Because it’s so important in depositions that all parties understand the questions asked and the answers given, there are going to be times when an interpreter is necessary when deposing someone who doesn’t speak English. There are interpreters who are very well trained in the appropriate ways to do simultaneous interpretation, but there are also those who are not trained specifically in the interpretation skills associated with taking a deposition.
- Make sure your interpreter is a court-certified interpreter in the exact language you need. In India, for example, there are 22 “official” dialects that are spoken. In Africa, there are over 200 languages spoken. If your deponent is from North Africa in particular, you’ll need to ask specifically what their native tongue is and make sure your interpreter has the qualifications for that specific dialect. We recently had five deponents who spoke Swahili, but, oddly enough, two different dialects of Swahili. That required two interpreters because the dialects were just different enough to warrant a dialect-specific interpreter.
- Make sure the court reporter swears in the interpreter with the following or very similar language: Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will accurately translate from English into _____ and from _____ into English to the best of your ability? The court reporter will then ask the interpreter to have the witness raise their right hand and will administer the standard oath.
- If the interpreter starts “answering” questions rather than truly repeating exactly what the witness says, it’s absolutely imperative that you stop the proceedings and mention to the interpreter that it would be more accurate if they translated exactly what the witness says. For example, if the question asked is, “What are your children’s names?” but the interpreter says, “His children are Fatina, Elisha and Marina,” you’ll need to ask him or her to interpret the witness’s words exactly. In the final transcript, the reporter would identify the speaker in this example, as THE INTERPRETER rather than simply an A for the answer because it’s obviously not what the witness said but rather is the interpreter speaking his interpretation. This makes the record more convoluted than it needs to be.
- If the interpreter begins to add commentary, such as “He said Broadway, but I think he really meant Colorado Boulevard,” again, you’ll need to interrupt the proceedings and ask the interpreter to not add their opinions or corrections. Explain that it is your job to make any clarifications in the record.
- At the end of the examination, be sure to explain the reading and signing process to the witness on the record so it will be interpreted and the witness will understand the process. If the witness has an attorney attending the deposition, this matter will be handled through that attorney and is not required to be explained on the record.
Again, most interpreters know the process and do their job well. On the other hand, as court reporters we see many depositions taking place through interpreters who simply don’t understand the importance of translating exactly word-for-word what the deponent says. They think they’re being helpful, but it can make for a messy, confusing record. This is not something that can be controlled by the court reporter. Our job, as always, is to be the “guardian of the record” and we write what is said as it’s said. We don’t control or correct the record in any way. When interpreted depositions are handled correctly by a certified interpreter, even if gently reminded when they stray off the path of verbatim translation, you’ll have a complete and useful record.
Your court reporting firm can assist you with these services. They’ll have a listing of interpreters with whom they’ve worked and the various languages for which they’re qualified. This probably isn’t something you just want to search the internet for a referral, but rather rely on someone who works regularly with interpreters and has a database of reliable resources.
This article was originally published in the CWBA (Colorado Women’s Bar Association) magazine called The Advocate.