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Meet the court interpreter

Watch this video where Trinidad Clares Flores, a Spanish-English court interpreter explains what court interpreters do.
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Text on screen: What does a court interpreter do? Well, the role of a court interpreter is to interpret, which is to orally translate, everything that is said in the courtroom. And with that, it allows the defendant or witness or victim to follow the legal proceedings in the same way that an English-speaking defendant or witness or victim would do. So essentially, it’s to put them on an equal footing with the English-speaking person by eliminating the language and cultural barriers.
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Text on screen: What skills does a court interpreter need ? The skills a court interpreter needs are– some of those are the same that a translator needs– for example, a strong knowledge of the two languages, a very strong knowledge of the subject matter. But a court interpreter needs some extra skills. Those extra skills are not just a solid knowledge of the other language, but a very strong active– what we call active knowledge, which means being able not just to understand it very well, but also to express yourself in that language very well. Because a translator translates usually only into their native language, whereas an interpreter has to go both ways, into and out of their native language.
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A court interpreter, also, I would say needs to have nerves of steel. Because you have to work– the immediacy of the work means you have to think on your feet. And I would also say- and this is very important, because you don’t always see that– you need a very professional attitude.
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You need to portray yourself in a professional manner with the legal professionals as much as with the users. They have to see you as a neutral, impartial, professional who is there to do your job, which is to facilitate the communication.
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Text on screen: Who do you interpret for? Who are your clients? The clients are usually the service providers, because this is in the context of a public service. The service providers in the court interpreting scenario are the legal professionals, anybody who is involved in court, so mostly lawyers, solicitors, barristers, and also judges. And the users, the receivers, if you want, of our services– although you could say that they both use our services, because neither of them speak the other language– the users would be the non-English speaking defendants, witnesses, or victims. Because we mustn’t forget people tend to think of court interpreting being exclusively for defendants.
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But I have dealt with as many witnesses and victims of crime that I have dealt with defendants. They also need to have their rights guaranteed. Because if they don’t have a voice in court, justice won’t be done to them.
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It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. Because as I said earlier, you are supposed to be an impartial professional. And just in the same way that a lawyer represents somebody who is found guilty eventually and somebody who isn’t, they have to use their skills to the best of their ability to do a job, and we have to do the same.
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Text on screen: What happens when translation goes wrong in the courtroom? I can’t tell you practical, specific examples because of confidentiality issues. But I can tell you the causes that can lead to these problems, to these errors. One main one is the fact that legal professionals sometimes don’t provide any information ahead of a case, and you can find yourself dealing with not just legal matters, but very specialized matters dealing with all topics that you don’t necessarily know anything about. And also, even going down to more basic things, your ability to hear– it’s a basic need for an interpreter to do the job properly, and that isn’t always guaranteed.
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Legal professionals sometimes don’t realize that interpreting cannot be done word for word rendition. And they expect the words that they have used sometimes to have a certain effect on their defendant or witness or victim. And if this doesn’t happen, because there is no direct equivalent, they get frustrated that they don’t necessarily understand the mechanics. So that can lead to problems as well.
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Text on screen:What advice would you give to a linguist who would like to become a court interpreter? The advice I would give is firstly to become as familiar as is possible with the law. Because the more you understand the topic, the better you’ll be able to do your job. And for that, I strongly recommend that you come to court and watch trials. Courts are open to the public. You can sit in a public gallery and watch the proceedings. So I would recommend that.

What role do professional translators and interpreters play in contemporary society? Who do they mediate between? What are the challenges they face?

Watch Trinidad Clares Flores, a Spanish-English court interpreter with over fifteen years of experience and a founding member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting Cymru-Wales, explaining what court interpreters do and showing how fundamental their work is to guaranteeing the rights of victims and defendants in the legal system.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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