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Language barriers will not hold you back in court

Sitting in a chair next to a judge and testifying in front of a full courtroom can be daunting for anyone. Attempting to answer questions in a language that is not your own makes the task seem all the more imposing. Every word counts and as a non-native English speaker, or the family member of a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individual, it is imperative that nothing gets lost. This inability to connect linguistically is the point in which the legal system brings in a communication specialist, otherwise known as an interpreter.

What does an interpreter do?

The role of a court interpreter is to act as the voice for both parties in a legal dispute. Court records need to be precise and accurate and the interpreter is used to facilitate conversation between court officials and the LEP.

Interpreting and translating are not the same

Using the terms “interpreter” and “translator” interchangeably is a common mistake. However, these two practices are not the same. Interpreting uses oral communication whereas translation uses written methods to relay the message.

Working with a court interpreter

Interacting with the interpreter is crucial when wanting to communicate with everyone in the courtroom successfully. Remember these points whether you have worked with an interpreter on many occasions or if this is your first experience using an interpreter to communicate.

  • Interpreters are not lawyers; they cannot explain legal concepts or documents
  • Allow the interpreter to do their job; don’t interrupt or speak over the interpreter
  • The process for interpreting is not word for word; interpreters refer to contextual meaning and cultural concepts to convey the message
  • Speak in shorter sentences and use clear pronunciation; be concise when communicating your message to the interpreter

Communication affects everyone involved in the courtroom and the proceedings. By using an interpreter, you are entrusting in them the ability to be impartial and adhere to a strict code of ethics. The court system relies on interpreters to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

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