FuzzyLaw Mini-article

6 Nov 2013

An interpreter with two "hats" (a response to "On an equal footing")

I'm always impressed when a Public Service Interpreter is at the same time a qualified solicitor or a qualified doctor. It does sound like a great solution to the problem most public service interpreters face, specialized terminology.

Public service interpreters work for the legal profession, the health profession and the Local Authority., so far so good. So in theory, all that needs to be done is learn terminology related to those professions for the exam and then regularly study CPD courses to keep up with specialized terms.

Having said that, it is estimated that the legal profession uses around 26,000 specialized terms. And here is where it gets more complicated, interpreters need to know terms in their two languages, to know them all would make that a total of 52,000 terms. On top of that, we have the medical terms which add up to a similar number, plus the ones related to the Local Authority. It could potentially make a student interpreter feel they are facing an impossible task.

As much I see the advantages of being qualified as a solicitor or a doctor as well as being qualified as an interpreter (always providing one is able to remain impartial), I also see that as problematic because, what happens to the other two options they would not be qualified in?

As for the qualifications an interpreter should hold, many interpreters have already studied in University for a few years and to require extra few years of training might not make financial sense. To train legal or medical professionals to become interpreters on the other hand, sounds perhaps better altogether as the extra training is shorter in comparison. However, for many languages this career move might leave some interpreters with a much lower pay and more uncertain working conditions.So in short, to expect interpreters to be qualified in Law or Medicine is, in my opinion, best left as an ideal, maybe.

As far as the training is concerned, some of us were lucky to be trained by interpreters who were aware of the problems identified in the article (On an equal footing, available at: http://fuzzylaw.cardiff.ac.uk/commentary/1005), and as part of the training, they organised mock Court sessions run by qualified and practicing solicitors, clerks and magistrate judges which was a very good start in terms of learning about procedures and terminology. We were also taught about the importance of CPD, something which is, by the way, a requirement for a registered interpreter.

Finally, and in order to tackle the important issue of accuracy, we were taught to always interpret what is said, how it is said, without omissions, additions or distortions. We were reminded that interpreters are not walking dictionaries and were taught useful interpreting techniques that allow us to stay away from guessing and other unprofessional practices. We were taught the about the wonderful interventions.

Interventions can be used, among other reasons and within reason, to clarify the meaning of a term the interpreter is not familiar with or a term that doesn't have an equivalent in the other language, and yes, also for a term the interpreter doesn't know in the other language...

I agree that specialized terminology is an issue, and that quality training is also an issue and also that the employment of unqualified interpreters is an issue. However, I am confident that interpreters are making progress to improve standards and regulate the profession.

Marta Edwards Public Service Interpreter DPSI NRPSI


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