Court Interpreting - newbie seeking advice
Thread poster: Amna Bakhtiar

Amna Bakhtiar
Australia
Local time: 07:21
Pashto (Pushto) to Urdu
+ ...
Feb 24

Hello,

I'm an Urdu-English interpreter in Australia and I've been interpreting for just under a year. I've done mainly health/hospital interpretation plus protection visa hearings. I've done SOME court interpreting and I find it a nerve wracking experience each time. Mostly, I'm unsure if I'm meant to be interpreting everything everyone is saying or only when directed to do so. I find this especially confusing when hearings are over the telephone. Just today the judge hearing the ma
... See more
Hello,

I'm an Urdu-English interpreter in Australia and I've been interpreting for just under a year. I've done mainly health/hospital interpretation plus protection visa hearings. I've done SOME court interpreting and I find it a nerve wracking experience each time. Mostly, I'm unsure if I'm meant to be interpreting everything everyone is saying or only when directed to do so. I find this especially confusing when hearings are over the telephone. Just today the judge hearing the matter told me (quite curtly) that my voice sounded garbled and he couldn't understand a word I was saying. I switched my headsets and it still didn't help. I don't know what I could have done differently here. Then I interpreted to the applicant when I was directed. At the end, the judge told me to "practice more" (!). I'd love to get better at court interpreting and seeking advice on what I could have done differently and what is it that other court interpreters do. When I was studying for interpretation exams, I thought we are meant to interpret everything that's said but there have been times when I've attempted to do that and I've been told to wait until I'm directed. So I'm not sure. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.
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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:21
French to English
Some ideas Feb 24

Some judges can be economic with politeness. Remarks can sometimes be off-putting and make the on-the-spot performance worse. Some are more human than others though! Judges are used to establishing their authority. They have to and although they are running the show, just as the other officials present have a job to do, so do you.

Apart from the usual stuff about having to adapt to each situation, a court hearing will remain structured and formal whatever the judge's style. So make
... See more
Some judges can be economic with politeness. Remarks can sometimes be off-putting and make the on-the-spot performance worse. Some are more human than others though! Judges are used to establishing their authority. They have to and although they are running the show, just as the other officials present have a job to do, so do you.

Apart from the usual stuff about having to adapt to each situation, a court hearing will remain structured and formal whatever the judge's style. So make sure you go to court with a good idea of what the procedure involves. The "play" will run as written and provide structure. The "actors" know the order and sequence. You should too, even just the main outline.

A courtroom is a theatre. The actors, the lead, the director and the audience are all in a particular place. Again, this gives you structure you can lean on. It should reduce the element of surprise. The guy on the right represents X, the guy on the left represents Y.

Next, the case itself. It is not always possible, but I find it helps to squeeze out at least a minimum amount of info to at least know what the case is about. Try to have a chat with the person you are interpreting for. Guage the speed of his speech, the tone, the nature, the colour, the feel of the way he expresses himself. He is likely to be tense and when stress rises, people tend to speak quickly. Have you noticed that if you speak slowly, then the person you are talking too will tend to slow down. This will make your job easier.

If problems arise, then don't be scared to ask someone to repeat something.

Your role is neutral. To do your job you do need to be in command of your interpreting role. The above tricks can also make you feel more comfortable, reduce your own stress levels and enable you to do a better job.

Adaptability again. You may try all of these and none of them work. What works in one situation, and, let's face it, with one judge, might not work with another situation or judge. If a judge is being extremely directive, it can become quite tense. The really directive ones tend to be that way with others too. You can't really right it. You generally have to go with it, but do hold your own and defend what you need in order to do the job you are doing.
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Liviu-Lee Roth
Wioleta Kwiatkowska
Sandrine Thompson
Laurent DI RAIMONDO
 

Korana Lasić  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Member (Jan 2021)
Serbian to English
+ ...
Well, practice makes perfect! Feb 25

Amna Bakhtiar wrote:

Hello,

I'm an Urdu-English interpreter in Australia and I've been interpreting for just under a year. I've done mainly health/hospital interpretation plus protection visa hearings. I've done SOME court interpreting and I find it a nerve wracking experience each time. Mostly, I'm unsure if I'm meant to be interpreting everything everyone is saying or only when directed to do so. I find this especially confusing when hearings are over the telephone. Just today the judge hearing the matter told me (quite curtly) that my voice sounded garbled and he couldn't understand a word I was saying. I switched my headsets and it still didn't help. I don't know what I could have done differently here. Then I interpreted to the applicant when I was directed. At the end, the judge told me to "practice more" (!). I'd love to get better at court interpreting and seeking advice on what I could have done differently and what is it that other court interpreters do. When I was studying for interpretation exams, I thought we are meant to interpret everything that's said but there have been times when I've attempted to do that and I've been told to wait until I'm directed. So I'm not sure. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.


Hey there,

Well, first of all, stop worrying so much. I know, easier said than done. A year isn't a very long time. The important thing is that you are getting work and you are getting in there and doing your best, despite being nervous. That is all you need to do and sooner rather than later your nerves will calm down.

People, especially people who are judges can be curt, that's entirely their problem. Do not let that discourage you in the least. This judge is no more competent to judge your interpreting work than you are his legal prowess. Does he even speak Kurdish? Right. Exactly. So he wasn't passing judgment on the substance of your work. He was simply displeased he got a nervous newbie instead of a veteran interpreter. This isn't your problem. You fight for every job like they'd be lucky to have you and pretty soon you will be an experienced interpreter and they will be lucky to have you.

Don't be afraid to ask for clear instructions as many times as you need. You cannot do your job well if whoever is in charge of the event didn't give you clear instructions. When in doubt, politely but firmly ASK. For whom you are interpreting and to whom? There are no stupid questions.

The problem you had was with your Internet connection rather than a headset or so it seems? Are you sure your equipment is up to the task? Good Ethernet connection? Up to date modem? Computer with enough processing memory? It is our responsibility as translators to invest in proper equipment and Internet connections, but also the people who hired you seem to have though your equipment is fine.

Oh were you on the telephone? An actual phone line, not a video conferencing platform? Well then, that isn't a good way to have interpreting at any event and especially not a court case. It will make it more difficult for everyone involved. You can only do your best.

Is someone on the phone in an actual courtroom or was this an online hearing and they phoned you in?

In any case, what the curt judge said is actually good advice, if you do not take it too much to heart. You could set aside an hour a day to practice.

Watch a court hearing or even an arbitration hearing on Youtube. Put together a legal glossary for each video. Obviously, the more fluent you are in legalese the easier it will be to interpret court hearings. Watch an event, any event with simultaneous or consecutive interpretation. Find a video of someone's UN speech on YT and try interpreting it in the mode you wish to practice. Practice calming down, listen to how you sound and try to make your voice as pleasant as possible. Many videos show how veteran interpreters do it and this will be very helpful but in the end, you must find your own style.

There is a world of resources online you can use to get better at interpreting.

Most importantly, name that man 'the curt judge' in your head and take it all with a little humour and as what it is, a learning experience you got paid for. A sweet deal if you ask me.

Perhaps he had a bad day. Perhaps he is a very unhappy man and this is the best he can do by someone new at their profession. Doesn't matter. You get in there and you do the work and perfection will come with practice.

Are you sure they are providing you with enough materials and in advance enough to prepare for these court dates? Clients tend to overlook how much preparation goes into interpreting work and some think you are supposed to just waltz in and start speaking in tongues. Do not hesitate to ask for the materials. Explain to them that you need as many materials as humanly possible — the more the better — to prepare and to be able to provide a professional service.

Welcome to ProZ.


[Edited at 2021-02-26 12:47 GMT]


Liviu-Lee Roth
Daryo
Laurent DI RAIMONDO
 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:21
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Rude judges Feb 25

Nikki Scott-Despaigne wrote:
Some judges can be economic with politeness.


That is so true.

I remember being told by a traffic ticket court judge in a small New Jersey town: "You are just an interpreter!"


 

QUOI  Identity Verified

Chinese to English
+ ...
My experience Mar 3

I have been in and out of courts upstairs and downstairs for many years and I do get a chance to witness my colleagues perform from time to time. Some are good; Some are better; Some should really do something else for a living.

Judicial officers usually put a high premium on civility. At least that’s the case in Australia in my experience. I am not saying there aren’t pricks among them. In all honesty, I can count with my fingers in one hand the number of times when a judge or
... See more
I have been in and out of courts upstairs and downstairs for many years and I do get a chance to witness my colleagues perform from time to time. Some are good; Some are better; Some should really do something else for a living.

Judicial officers usually put a high premium on civility. At least that’s the case in Australia in my experience. I am not saying there aren’t pricks among them. In all honesty, I can count with my fingers in one hand the number of times when a judge or magistrate becomes so irate with an interpreter’s performance or when an interpreter forgets his place in the court that they actually feel the need to make extra remarks. They often simply excuse the bad ones in an I-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-feelings-but -you-know-how-I feel-about-you manner. So, when a judge blatantly says “we all start from somewhere, and this is clearly not your place” to an interpreter, the interpreter should really go back to school.

On the other hand, "practice more" is for all of us.


[Edited at 2021-03-03 09:50 GMT]
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Adieu  Identity Verified
Russian to English
Disturbing Mar 6

jyuan_us wrote:

Nikki Scott-Despaigne wrote:
Some judges can be economic with politeness.


That is so true.

I remember being told by a traffic ticket court judge in a small New Jersey town: "You are just an interpreter!"


...Jersey pays for interpreters for traffic ticket appeals???

Or were you there representing yourself over your own ticket? In which case, what the hell does your career have to do with your rule abiding driving or lack thereof? If so, ever consider going on a quest to get that clown kicked out of courts forever? I mean ok the potential of traffic court doesn't sound so bad (unless you consider his ability to mess with the livelihood of professional drivers), but imagine such a happy-to-discriminate individual getting promoted to criminal cases?


 

Tahira Rafiq  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:21
Member
English to Urdu
+ ...
English <> Urdu Court interpretation Mar 12

As you know court hearings are very sensitive and critical litigation procedures where any omissions/ errors can lead to irreplaceable discrepancy or deviation for one or both parties to that case. Be careful that you do not leave any specific legal terms untranslated during the course of your interpretation. However, hearings require simultaneous mode of interpretation while consecutive mode is limited to depositions only. Practice simultaneous mode more and more while playing at least opening ... See more
As you know court hearings are very sensitive and critical litigation procedures where any omissions/ errors can lead to irreplaceable discrepancy or deviation for one or both parties to that case. Be careful that you do not leave any specific legal terms untranslated during the course of your interpretation. However, hearings require simultaneous mode of interpretation while consecutive mode is limited to depositions only. Practice simultaneous mode more and more while playing at least opening statements during trials, presentation of evidence by prosecution etc via You tube. As compared to VRI, we all know that OPI requires louder, clearer and solid confident delivery of translation because you are not able to watch the speaker during over the phone interpretation assignment. As a matter of fact, online English Urdu dictionaries do not offer much help and that is the reason I have developed my own English Urdu glossary over the years. You can ask and post in proz kudoz section for English Urdu legal substitutes/ alternatives in case you find it difficult through online search engines.Collapse


 


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