In Interpreting

Vocalink Global’s language interpreters help others communicate across language and culture around 650,000 minutes every month.   Our on-site interpreters facilitate effective communication about 5,000 times each month.  Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of observing Marina Camacho – one of Vocalink Global’s senior, Spanish, legal interpreters – in action. When Marina offered me the unique opportunity to witness court interpreting live, I couldn’t resist.

As the new Marketing Manager at Vocalink, I’ve learned a lot about the language industry, interpreting, translation, and localization. But witnessing first-hand a professional interpreter facilitating communication between a Limited English Proficient (LEP) individual, his lawyer, the judge, opposing counsel, and others in the courtroom brought my understanding to a whole new level.

I joined Marina on her visit to the courthouse to interpret for two legal appointments. As we were entering the courtroom, I found myself getting a bit nervous. I really had no idea what to expect. Marina, on the other hand, appeared very calm and collected. I could tell she had been there a time or two.

My Findings:

Preparation

Upon arriving at the appointment, Marina immediately asked for available documentation to review. This allowed her to preview what was going to be discussed during the proceedings and refresh herself on any terminology she didn’t frequently use. Marina made several notes as she did some final preparation.

When it came time for the proceedings to begin, Marina was ready, with her notebook in hand. She carried not one, but three pens. Can you imagine if a pen ran out of ink during a long interpreting session, leaving you unable to write down important numbers or figures? That surely isn’t a situation in which I’d want to find myself. Marina took notes frequently, especially when those for whom she was interpreting would mention names or numbers applicable to the case.

Character

As soon as the proceedings began, Marina was in full professional interpreter mode. Not once did she look around at the room, fumble with her notebook, or create side chatter. She remained fully focused on interpreting the language from English to Spanish and vice versa. Various people would enter and leave the courtroom, all of which I found distracting. But Marina maintained her focus on the subject at hand.

Marina’s role in the proceedings was to facilitate communication between English and Spanish. But her interpreting went beyond the words.  Later, Marina explained to me that matching the tone of the speaker is just as important to convey meaning as the words themselves.  I observed Marina interpret with a tone of understanding, force, and compassion, matching the judge. She never once showed an emotion or spoke in a way that didn’t match the speaker.

Talent

The amount of communication talent I witnessed during the appointments cannot be put into words. I found myself in awe watching Marina clearly and quickly (so quickly!) interpret between English and Spanish. While maintaining her tone and character, she very fluently completed the job she was there to do.

Throughout the appointment, I observed Marina interpret in three different modes. There were times when she was asked to relay a message to the LEP individual, of which she did consecutively. At other points, she was interpreting simultaneously, meaning, at the same time as the speaker. I also observed her complete a sight translation, where she provided an oral interpretation of a written document to the LEP individual. Talk about a lot of communication! All of this happened within the hour-long proceeding.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the proceedings, Marina gathered her notes and took a deep breath. She had just spoken for over an hour straight, mostly in simultaneous interpreting mode. I could not imagine how tired her brain must have been. I was exhausted just watching her in action. The sense of pride on her face and in her demeanor was impossible to miss. She had just helped an LEP individual participate in communication they couldn’t have understood without her while facilitating our system of justice. I could tell she was honored to do so, and truly, I was proud of her, too.

If you’re like me and have never been in a situation where an interpreter was involved in communication, I hope this blog has provided some perspective into the world of interpreting. I was honestly blown away by the sheer talent and strength I saw Marina exhibiting. We at Vocalink Global can often be heard to say “being bilingual doesn’t make you an interpreter.”  After witnessing Marina in action, I now understand what that truly means.

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