By Katty Kauffman

A few days ago a former student reached out for guidance. She had been hired to interpret at a trial, but when she arrived she discovered that she was in fact there to serve as a check interpreter. Her question was simple: what should I do?

Unfortunately, the answer is not that straightforward. While there is plenty of guidance out there for court interpreters in general, when it comes to check interpreting, there is precious little to go by.

But first, what is “check interpreting?” When might we be asked to serve as a monitor or “check” interpreter?

A check interpreter is as a colleague hired by one of the parties to monitor the performance of the “main” or “official” interpreter and flag any errors or omissions that may arise. Check interpreters are often used at depositions, at immigration proceedings and, occasionally, as in the case of my former student, at trial. Agencies will also sometimes hire a check interpreter to monitor the performance of their employees, but very often that is really more of an in-house quality control function than an effort to ensure the accuracy of the record per se.

Of course, in a team interpreting setting, where there are two “main” or “official” interpreters. The active interpreter delivers the interpretation while the second interpreter provides a “second ear” and helps out with addresses, numbers, terminology lookups, etc. Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of guidance available on the role of the active and support interpreter, how they should interact and how the record should be corrected if necessary. See for example, the Wisconsin Handbook for Court Interpreters Working in Teams.

Unfortunately, much of that guidance is only tangentially applicable to check interpreting. Why? Because while team interpreters are just that, a collaborative, interdependent unit working together to provide ONE accurate interpretation, check interpreters are external troubleshooters who only intervene when there is a problem. In the highly charged adversarial setting of a complex deposition, for example, if one side hires an interpreter for the deponent and the other side hires a “check” interpreter, the relationship between the two colleagues will naturally tend to be adversarial – not collaborative – even if both are sworn to uphold the record.

So, what advice did I give my former student?

First, make sure you know what you are there to do: serve as the main interpreter or as the check interpreter. If there is any uncertainty, clarify it with the parties and/or with the judge if necessary.

Second, if you are the check interpreter, remember that there may be sensitive and adversarial conditions in play. As such, it may not be a good idea to talk to the main interpreter outside the presence of both attorneys. In some cases it may be fine, but don’t assume that you are a team. You aren’t.

Third, remember that our job as interpreters is to ensure the accuracy of the record. If the error or omission is substantive enough to affect the record, find an appropriate time and make the correction. If it is simply a matter of word choice (“bag” vs “sack” / “soda” vs “pop”), let it slide.

Fourth, avoid interrupting the main interpreter in mid rendition. This falls under the “do unto others” category. You wouldn’t want someone interrupting you, ruining your flow, potentially causing you to forget the rest of the utterance. Don’t do it to someone else.

Fifth, be as diplomatic as possible. When the time comes, you may want to say, “from the check interpreter, I believe the word xxx was omitted.” This will give the main interpreter an opportunity to correct the record him/herself and, if the air is thick enough to cut with a knife, help keep things civil, at the very least between the two interpreters!

Katty Kauffman will be presenting at Finding the Parallels in Orlando this October!

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