It is best to make believe the person speaks English and speak to the witness directly as you would speak with an English speaking witness.

First time using an interpreter for a legal proceeding.  

Here are some tips for working with an interpreter for the first time.

If you hired an interpreter to translate simultaneously for your client throughout an entire hearing or trial, the interpreter will whisper into the person’s ear or use specialized translating equipment. You would only be concerned when it is the person’s turn to testify.

The following applies to depositions, examinations under oath, or any question and answer type proceeding.

1) Make believe the interpreter is not there

A professional interpreter will translate every word you say as verbatim as possible. So address the witness directly, DO NOT ADDRESS THE INTERPRETER. Do not say… ask him what his name is. or ask him this, ask him that. This is the most common mistake noobs make when using an interpreter for the first time and it will definitely show to everyone in the room. It is best to make believe the person speaks English and speak to the witness directly as you would speak with an English speaking witness. So, you would say something like “Please state your name for the record”.

If the witness does not understand a question and says “I do not understand”, those are the exact words that will come out of the interpreter’s mouth. Meaning that the witness does not understand. Just as if you were in front of an English speaker, you repeat the question. You do not ask the interpreter to repeat the question. Either you repeat it or ask the court reporter to repeat it. The interpreter may have already forgotten the question anyway. Remember we must be precise, every little word counts, so though we may remember most of the question, it is important that the interpreter get everything to fulfill his/her duty with the court.

2) Avoid long questions

This one is not that important, but if you happen to get an interpreter that is not very good at note-taking and memorization, it is good to ask clear and concise questions. Just like you were taught in law school. If the question gets too long and there is too much detail, the interpreter may miss something and the resulting answer will be awkward. But a good interpreter will let you know if their memory cup is getting too full, so I wouldn’t worry that much about this point.

3) Ignore what is said in the foreign language

This will only apply if you speak the language of the witness. Whether it is your first time using an interpreter or you have done it many times, if you focus too much on the foreign language interaction between the interpreter and the witness, your instinct may kick in, and all of a sudden you are asking questions in the foreign language. Another tricky issue is your tendency to try and correct your perceived mistranslations. Only the most experienced lawyers can check the interpreter’s translation of the questions and answers while simultaneously thinking about what to ask next. If you do detect a mistranslation, instead of objecting to the translation altogether, you can simply ask the question again in a slightly different way to see if you get the same answer or if you may have misheard. I routinely hear some attorneys say to the witness, “So, to clarify, just to make sure nothing is lost in translation, did you mean to say this….or that?” or “I didn’t quite understand, can you please explain what you just said?” or “I think there may have been an issue with the translation, allow me to ask the question again…” etc…

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