Multiple interpreters
Thread poster: Susanna Garcia

Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
Italian to English
+ ...
Jan 14, 2010

Hi. Has anyone ever interpreted in a case where there was more than one defendant and therefore more than one interpreter required, and also more than one language? If so, how does it actually work with respect to physical lay-out, logistics and interpreting method?


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:59
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Simultaneous interpretation would be quite messy Jan 14, 2010

I am a certified public translator/interpreter for English in Brazil. I happen to speak other languages, but only for my personal use, not to a level that would allow me to translate anything.

Once there was a hearing where two foreign expert witnesses - one Italian and one German - were expected to testify. To save money, the organizers found out that both allegedly spoke English, and hired me.

Btw, I don't do simultaneous, only consecutive, which is the standard for legal procedures, not only for the sake of the records (audio recording), but also for some quality assurance by bilingual spectators who will be able to challenge any inaccuracies in translation.

Before it started, I was chatting in Italian with the Italian witness. He seemed rather concerned that I was only certified for English, that we wouldn't be allowed to do it in Italian. Well, when we got started, his English was not as fluent as expected, and he had a plane to catch immediately afterwards. As his statement was taking longer than expected, there was a consensus to let him do it in Spanish, which he spoke better than English, and is close enough to Portuguese (especially if spoken by a non-native) for well-educated Brazilians to understand. The agreement included me clearing any misunderstanding in English and translating into Portuguese. Rather messy, but it worked.

Then the German came up. No, in spite of my Austrian-Polish surname, the German language is not among my skills. The man spoke English very low, very fast, and viss ein schtrong akzent. He literally flew by German names such as the @#$%^&*hafen University, which I had to translate as "that university he mentiioned" and wait for everybody in the audience to nod. Another messy, but apparently succesful job.

Later I told the client they should have got one Italian and one German certified interpreters instead. Things would have gone much more smoothly.

As far as I know, simultaneous interpretation should not be used in legal proceedings for several reasons, the first of them being accuracy having priority over speed.


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Well, yes… it is a bit of a nightmare Jan 15, 2010

Before someone says that no, it is not done like that in Ruritania, I am talking about UK court practices, primarily Crown Court.

The court procedure for the interpreter working with non English speaking defendants divides into two distinct parts: simultaneous interpreting in the dock behind a glass screen and consecutive interpreting in the witness box.

One language, two defendants: the court often uses one interpreter only, and it may be preferable, because the main problem is acoustics and sound interference.
In the dock you can sit between the two defendants while interpreting. When one of the defendants is in the box, you interpret there, and both languages are heard by the whole court, including the other defendant.

With two interpreters, the best is to sit as far as possible from the other interpreter in the dock, with the defendants between you, even sitting in two different rows if possible. Either way, you have to be lucky not to be hampered too much by the voice of the other interpreter, being much closer to you than any of the speakers in the room, not to mention the fast talking barrister with his back towards you mumbling under his chin about obscure precedents while searching in his Blackstone’s. The screen is a major disadvantage in this respect; it creates a space where the sounds inside are more pronounced, while sounds coming from the outside are diminished.

To overcome the interference and give a chance to get a bit of rest, it is better to share the interpreting in the dock if possible.
In addition, Counsel often asks for the interpreter’s services at any possible opportunity to discuss matters with his defendant, so there is no rest for the wicked…icon_wink.gif

Consecutive interpreting in the box is done on individual basis, dictated by circumstances. That is not an issue.

Obviously, two languages need at least two interpreters. The recommended seating arrangements would be the same, but it may actually help you not to understand the other language; it makes it easier to ignore the sound of the other interpreter.

With more than two defendants you can have a number of variations to this scenario, but having more than one interpreter always make hearing and concentration more difficult.

I also had the pleasure of using a sound system at a lengthy trial, courtesy of a wise judge. Although there was only one foreign language, there were a number of defendants, and I and my interpreter partner were sitting at the end of the bench of the solicitors, and saw the barristers quite well, because the jury was to the left of us at right angle, therefore they tended to turn towards that way. They had microphones and we had earphones to hear them well while excluding other noises. The defendants were given earphones enabling them to listen to us.

It wasn't done like conference interpreting; we did not have a booth, but it was much better than having to interpret incessantly, sitting two paces away from another interpreter trying to do the same.

This is a good solution, but unfortunately it seldom happens, and it certainly would not be considered for a short procedure. The equipment was hired, but it saved the cost of at least one more interpreter, and saved us from working in near impossible circumstances.

Witnesses usually afforded their own interpreter, and don’t cause these kind of problems, because they are not in close proximity.


Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
Italian to English
+ ...
Multiple interpreters Jan 15, 2010

Thank you so much - you've confirmed my fears! It's so rare people know how to use interpreters correctly.


Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 22:59
Romanian to English
+ ...
Kudos to you Juvera! Jan 15, 2010

Excellent presentation!
Indeed you covered everything that could happen in a courtroom.
In the US,interpreters for the Immigration Court use regularly the headphones for simultaneous interpreting (when the judge renders his decision).


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