell you how to do your job, or a lawyer who speaks the language will try to correct you, but you can’t let that throw you off. Court interpretation trains you to be more disciplined and assertive as an interpreter.

What was your most interesting experience as a court interpreter?: There was a case which involved a lot of street slang, and a different case where someone spoke entirely in idioms. In both cases, it was difficult to directly interpret meaning for meaning. Interpreting word for word wouldn’t convey the full meaning, but there is no equivalent English term / idiom. I needed to make the problem clear to all of the parties, and the witness had to provide an explanation of what they meant.

Why is court interpretation important?: Section 14 of the Canadian Charter guarantees the right to an interpreter for witnesses who would otherwise not be able to understand the proceedings. This recognizes the right of people to understand exactly what is happening, what is being put to them, and to make a full response. If someone is brought into the process, they have the right to fully participate in that process regardless of language barriers.

What do you want the public to know about court interpreting?: The court interpreter serves the court, not any of the parties. Our responsibility is to the law, and everything we do is with a mind to ensuring that we are fulfilling our duty to the law. Court interpreting is exceptionally challenging, because anything can come up and you have to be prepared. Whether the witness is using street slang or medical terminology, it engages all of your linguistic knowledge and professional training. I would ask that people be patient and respectful of court interpreters, because it is challenging and we are doing our best. Also, it’s important that parties not interfere with the interpreter by trying to be friendly, because the interpreter needs to remain impartial and maintain the appearance of impartiality. Impartiality is a responsibility that we owe to the public, and it is in the best interests of all parties.

Any closing words?: It took a lot of work and training to get this point, and I consider it a great privilege to do this work.

Elena is also one of the facilitators for our training programs! If you want to learn more about our training programs, including our legal interpretation program, CLICK HERE!