Throughout the course of a court proceeding, it is imperative that all involved — witnesses, lawyers, court reporters, etc. — understand what is being said in real time. In 1978, the United States court systems established qualifications and rules for interpreters by creating the Court Interpreters Act. The role of interpreters and translators is to clarify the statements of witnesses whose primary language is different from the primary language spoken in court. This can include foreign languages and sign languages.
While court interpreters are required to be highly skilled in both the language they are interpreting and general court proceedings, there still can be issues that arise. Anything from misinterpretations of the court proceedings or deviations from pure translations. When these issues arise, it is the responsibility of the court reporter in Oklahoma, to interrupt the court and do what is necessary to achieve and maintain the accuracy of the transcript.
Times to Interrupt or Adjust Transcript for Accuracy
- Wrong Pronoun is Used. Interpreters are responsible for translating on the witness’s behalf, it is easy and not uncommon for interpreters to fall into speaking in third-person. When this happens, the court reporter is forced to establish a dialogue within the transcript to provide clarity about who is speaking. In this situation, the court reporter would go off the record to explain to the counsel or interpreter that to provide a clean record, everyone needs to speak in first-person, as though the interpreter isn’t there.
- When a Translator is Needed. Instances where there is a language barrier but a translator has yet to be requested or if a translator has been requested but is incomprehensible, it will be necessary for the court reporter to interrupt and explain that the proceedings are not being recorded due to a lack of understanding. If the necessary interpreter cannot be provided, the court reporter can offer to call in a different reporter who may be better equipped to understand the proceedings.
- When the Attorney Doesn’t Wait for Translation. When the questioning attorney understands the foreign language, continually asking questions without waiting for the interpreter to translate, the court reporter will need to interrupt and ask for clarification.
Additional circumstances where the court reporter may need to adjust the transcript as a result of translation difficulty may include:
- Adjustments for Clarification. When the interpreter asks for clarification or additional information, including spelling, the court reporter must make note of the interruption in the transcript. This is generally done via a colloquy— “Interpreter (asked for clarification on spelling) Can you please spell that?”
- Adjustments for Multiple Languages. If a witness uses more than one language throughout, the court reporter must make note of which language is being used throughout the questioning.
- Adjustments for Witness/Interpreter Discussions. If there is a difficulty in translation between the witness and interpreter, or when the witness and interpreter are speaking without interpretation, the court reporter is only responsible for reporting what is spoken in English. Because the conversation between the witness and interpreter is not a part of the questioning the attorney will need to ask for clarification. If the attorney wants the conversation included in the record, they will need to ask what was said.
As a court reporter in Oklahoma, it is important to accurately record court proceedings regardless of the language being spoken.