If you know two languages, you can interpret between them, right?
Thread poster: GaryG

GaryG  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:09
+ ...
Jul 26, 2007

//This is a subject of cable news reporters. One program that I watched today said it found an English speaker in 2 1/2 hours who knew Vai, whereas the court hadn't found one in 2 1/2 years. The assumption, of course, is that anyone who knows two languages can interpret between them with sufficient proficiency to be fair to the defense and prosecution//


Prosecutors Challenge Dismissal
Judge Had Ruled That Search for Interpreter Took Too Long
By Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; Page B03

Prosecutors in Montgomery County said yesterday that they intend to ask an appellate court to overturn a judge's dismissal of a case against a Liberian immigrant charged with raping a young girl. The judge had ruled that repeated delays caused by the court's failure to find an interpreter fluent in the accused man's native dialect had violated his right to a speedy trial.

Mahamu D. Kanneh was arrested in August 2004 after witnesses told police he raped and repeatedly molested a 7-year-old relative. The case was dismissed last week, nearly three years later, by Circuit Court Judge Katherine D. Savage.

Montgomery County State's Attorney John J. McCarthy said in a statement yesterday that the judge's ruling should be overturned. "While the Defendant is presumed innocent, the charges are serious, and a trial on the merits of this case is what we hope to achieve through this appeal," McCarthy said.

"The Court, under the extraordinary circumstances of this case, attempted multiple times to satisfy its obligations. The bottom line is that any delays caused by the attempt to find an appropriate and qualified interpreter is not attributable to the prosecution . . . and should not serve as the basis for dismissing the charges against the Defendant," the statement said.

In her ruling July 17, Savage didn't assign blame for the delay.

The appellate judges will consider four issues in assessing whether Kanneh's right to a speedy trial was violated: the length of delay, the reasons for the delay, when the defendant invoked his right to a speedy trial and whether the delay resulted in "prejudice," or significant consequences for the defendant.

Kanneh was free on bond while awaiting trial, but his attorney has argued in court that the criminal charges prevented him from furthering his education and pursuing better employment opportunities. The attorney, public defender Theresa Chernosky, did not immediately return a message seeking comment last night.

In Maryland, defendants have the right to be tried within 180 days of their indictment. Kanneh waived that right for a time because the defense wanted to conduct its own analysis of DNA evidence, but his attorney argued that the waiver applied only until the next court date.

Chernosky asked this month that the case be dismissed. Last week, she told the court that the delays were not the defendant's fault.

The trial was also delayed because the state and the defense argued over whether Kanneh required an interpreter. His native dialect, Vai, is spoken by an estimated 100,000 people, mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The issue was decided after a court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that Kanneh have an interpreter. The court then found three, none of whom worked out, for different reasons. Another interpreter was found more recently -- but not, the judge ruled, in time to protect Kanneh's right to a speedy trial.

Staff writer Ernesto Londoño contributed to this report.


Joseph Ferran
Local time: 04:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
If you speak two languages Jul 26, 2007

I had a similar situation. I have been an interpreter since 1985. There was a case during the year 1992 (murder trial in the Florida Keys). The judge had to call a ¨mistrial¨ on two opportunities due to the poor translation (interpreting) by the local people available in the Keys. During the last trial I was contacted and called to help with the case. The Judge was about to call a mistrial again. A Spanish speaking attorney involved in the case was complaining and making arguments against the interpretes translation. I was asked to bring another interpreter with me. I interpreted for the accused and my fellow interpreter handled the witnesses involved in the case. It all went well. I believe that speaking two or more languages does not make a person an interpreter. I have seen professional interpreters that could not handle cases because of the language barries that can exist within a same language. Example: Spanish and its dialects (especially some of the Mexican villages or small towns which have ¨their own language¨ ... difficult to understand dialects).

[Edited at 2007-07-26 20:46]

[Edited at 2007-07-26 20:47]

[Edited at 2007-07-26 20:48]


Local time: 03:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
DIY Jul 26, 2007

Two years ago I, a native English speaker, was called upon to give evidence and be cross-examined in a Chilean tribunal, in two civil cases I had brought against Chilean nationals.

In the first case, although I speak Spanish and as a translator it is one of my source languages, I decided to demand the presence of an interpreter, as provided for in Chilean law. I didn't expect the giving of evidence to be a problem, but the cross-examination was likely to be difficult, since the defending lawyer's aim is deliberately to provoke errors, raise doubts ... generally to pile on the legalese and impede the delivery of clear facts. It's a difficult enough situation in your own language, let alone dong it in a language you've lived with for only a few years.

It took the Chilean legal system a 12 full months to own up to the fact that they could not provide a Spanish --> English interpreter. Even the Supreme Court in Santiago apparently does not have a list of accredited court interpreters, so what hope of getting one in a sleepy town 700 km away?

Eventually I agreed to DIY my interpretation (i.e. do it all in Spanish), since this seemed to be the only way I, as plaintiff, was going to get any compensation from the accused. When the second case started, I immediately waived my right to an interpreter - and at least had the satisfaction of not wasting another 12 months of precious life-span waiting for the system to fail.

In the end it turned out satisfactorily, in both cases, but it could easily have gone differently...



Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
Barriers Jul 26, 2007

"Example: Spanish and its dialects (especially some of the Mexican villages or small towns which have ¨their own language¨ ... difficult to understand dialects)."

Actually, Spanish-speakers in Mexico can all understand one another quite well, but the problem arises when the individual speaks not Spanish, but one of the many indigenous languages still spoken in many towns and villages which resemble Spanish as much as Chinese does.

From what I have seen on this subject even speakers of the same "language" (for instance Zapoteco or Mixteco) from different villages often do not understand one another very well at all, and providing them with a Spanish interpreter is no more help than providing them with a Chinese interpreter.

With increasing numbers of such people in the United States and some getting involved with the justice system, I have no idea how this situation is being handled. The interpreter would have to be fluent in English, of course, and also in the indigenous dialect of the subject's village, something that is rather unlikely.

In the alternative, a Spanish interpreter (quite professional, no doubt) would have to be coupled with a person fluent in both Spanish and the specific dialect involved, but such person might have to be imported from Mexico. And then how could such a person be found who would also have any degree of professionalism as an interpreter?

Added to that is the very large number of languages and dialects spoken in Mexico, Guatemala and other countries.

It would be very interesting if anyone having experience in this matter could share it with us.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:09
Flemish to English
+ ...
La voz de otras personas Jul 27, 2007

"Vai" may be an exception, but generally no, without the proper training and daily enhancement of your vocabulary in your working languages, you can forget interpreting.
Some learnt it by doing, but they are exceptions. Without training the chance that you go flat on your face is bigger.

Maybe, it is not a bad idea to buy "The Whisperers" (€26) and have a good look at it.

You can obtain the documentary at :

Michael Höfner
Varziner Straße 3
12159 Berlin
Tel. 0 30 8 51 98 61
Fax 0 30 8 59 34 23
St-Nr. 18/348/50980

How to order is on the website.

[Edited at 2007-07-27 08:35]


Leo Holroyd
Local time: 08:09
German to English
Dialect? Jul 27, 2007

On another point, why does the article consistently refer to the man's language as a "dialect"? Is Vai a variant of something else? Why doesn't it deserve the title of "language"?


Joseph Ferran
Local time: 04:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
If you know two languages.... Jul 27, 2007

Yes, you are able to call any language and ¨its¨ dialects a ¨language¨. However, we are still trying to cover the topic of: Ïf you know (and speak) two languages, you can interpret between them, right?¨. The answer to the same is: ¨Not, all the times¨. The question being: Is there still a barrier because of a certain dialect (language) not being fully understood by the ¨would be interpreter¨. One is not able to translate (interpret) something that is not understood. I believe another variable that is left out of the subject or translation (interpreting) is what he or she believes to be the proper word > I have seen interpreters that just ¨can´t cut the mustard¨... leaving important issues out of the translation: Example: Variables of what one word means in one country and what it means in a different country. Example: The word ¨gua-gua¨ > In Chile: A baby > In Cuba: A bus > In other countries: No meaning at all (the word does not exist).

[Edited at 2007-07-27 18:27]

[Edited at 2007-07-27 18:27]

[Edited at 2007-07-27 18:31]


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dialect Jul 27, 2007

Good point, Leo. In my own contribution I have tried to distinguish properly between "language" and "dialect", and there are some very important points to be remembered when dealing with native languages that are spoken by very limited populations and are unregulated.

Such languages in turn often have a variety of dialects that may not be mutually intelligible to a very high degree.

This would include native languages in many parts of the world that have little or no literature or academic following, are seldom if ever taught in schools and where another dominant language has taken over as a national language.

But there are still people for whom it is their only language, which means that they can only communicate with a very small community.


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