Bill Parks 0000-00-00 00:00:00
How To Choose An Interpreting Agency From time to time attorneys will have clients who either don’t speak English or don’t speak it well enough to communicate about legal issues. This is especially true in the Phoenix metro area, which has become a “melting pot” with tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants from all over the world. The question then becomes, how to find a good interpreter for your client? The phone book and the Internet list the names of interpreting agencies, but it’s important to realize that not all agencies are equal in the quality of service they provide. Here are some questions you can ask an agency to make sure you’ll get a competent, qualified interpreter: (1) Does the interpreter for the language you need, for example Vietnamese, have legal interpreting experience? If so, what kind and how much? Some agencies specialize in medical rather than legal interpretation, so their interpreters may not be familiar with legal terminology. Other agencies, in an effort to cut costs, recruit interpreters for low pay who are bilingual but have little or no interpreting experience of any kind. It’s important to ask what courts the interpreter has worked in, what kinds of cases he or she has done, and for how many years. This kind of court experience helps ensure that the interpreter will be competent to handle a deposition or an arbitration in your office. (2) Does the agency itself have experience with courts and law firms? If so, which ones? For how many years? Agencies which work with many different courts and law firms will better understand the unique requirements of legal interpretation, and their interpreters will have legal experience. Before calling an agency, you can also call the interpreter coordinators in some of the local courts and ask them which agencies they use regularly and how they would rate the performance of each agency they use. (3) Is the interpreter for the language you need a native speaker of that language? This might not seem like an obvious question to ask, but it is important. As much as possible our agency tries to use native speakers, for two reasons. First, the majority of interpretation is usually from English into the client’s or defendant’s own language, especially in court when the defendant is listening to the judge, the attorneys, and the witnesses. An interpreter who is a native speaker will generally be able to speak the language faster than an American who learned it as a second language, and will speak it without an American accent which might make the interpretation harder for the defendant or client to understand. I know about the speed problem first-hand because I’m an American who learned to speak Serbian as a second language while living in Serbia for four years. In addition to managing our agency I have occasionally done interpreting assignments, but I’ve always declined long or especially difficult ones like jury trials because I know I would not be able to speak Serbian fast enough to keep up for hours on end. Second, native speakers of a language are also more familiar with the cultural context of that language, since they grew up in it. A good friend of ours who is an interpreter in U.S. District Court wisely observes that “we don’t interpret words, we interpret meaning.” The meaning of speech is heavily influenced by culture, as the following example will show: A defendant from a Latin American country once appeared in court and the judge asked him, “Have you had any drugs today?” The defendant’s surprising answer was, “No, thank you, Your Honor.” In his culture to be asked if he had “had” something was equivalent to asking if he wanted it, like we might ask a guest if he has had breakfast yet. So he thought the judge was offering him drugs, and he politely declined. An interpreter who grew up in that same culture would understand that a more accurate if less literal interpretation of the question would be something like, “Have you used any drugs today?” It’s interesting that, when law firms call our agency to request an interpreter, they usually do not ask the kinds of questions I’ve listed above, which tells me that they automatically assume any agency they call will always provide qualified interpreters. But, as with any service on the market, quality of interpretation can vary widely. It’s always best to ask, and a reputable agency will never be offended by the questions.
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