Interpreters Speak Out

Interpreting has a great fly-on-the-wall feel to it. Sometimes, though, it’s absolutely painful to be so invisible. Occasionally there are assignments that truly inspire us to speak out and say “Hey! That’s not what she said and you know it!” There are so many reasons, though, why we absolutely must resist the urge, not the least of which is our basic job description and ethical commitment.

An interpreter is a voice. The best interpreters practically leave no trace, giving participants a clear voice while neither adding nor subtracting anything — that means gestures and tone, along with information.

So yeah, that means that when an interviewer is muddling an interviewee’s response, the interpreter must carefully and faithfully translate all of it… even when the attempt at deception is obvious. Not an easy task to endure at times, but there are legal repercussions that affect not only the interviewer and interviewee, but also a meddling/helpful interpreter!

And then there is confidentiality. We all sometimes wish we could call a lawyer and tip them off on some massive injustice we just overheard, but that is like playing with fire while holding a jug of gasoline in one hand and a firecracker in the other. So watch out. There are a finite number of situations where confidentiality can be broken. Be keenly aware of what these exceptions are in your country and state.

As for the United States — and this is absolutely not legal advise at all, but rather just information on what the law says — there is one allowable breech of confidentiality we can all embrace:

  • By Federal law, child abuse must be reported. So if an interpreter knows of or suspects a child is being abused, then s/he can and in fact must toss the confidentiality thing out the window and report it to the proper authorities.

The way this is done varies from state to state, so check your specific state law for details. It’s at least one instance in which we don’t have to bite our tongue until it bleeds.

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