How to Communicate Effectively with Your Clients Through an Interpreter

interpreter in court.jpg

Dear Attorneys, 

This blog post is dedicated to you. Before I begin, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy working with you and I admire the work that you do. It is both complicated and fascinating! 

Our goal is to help you work more effectively with an interpreter when you have a client that cannot communicate with you in your language. There are several ways you can improve the interpreter’s role for both yourself and your client. 

Our priority, as interpreters, is to ensure that the communication between you and your client is effective, clear, concise and without errors. Legal settings and terms can get very confusing, even in our own language! There is a great example about this in an article written by Rebecca Beitsch, titled “How bad translation by court interpreters can turn misunderstanding into injustice”.

Top tips for communicating through an interpreter:

  • Speak directly to your client

When there is a person in between you and your client, the first instinct is to start speaking in third person, for example: “Tell him that he is going to testify in court”. When this happens, the interpreter can get confused and incorrectly translate as if you were talking about someone else. To avoid this, speak as if your client could understand you: “You will testify in court”. Remember, we are your voice. We will repeat exactly what you said. 

  •  Speak a tad slower than normal and pause when it gets complicated

You know the law and you are familiar with your client’s case. You can recite all the due process as fast as possible to ensure no precious time is wasted. However, keep in mind that, in some languages, like Spanish, it takes about 15-20% additional words to say the exact same thing you said in English, which puts interpreters a little behind if you are speaking extremely fast. Speak at a normal pace, no need to slow it down too much either.

If you hire a good interpreter, you will not need to pause after every sentence. We study and practice techniques that help us retain a lot of information so that you can speak fluently. However, if you are inserting several complicated legal terms, take pauses to ensure that the interpreter communicates them effectively to your client. 

  • We repeat exactly what you say

 We don’t dumb it down. If you speak at a high register, we will match it. If you say, for example: “Bifurcated trial”, we will say exactly that and will not explain the definition. It is not our place to lower the register to ensure your client understands. If you want to dumb it down, please do so and we will repeat what you said and how you said it. 

  •  Don’t read like Speedy Gonzalez.

We all tend to speak faster when we read. Reading a statement of the law can get very complicated. When you read like Speedy Gonzalez, we simply cannot keep up. Keep in mind, you want to make sure your client is understanding the law that will apply to his or her case. We will ask you to slow down, but it is a lot better for you and your client when there is no need to interrupt you. 

Our goal is to eliminate communication barriers that exist between you and your clients. Interpreters are there to make your life easier. We understand that you would never want to risk a miscommunication when it comes to legal matters. Professional and certified interpreters will ensure this does not happen. 

Thank you, for taking the time to learn more about the incredible role of interpreters and please comment or reach out to me with any questions or feedback!