Suggested Guidelines for Coordinators
Aleé A. Alger-Robbins, Certified Interpreter and
Consultant (with contributions from Ana Gloria Barnett, Interpreter Coordinator for
San Diego Juvenile Court)
IDEAL INTERPRETER COORDINATORS STRIVE TO IDENTIFY AND HIRE IDEAL
INTERPRETERS. This means identifying an interpreter who not only
has superior language skills but who also has professional demeanor. Ideal
interpreters are well-mannered, properly dressed, arrive on time, keep
a low profile and complete the interpreting assignment in accordance with
accepted interpreting standards. They work well under pressure, have an
understanding of the legal system, honor the attorney/client privilege
and remain impartial at all times. Professional interpreters know how to
handle challenges to interpretation, value working in tandem with other
interpreters and continue improving their vocabulary, diction and memory.
They are reliable, detached and observe necessary courtroom decorum. Their
services are in demand.
How do courts find and keep such interpreters? The interpreter coordinator
often holds the key. A survey of highly paid international conference
interpreters in Europe found that the three main factors associated with
motivation were: 1) feeling useful 2) being appreciated by colleagues and
3) being appreciated by the consumers. Note that financial remuneration
was listed as number nine out of a total of eleven motivating factors.
Although court interpreters generally feel that they are paid too little
for their services, professional working conditions allowing them to
do their best and to be appreciated by all players in the courtroom can
provide important motivation.
Independent contractors will give scheduling preference to courts with
policies geared toward motivating and rewarding certified interpreters,
by valuing their linguistic expertise and providing them with the necessary
tools to do their work well. Such courts reap the rewards of working with
reliable professionals: interpreters who will be available, flexible and
willing to change their schedules to accommodate last minute emergencies.
Ultimately, these courts will spend less time and resources in
finding and keeping good interpreters. Most importantly, hiring quality
interpreters will minimize incidents that provoke the ire of judges, the
frustration of courtroom clerks and the indignation of attorneys who appeal
cases because of interpreter error.
To that end, the following guidelines may help you achieve an ideal working
relationship with contract and staff interpreters:
Just as opening arguments in a trial provide a road map showing where the
evidence is going, clear guidelines and orientation show a new interpreter
what is expected of him. Develop an orientation handout that interpreters
can take with them to read. It should contain a schematic of the courthouse,
do's and don'ts for particular departments, local rules, a copy of the
California interpreter code of ethics and instructions for submitting payment
vouchers. Don't rely on your memory to orient each new interpreter- put
it in writing. Written directives are particularly important for untrained
or non-certified interpreters who generally need more guidance and direction
than do certified interpreters. In fact, written directives can be more
readily understood by non-native English speakers than hurried verbal instructions.
PROVIDE CLEAR GUIDELINES AND ORIENTATION
Observing and evaluating the interpreters you hire enables you to give
and receive valuable information. Ask your experienced interpreters to
design an evaluation form for observing and critiquing other interpreters.
Most experienced interpreters can evaluate newcomers, even in languages
other than their own, in matters of protocol, procedural knowledge and
observance of the canons of ethics. The evaluation process should be non-threatening,
non-judgmental and designed to give feedback and suggestions for improvement.
Take advantage of "golden teaching moments" to fine-tuning the
performance of an otherwise competent interpreter, and to identify those
who need more training.
OBSERVE, CRITIQUE AND OFFER USEFUL SUGGESTIONS TO INTERPRETERS REGARDING
THEIR PERFORMANCE IN THE COURTROOM
Because interpreters represent a variety of languages and cultures, their
behavioral norms may be different. Get to know the differences, as well
as the similarities. Spend a few minutes getting to know each interpreter
so that you can value their individual qualities. Interpreters who feel
that they are appreciated as individuals will accommodate the court for
a last-minute emergency or late working hours, or are willing to tackle
a difficult case. When you establish a rapport with your interpreters,
they are more easily approached regarding problems that may arise. Don't
hesitate to talk to them and explain what you need, and why.
ESTABLISH A GOOD WORKING RAPPORT WITH INTERPRETERS
By the same token, take some time to teach the interpreters about your
role, the difficulties you face and what you need from them to make your
job easier. Coordinators may have difficulties with interpreters who underestimate
the challenge of coordinating and assigning interpreters. Remind them of
what is involved, and give them specific suggestions about how to understand
your duties and to be supportive.
One of the biggest challenges facing both coordinators and interpreters
is an equitable hiring system. Whether your court uses a strict rotation
system, one based on seniority or on individual preference, it is important
that interpreters desirous of working for your court know what your hiring
and assignment criteria are. Because Spanish language interpreters comprise
the largest pool available, they are the ones most directly affected by
hiring decisions. A rotation system has two main advantages: it is fair,
and all the interpreters become experienced in the particulars of your
courthouse. Interpreters who are seldom or never hired should be informed
of the reason. If there is a problem with their performance, let them know.
USE A FAIR AND EQUITABLE SYSTEM FOR HIRING AND ASSIGNING INTERPRETERS
It is also advisable to rotate court assignments among interpreters so
that everyone becomes familiar with the different proceedings. If one interpreter
is continually assigned the same duty court, his vocabulary tends to stagnate.
An even more serious consequence of failing to rotate daily assignments
is the mistaken perception by attorneys and the public that the interpreter
is a member of the permanent courtroom staff. This blurs the impartial
and neutral role that the courtroom interpreter must maintain, and can
result in interpreters being asked to assume duties generally performed
by attorneys and paralegals. Frequently rotating the staff and contract
interpreters to all courtroom assignments is an excellent way of maintaining
enthusiasm, skills and a clear delineation of the interpreter's role.
Although most interpreters have their own reference sources and frequently
keep one or more dictionaries in their briefcase, it would be impossible
to bring every possible reference source to the courthouse. Consider purchasing
monolingual and bilingual dictionaries and glossaries for your interpreting
staff. Specialty dictionaries containing accounting, architectural, scientific,
legal, medical and engineering terminology are essential tools for interpreters
preparing for the testimony of an expert witness. They also need glossaries
containing slang, proverbs, obscenities and crime-specific vocabulary.
Ask experienced interpreters for their recommendations to add to your reference
STOCK THE INTERPRETERS OFFICE WITH DICTIONARIES, GLOSSARIES, REFERENCE
MATERIALS, NECESSARY COURT FORMS AND COURT CALENDARS
Also, the interpreter needs to know in advance the case caption,
number and type of case to which he is assigned. Most importantly, prior
to a trial or evidentiary hearing he needs a chance to review police
reports, preliminary hearing transcripts or witness statements. Develop
a system with court administration and the prosecutor's office so that
interpreters have access to these documents before a trial or hearing.
In providing the link between the interpreter and the court the coordinator
is in the best position to keep the judges, administrators and other courtroom
players aware of the role and needs of interpreters. By advising the Court
well in advance of the need for electronic equipment, good physical location
for hearing and seeing, a glass of water, access to case information, the
need for team interpreting and of the protocol that interpreters must follow,
you are more likely to see the entire interpreting process proceed smoothly
and without unnecessary delays.
KEEP COURT CLERKS, ATTORNEYS AND JUDGES APPRISED OF THE ROLE OF THE
INTERPRETER AND INTERPRETING REQUIREMENTS
By the same token, the interpreter should be informed of any particular
needs of that court, such as follow-up dates, orders to appear, paperwork
to be given defendants, special security precautions, etc. Good communication
between the court and the interpreter allows them to work together efficiently:
frequently it is the interpreter coordinator who makes that happen.
For courts that hire multiple interpreters every day due to large volume
Spanish or Southeast Asian case loads, it is advisable to hire sufficient
interpreters to fill the inevitable last minute calendar additions and
changes. It is much more expensive to have judges and attorneys waiting
for one interpreter to be called in, than to have one interpreter available
as as a "floater". This is the interpreter who will handle unscheduled
matters such as a last-minute witness, a case that was to plead out but
goes to trial or a large number of detainees in the holding cells who needing
interviewing before their arraignments. Once you determine that all the
courts are covered, the floating interpreter is free to do the Ten-Minute
Manager duties, organize the interpreter's library, translate routine court
documents, observe and evaluate other interpreters, update your interpreter
lists and prepare materials for continuing education classes. Such interpreters
are valuable resources worth tapping. Be prepared to utilize their down
time to your advantage, and theirs.
IN COURTS HIRING MANY INTERPRETERS DAILY, SCHEDULE A "FLOATING"
On the other hand, don't create "busy" work for interpreters
who are independent contractors. Recognize that in lieu of job security
and benefits, they have opted for flexibility and independence. They need
to be available to other clients besides you. Treat them as independent
professionals, giving them the same flexibility of scheduling that they
give you when you require their services on short notice.
There may be times when an interpreter needs to consult with you regarding
a potential conflict of interest on a case. As officers of the court they
must be impartial and maintain attorney/client privilege at all times.
If an interpreter advises you that he needs to recuse himself from a particular
case for reasons based on the canons of interpreter ethics, you should
assign a different interpreter to the case. Even general discussions about
ethical dilemmas should be handled with the utmost confidence and delicacy.
When in doubt, consult your superior or the presiding judge for a resolution
to these sensitive matters.
MAINTAIN PROFESSIONAL CONFIDENCES ENTRUSTED IN YOU BY INTERPRETERS
Generally, interpreters are members of one of more professional organizations.
They attend conferences and intensive courses to further their professional
growth and to fulfill their continuing education requirements. Some of
your interpreters may even be instructors for local universities, sharing
their field of specialty with aspiring candidates for the interpreter's
exam. Encourage these activities by posting announcements of upcoming workshops
and classes, and in the case of staff interpreters, by reimbursing their
professional fees for attending such conferences whenever possible. Ask
those attending educational gatherings to report back to the other interpreters
so that the information may be shared by all.
FOSTER AND ENCOURAGE THE PROFESSIONAL GROWTH OF INTERPRETERS
Take advantage of your teaching interpreters to present small modules to
the judges and attorneys in your courthouse. They are the best providers
of "golden teaching moments" that can make a big difference in
educating the bar and the bench about the interpreter's role.
Above all, strive to hire certified interpreters in the eight designated
languages. These interpreters have studied and trained assiduously to earn
their certification, and the quality of their performance almost always
reflects those efforts. By hiring certified interpreters you are fostering
professional growth by giving them an incentive to improve and make sure
that they attain the highest levels of their profession.
The interpreter coordinator has a daunting role in the criminal justice
system. Providing the all-important link between the court and the interpreter
requires a delicate balancing act. On the one hand you are dealing
with demanding, overworked judges and attorneys who have an immediate need
for an interpreter. You are seldom given the luxury of even a day to find
someone to hire. On the other hand you are sometimes forced to hire interpreters
who are neither trained nor certified, who come from a vast spectrum of
languages, cultures and educational backgrounds. On very short notice you
must introduce them to the legal system, get them ready to appear before
a judge and jury and convince them to come back for another appearance
when they are done. It is also not uncommon to deal with interpreters who
do not behave professionally, and create problems for the coordinator.
Moreover, you may be faced with a small budget, lack of interpreter equipment
and reference materials, or you simply may not know where to begin!
DEVELOP A NETWORK WITH OTHER INTERPRETER COORDINATORS
There is a good chance that some other interpreter coordinator has already
experienced those same challenges. It is important to establish a network
with other interpreter coordinators throughout the state. Your colleagues
are the best source of problem solving. Look to them for help and suggestions.
And when you come up with a particularly brilliant idea, share it.
This binder is an excellent source of resources, information and guidelines
which you can always refer to as new challenges arise.
Good luck to each of you from an interpreter who appreciates and values
the efforts made by IDEAL INTERPRETER COORDINATORS. You make a difference