Interpretation, Translation


Our March workshop offered a crowd of enthusiastic NCTA members a hands-on approach to legal translating and interpreting.


As a practicing interpreter and workshop provider, I was looking forward to attending the Legal Translation and Interpretation workshops to be taught by Corinne Cline, an instructor with the Sonoma State University Certificate Program. Before the event, all participants received via email the workshop handouts, which included the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities, information about consecutive and simultaneous interpreting practices, and useful legal terms and phrases that interpreters and translators often encounter in English <>Spanish legal texts. Attendees were asked to bring a cassette tape recorder, as sample practice tapes were to be provided.

The morning session, which covered legal interpreting, began with a video created for judges and attorneys about working with interpreters in court. The video showed examples of interpreted hearings with both qualified and unqualified interpreters at work. Some important issues covered included the need to use the first person at all times (except in certain very specific circumstances), problems encountered when there are overlapping conversations, the need for a judge’s intervention to avoid confusion, examples of an interpreter correcting his or her mistakes on the record, and the difference between certified and qualified interpreters.

Clarifying the role

In an important scene and one of the best examples I have ever seen of what is expected of a court- certified interpreter, a judge establishes an interpreter’s credentials, asking questions regarding the interpreter’s education, fluency in source and target languages, specialized training, and other pertinent issues. The video also addresses the importance of the interpreter as “clarifier” when he or she is faced with unfamiliar slang and the serious problems arising from changes of meaning when the interpreter edits, omits, or adds material on the record.

Ms. Cline underscored the importance of the code of ethics with a capital E and reminded us that note-taking is part and parcel of our professional duty. I believe in the need to take notes as well, even when we feel confident that our memory will not fail us. The presenter also provided information about topics such as full-time employment, fees paid by the courts, and training opportunities. Afterward, we broke up into small groups and practiced “shadowing” (same-language simultaneous exercises) as well as target-language interpretation. Before the lunch break, the participants had a chance to ask more questions regarding the certification exam, compensation, and the use of monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. Ms. Cline also provided us with an extensive list of print and online resources.

Translation basics

Because the presenter for the afternoon session was unable to attend, Ms. Cline also covered the topic of legal translation. Since this is not her area of expertise, she focused mainly on sight translation, both as an interpreting skill and as a preamble for good translation. Ms. Cline discussed ways to prepare to become a competent translator and interpreter, using both material from her own experiences and resources from the Monterey Institute for International Studies. Most of the workshop attendees were experienced translators, but it was nonetheless refreshing to review term-research techniques.

The workshop ended with a lively Q&A session. Participants discussed strategies for sight translating repetitive English terms and approaching translation when there are no good target-language equivalents. Overall, novice interpreters felt that the workshop had been very helpful, while experienced interpreters were grateful to have had an opportunity to review the legal process and to go over specialized terminology. There is a continuing need for certified interpreters in federal and state courts, and the positive feedback confirmed that this type of workshop is extremely useful for aspiring interpreters.