It's actually a sign of a good interpreter to have a dictionary. Generally speaking, interpreters are doing research, even when they're working as a team.

Why is my interpreter using a dictionary? 

In the last article, I talked to you about note-taking and if it was okay for an interpreter to take notes. This article is somewhat related, and it has to do with the use of dictionaries.

You may have noticed an interpreter here and there using a phone or having actual dictionaries. You may be thinking, maybe: “Is this interpreter any good?” “Why are they carrying a dictionary around?” “Perhaps they don’t know how to do their job.” “Maybe they are bad interpreters, and that’s why they use dictionaries.” Should I be concerned?

It’s a valid concern if you don’t know why the interpreter is carrying the dictionaries. I’ve seen this concern out there myself. I used to bring an old pocket dictionary, and I would always have it out and occasionally search up words. I noticed one attorney was concerned and looked at me weird because of looking up words in the dictionary.

To put it this way, if an attorney searches up a statute, is that attorney a bad attorney? Because he looked up a statute? If he has to research some case law or if a judge asked an attorney for some authority, some case law to back up an argument, does it mean that it’s a bad judge? No.

It’s actually a sign of a good interpreter to have a dictionary.

Sometimes we may be searching for simple words and others more complicated ones. Sometimes the word has a double meaning. If they don’t understand something, you want the interpreter to say just a moment or put up their hands while they’re searching if necessary. Because it would be a lot worse to get a bad translation, they’re most likely trying to protect your interests. There may be words or concepts that have a double meaning, and we know how to translate them, but we’re trying to search for the term that reflects the speaker’s intent more precisely. It may make a big difference in the case, or at least in that sentence. It may make a big difference in how the sentence comes out, and especially an experienced interpreter will know what sentences or what words can cause trouble later on.

So if we’re looking for a word, it’s not necessarily the definition for which we are looking. We may be looking for a particular synonym that matches what was said better to avoid further confusion later on. So no! a dictionary is not a sign that the interpreter is dumb. It’s a sign that the interpreter came prepared for the job.

It also happens when you have a cell phone. With phones, it gets a little tricky because the judge may look at you or anyone may look at you, and they think you’re texting somebody or you’re on WhatsApp or something, when, in reality, you may be looking a term up. So that’s a little complex. You have to be very clear that you’re not texting, as it may cause some confusion uh or may give the wrong impression.

Generally speaking, interpreters are doing research, even when they’re working as a team. When you have two interpreters working in your trial, the other interpreter is supposed to be looking up definitions and synonyms. We’re listening to our partner. We’re listening to words that they’re interpreting, and we’re looking for better terms or a better phrase. If we find one, we pass a note over to our partner so that the next time that word comes around, we use a better, more precise term.

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