Bar News - July 20, 2007
¿Usted habla español? Part II – Finding a Qualified Interpreter
By: Craig Sander
Part I of this two-part series on language needs in New Hampshire appeared in the July 8 issue of Bar News. Click to view Part I.
Immigrants and refugees in growing numbers are choosing New Hampshire for their new home, making it likely that an attorney, at least once in his or her career, will have to acquire the services of an interpreter. However, it’s important for attorneys to do some research before committing to any interpreter service.
A quick Google search or a brief examination of the local Yellow Pages is sure to turn up any number of companies and individuals that offer interpreting and translation services. However, many of these interpreters and translators speak a primary language other than English, such as Spanish or French, and have somehow acquired basic or satisfactory English skills. But being bilingual does not mean that the person is qualified to be a court interpreter. This point is especially important since New Hampshire does not yet have an interpreter certification requirement.
“Well, there are a lot of people who are not qualified that put their names out there as ‘certified’ after just taking a five-hour course,” says Real Gilbert, President and Founder of WORDS Translation Services in Manchester. “But that’s not a guarantee of quality. These people may have the basic language skills, but they don’t have the courtroom experience or experience with legal language.”
Gilbert’s company was a regularly used interpreting service by the NH courts before the courts awarded a contract in 2006 to the Lutheran Social Services of Northern New England’s LanguageBank. Gilbert says that agencies like his and the language bank are able to maintain larger numbers of language specialists and are able to ensure a higher degree of quality in their interpreters and translators.
And higher quality in interpreting services, says NH Bar member Rosemary Dann, a recently elected member of the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) board of governors, should be the goal of the attorney as well as the interpreter. Dann believes that if interpreters hold themselves to a higher standard, both the justice system and the interpreting and translating field will benefit.
“It’s mandated by the US Constitution Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and guidelines for compliance appear in Executive Order #13166. Higher quality will resolve cases more expediently,” she says. “It will also diminish the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and it will save taxpayers money by avoiding unnecessary appeals.”
Today, many in the non-English-speaking community, allow their children, who usually learn English during their primary school education, to serve as interpreters for the parents or older family members. Dann says that the use of children as interpreters is unacceptable. Also, the use of adult, non-professional translators can pose similar problems.
“Children don’t have the ability to understand many of the concepts or the vocabulary in a legal situation,” continues Dann, who cited California’s recent outlawing of the use of child interpreters. “And as far as non-professional adults, you just don’t know whether that person has any experience with the codes of conduct or the ability to maintain confidentiality.”
Ann Dancy, Vice President of Lutheran Social Services, also stresses the importance of using a professional interpreter, especially in matters that are traditionally of a confidential nature. Interpreters for the LanguageBank must not only sign a pledge of confidentiality, but must also operate under the Code of Professional Ethics for New Hampshire Courts set forth by the Supreme Court Administrative Order 87-1A.
The order, passed in 1986, is a set of twelve canons geared toward establishing proper ethics within the court interpreting and translating community. Included in the canon are rules requiring: strict confidentiality; impartiality; verbatim interpretation; and the abstention from giving legal advice, explanations, or personal opinions.
Officials stress the importance of finding interpreters that are aware of, and follow, these proper rules of conduct, confidentiality, and impartiality.
“The first thing an attorney should do if he or she needs an interpreter is to speak with an interpreter to get any such questions of competency answered,” Dann concludes. “Education is the best way to assure quality here.”
If there is one major suggestion from the interpreter community it is this: do your research. Search the Internet and other sources. Then call various interpreting services and associations for help or suggestions for working with an interpreter.
NAJIT offers a great deal of information on its web site. www.najit.org.
Interpreting & Translating: What’s the Difference?
These terms are often used as synonyms, and although they both refer to converting one language into another; they are two different processes.
Interpreting is the verbal transmission of one language into another. An interpreter listens to someone speak, then recites the same words in a different, target language.
Translating is the written transmission of one language into another. A translator may take a court document and convert it, verbatim, in a different, target language.
Tips for Attorneys Using an Interpreter
- Give the interpreter background information before any meeting. This will eliminate confusion during the actual attorney-client meeting.
- Sit opposite the non-English speaking client and allow the interpreter to sit on the side.
- Speak directly to the client, not the interpreter. The interpreter should have no input other than direct communication between the attorney and the client.
- Begin a meeting with light conversation to establish a rhythm and pace for the interpreter.
- Use direct speech. You do not have to say: “Ask him…” or “Tell her…”
- Keep it slow and take your time to avoid miscommunications.