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Reversal points up pitfalls in bad translation
Thread poster: Clarisa Moraña

Clarisa Moraña  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 15:57
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Apr 9, 2002

A pretty good article: http://www.kentucky.com/mld/heraldleader/3026180.htm



Posted on Tue, Apr. 09, 2002





Reversal points up pitfalls in bad translation

NEW TRIAL STARTS AFTER JUDGE FAULTS INTERPRETING

By Louise Taylor

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER



After he was charged with murder in 1997, Santos Adonay Pagoada sat through many days in a courtroom, listening to lawyers and witnesses discuss the case against him.



The problem was, he understood very little of the chatter, because court-appointed interpreters, whose job it was to tell him in Spanish exactly what was said in court, failed to perform their duties, a Fayette Circuit judge ruled, tossing out both his conviction and a 40-year sentence.



Yesterday, with almost five years of prison and jail behind him, the 32-year-old Honduran farm worker returned to court for a new trial, this time with three federally certified court interpreters translating the goings-on into Spanish.



The interpreting fiasco that unfolded from the moment Adonay was arrested was fostered by the fact that Kentucky has no standards for courtroom interpreters. That means the right to a fair trial for defendants who don\'t speak English could be jeopardized.



Adonay had the dubious distinction of being the first Hispanic in memory who needed the help of an interpreter to stand trial for murder in Lexington, one of the two largest cities in a state that has seen a huge increase in immigrant laborers in the past decade.



\"Out of ignorance, all assumed one who speaks Spanish or is born in a Spanish-speaking country can interpret,\" Chief Circuit Judge Mary Noble wrote in her decision to retry Adonay, a legal immigrant. \"This case reveals that this is a false assumption.\"



In federal courts, interpret-ers are required to be certified. Kentucky is home to just two federally approved Spanish interpreters, as is Tennessee, another state trying to establish courtroom translator standards.



Kentucky\'s Administrative Office of the Courts is now working to establish standards, but it was unclear yesterday what they will be, or when they will be enacted. The office did not return calls yesterday.



Adonay has always pleaded that he shot Jose Enrique Arambul, 30, in self-defense. Arambul was shot eight or nine times in the face in his truck in the summer of 1997. Adonay insisted that Arambul had tried to rob him of his gold necklaces, injuring his neck as he yanked the chain that held a cross. During a struggle, Adonay shot Arambul with an automatic pistol. \"Santos was scared to death,\" said Karen Maurer, an attorney with the Department of Public Advocacy, which won him a new trial.



Rights waived without asking



All agree that from the day Adonay was arrested, interpreters served him poorly. During a police interview, a couple who operated a translation service put their own spin on Adonay\'s statement. During his arraignment, another interpreter failed to translate almost all of the proceedings. That left Adonay unaware of what charges he was formally facing.



During a suppression hearing, the same thing happened -- and the interpreter unilaterally waived Adonay\'s right to hear the evidence in Spanish, without even asking the defendant, Isabel Framer said. Framer is an interpreter from Ohio who advises that state\'s Supreme Court on the issue of poor standards -- and the utter lack of standards-- in courtroom interpreting.



\"On the videotape, you can see the interpreter just sitting there,\" Framer said. \"The witnesses took the stand, and the defendant was not able to hear the testimony against him.\"



At Adonay\'s trial, long passages of testimony went uninterpreted. At one point, the interpreter -- the fourth involved in the case, and a woman who had never before and has never since interpreted in court -- conceded she had not understood everything, and resorted to drawing or pointing to pictures of some medical evidence. She also used words that don\'t exist in Spanish, such as \"factos\" and \"consecuencas,\" Framer said. Others she simply misinterpreted: for instance, she used \"libra,\" which means \"scale,\" for \"life.\"



Framer said she also translated some statements by the judge into gibberish. For example, during a bench conference when Noble was talking about offenses of which a jury could choose to convict Adonay, such as manslaughter, the interpreter said, in Spanish, according to Framer\'s translation: \"In their decision, in any part of the court if it\'s high low it\'s theirs, they will make the decision.\"



Maurer said few lawyers -- and even fewer defendants -- realize how inaccurate some interpreters can be, and how that affects the right to a fair trial. \"It\'s a new, new, new thing in Kentucky,\" Maurer said.



But there are places to turn for help, she said: Federal courts require interpreters to be certified under strict rules, and states such as California have dealt with large immigrant populations for decades.



Commonwealth\'s Attorney Ray Larson said that in the past few years his office has seen an influx of Spanish-speaking defendants, victims and witnesses.



\"Those of us who don\'t speak the languages being spoken have to trust the interpreters. If certification would do that, then let\'s go for it,\" he said. However, he said he thinks highly of the interpreters with whom he\'s dealt.



Attorneys unaware



With no laws dictating rigorous qualifications for interpreters, the rights of many could be getting short shrift, but since few are aware of the problems, few bring it up in court during or before trial, Framer and Maurer agreed.



\"There have been many cases but most do not get appealed, and they\'re not getting appealed because the legal profession is unaware of the interpeter\'s role,\" Framer said. \"It baffles me; if the legal profession is unaware of the role of interpreters then how can the defendant be aware of it?\"



Judge Noble wanted case law to be made in Adonay\'s case, and urged the Fayette commonwealth\'s attorney to appeal her decision to throw out his conviction. Instead, the prosecutors decided simply to retry Adonay. Larson would not comment on his reasoning.



The issue goes beyond the courtroom. In Ohio, a murder case was spoiled from the outset by botched police interpreting when Alejandro Ramirez was arrested in 1997 in Lake County. The police interpreter had less than two years of college Spanish and no experience with legal terminology.



Ramirez, the Ohio Court of Appeals said as it threw out his conviction, could not possibly have understood his Miranda rights through the woman\'s Spanish version of them.



For example, \"You have the right to the advice of an attorney\" came out as, \"You have a right-hand turn to give a visa to a lawyer.\"





--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Reach Louise Taylor at (859) 231-3205, 1-800-950-6397, or ltaylor@herald-leader.com.



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Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO)
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
Thank you! Apr 9, 2002

Very interesting article!



I am glad the Americans are finally catching on to the nonsense that has been going in US courtrooms and social services.



Unfortunately, under the current system, anyone can appear before a judge and be sworn in as a \"court interpreter\".





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xxxFranH
French to English
+ ...
More examples of dangerous mistranslation sought. Apr 9, 2002

Thank you for posting this -it\'s reminiscent of the situation in the UK. It is only since last year that public authorities have been required to make an effort to use qualified interpreters in the legal system and when working with asylum seekers. They still, please note, do not have to use qualified people. If it\'s too hard to find someone they can still use an unqualified person. Even so, the minimum standard they should now aspire to is the Institute of Linguists Diploma in Public Service Interpreting. This is only a first degree level qualification. It is not a post-grad degree.



However, unqualified interpreters are still being widely used. Only last week an advertisement was placed by the immigration authority, seeking people who can interpret between African French and English. No qualification necessary. The ad says that training will be provided. How many hours - 10, 20?



It seems to me that linguists will never be taken seriously or paid adequately until translating and liaison interpreting are established as professions. The way to do this, as per lawyers, doctors, surveyors, architects etc, is to set an academic standard that acts as a passport into the work, and is agreed both nationally and internationally.



National organisations for linguists need to start marketing themselves, explaining their standards and what the work involves. In the UK, we are terribly bad at this. I work partly with commercial lawyers. I have yet to find a firm of lawyers in London that has heard of either of the UK linguists\' bodies. They have no idea where to look for a translator. When solicitors need a linguist, they put out a firm-wide email asking \"Does anybody know someone who speaks Portuguese (or whatever)?\" Quite often, translation will be given out to a friend of someone in the office who happens to have a friend (usually female, at home with babies) who did a degree in the language. I hate to say it, but translation here is often regarded as something that women do for \"pin-money\". It\'s a very feminised job and I do feel things won\'t improve until we women organise ourselves and demand recognition and proper pay.



End of rant. The reason I am asking, please, for any examples of mistranslation is that I am writing an article for the in-house journal of a large organisation that often hires freelance linguists. This organisation often leaves the booking of linguists to its most junior staff who usually have no experience of commissioning work of any kind. Often they do not even know the difference between transcription and translation. The point of the article is to explain how to find the right linguist with the level of skills that they need, what information the linguist needs from them, and how to manage the job to a successful conclusion.



People have kindly suggested the following already:



the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan;

the power station in Spain that blew up;

Gerard Depardieu being accused of taking part in a rape;

the English barrister whose clients wanted to open a fish farm in France. He insisted that he could conduct the case in French himself, and managed to tell the judge that his clients had a terrible record on pollution. A French rival got in before them.



Any more like this most welcome. Sorry this is sooooo long.


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Ursula Peter-Czichi  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
I wish it were just a case of linguistic incompetence, Apr 10, 2002

but it certainly was not!


(re: the originally mentioned court case)


Would any decent human being just sit there without a reaction? Seeing a human being convicted to a long prison term, would you not work up the courage and decency to say: \"Sorry, this is beyond my level of competence\"??


The lawyer(s) was (were) sitting there, and they did not notice interpreters hanging around without serving the defendant? Wouldn\'t that be obvious enough?


Certification does not change that!


I do wish there was a \"Certified Human Beings Only\"-Policy.

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-04-10 01:46 ]


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Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO)
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
In this case, you're right (about certification) Apr 10, 2002

Quote:


On 2002-04-10 01:43, mayet wrote:

but it certainly was not!


(re: the originally mentioned court case)


Would any decent human being just sit there without a reaction? Seeing a human being convicted to a long prison term, would you not work up the courage and decency to say: \"Sorry, this is beyond my level of competence\"??


The lawyer(s) was (were) sitting there, and they did not notice interpreters hanging around without serving the defendant? Wouldn\'t that be obvious enough?


Certification does not change that!


I do wish there was a \"Certified Human Beings Only\"-Policy.





As much as I support certification for all professions, in this case I have to agree with you: the lawyers are \"certified\" professionals (= members of the bar), and, yes, they failed to do their duty - like everyone else in this story.





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Ursula Peter-Czichi  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
Yes, Court Translators Should Be Certifified In A Legal Specialty. Apr 10, 2002

Werner wrote:

As much as I support certification for all professions, in this case I have to agree with you: the lawyers are \"certified\" professionals (= members of the bar), and, yes, they failed to do their duty - like everyone else in this story.





[/quote]

Definitely, Court Interpreters should be certified not only as linguists, but also in a legal specialty. Even small misunderstandings, the failure to capture nuances of expression together with extraverbal messages, can result in a lot of human grief.


My response above was only meant to say: The cases above will not serve to initiate professional changes for court interpreters. Simple logic says, that the judge and the lawyers were the primary culprits. (I have my own experience with lawyers in depositions! There is no emoticon fit to express my feelings about their conduct.)

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-04-10 02:17 ]


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Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO)
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
Reply to Ursula Apr 10, 2002

Maybe we should ask Henry to create a special emoticon for us





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xxxFranH
French to English
+ ...
Professionals must have indemnity insurance Apr 10, 2002

I don\'t think we can let the interpreters off so lightly here. The story says that the court was told, by the interpreter, that the defendant had waived his right to hear the evidence in Spanish.



So naturally they would have believed that he understood English, and they believed this because of what the interpreter told them.



If all practising linguists had to be members of a professional body, however, then they would have professional indemnity insurance, and this would mean, as a last resort, that the injured party could sue for compensation. It would raise standards generally because it would introduce an element of self-policing into the profession. If there are many incompetent people, the cost of indemnity insurance goes sky-high for everyone.



Yes, ethical standards among lawyers are low. Look at how many of them become politicians. But how much worse would it be if they didn\'t have to be members of any professional body, that the public could complain to, and with legal capacity to hold them responsible and to strike them off the professional register if needed?



A criminal lawyer in London was telling me what a low opinion his colleagues have of interpreters here. One reason for this is, he claims, that interpreters often gossip to the police after they have interpreted in interviews between lawyers and their clients at the police station. Of course, these interviews are supposed to be confidential. But the lawyer claimed that it is common for the police to be able to find out everything that was said between lawyer and client, just by talking to the interpreter. \"Most of them\", he said \"are women working for pin-money and they don\'t know the meaning of the word \'professionalism\'\" - his words, not mine!


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:57
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Fran: similar case Apr 10, 2002

Hi Fran,



Here is a case fresh from the news. Not about mistranslations specifically, but about alleged misconduct by an interpreter:



http://nytimes.com/2002/04/10/nyregion/10INDI.html



Daina


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Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO)
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
Reply Apr 10, 2002

Daina: can you summarize the article somehow? Your link takes me to the NY Times site alright, but I have to create an account first to read the article.

__________



Fran:



Yes, all professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, translators, interpreters, etc.) should be governed by a professional body. Only through such membership (and all the rules on professional conduct and ethics that such membership entails) will you be able to finally clean up the mess that is so abundant in our profession (\"interlopers\" who have no clue about their working languages or translation proper; low rates; no or little recognition - \"women working for peanuts\", despised by UK lawyers, etc.).


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:57
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Summary of NY Times article Apr 10, 2002

The article (NY Times; April 10, 2002; \"Lawyer Helped in a Terror Plot, Indictment Says\") basically alleges that a lawyer distracted a prisoner (serving time for terrorist activities) while the interpreter received information that was then passed on to the prisoner\'s followers on the outside. The prisoner is Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who heads a terrorist organization in Egypt (the one responsible for the Luxor massacre and plotting attacks on NY). I wonder what effect this type of case might have on prisoners\' rights to an interpreter or on the selection process for interpreters (back to Fran\'s point).



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Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO)
Local time: 14:57
German to English
+ ...
Thank you, Daina Apr 10, 2002

Quote:


On 2002-04-10 20:54, Daina wrote:

The article (NY Times; April 10, 2002; \"Lawyer Helped in a Terror Plot, Indictment Says\") basically alleges that a lawyer distracted a prisoner (serving time for terrorist activities) while the interpreter received information that was then passed on to the prisoner\'s followers on the outside. The prisoner is Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who heads a terrorist organization in Egypt (the one responsible for the Luxor massacre and plotting attacks on NY). I wonder what effect this type of case might have on prisoners\' rights to an interpreter or on the selection process for interpreters (back to Fran\'s point).





That\'s the same piece that also appeared in today\'s issue of the National Post (Canada) - with all those press services, I suppose, it doesn\'t really matter what paper you read anymore; they\'re all the same .



But this is clearly different from the first case cited here: even certification, etc. could not have prevented that because the interpreter (clearly a follower of that terrorist movement) was motivated by a \"greater cause\" .

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