You made a mistake. What Happens Now?


You know that uneasy feeling that you may have made a mistake in your interpreting or legal translation ? You aren’t sure if anyone caught your mistake since you haven’t received a complaint…yet.  Maybe while you were interpreting in a deposition, an attorney objected and then asked to have a question and answer and your interpretation read back. Maybe it was an unfamiliar phrase repeated throughout a translation and every time you saw it, something bothered you about the term you were using. But you made the deadline and it is already in the hands of the client. In both cases, the more you think about it, the more you feel that you made a mistake. At this point, your conscious won’t leave you alone.

That sense is a good thing. It means you care about your work product.

When a mistake is discovered, here’s what’s probably going to happen on the client’s end.

If you were working for an agency, they will hear the complaint from their client.  A professional agency should give you a chance to tell your side, so they will contact you and ask you about the job. Some will tell you exactly what the client complained about. If you work with the agency to help them rectify the problem, then you help them keep their client. If they keep that client, you have a better chance of staying on with the agency. If they have to resolve the problem without your help, you could easily lose them as a client. Often the agency will need to discount or not charge their fee to keep the client.

Fact: The agency can replace you with another freelancer much easier than they can replace a paying client.

Fact: Legal translation offered as evidence can be objected to in court if errors are found. The client they may send back the translation and ask for a correction. If you are at fault, don’t charge them.

Fact: Most interpreters don’t realize the repercussions to the client of misinterpreted testimony.

Fact: Many Court Interpreter Regulatory bodies have grievance protocols that can result in certification suspension or termination.

Interpreters may not hear complaints about mistakes they make at all.  Lawyers are super busy and don’t like the task of questioning people about errors.  But they do  tell other lawyers about bad experiences with interpreters, which snowballs, and your reputation is shot. You will begin to notice that specific client doesn’t schedule you anymore. Then your overall work load drops off.

If your mistake affected their witness’s case, the firm has to act quickly and according to the rules of civil or criminal procedure. They may hire another interpreter to review the transcript and give an expert opinion on any errors. You won’t find out unless you are called to testify if a motion is made to throw out the transcript or statements in question.

Mistakes are made in your work or in your business performance too.

Being late and delaying a deposition costs both parties in time and money. Not making a deadline on a translation can set back the client’s production schedule. This is why clients react so strongly to mistakes we make.

Don’t spend time agonizing over a mistake. Instead take action to correct it and be honest  and fair with the client.

When you work to resolve it, you will learn how to never make that mistake again.

Let’s go down Resolution Road together. Look for two more posts: what you can do to resolve a mistake and what to do when the client wrongly claims that you made a mistake.

Taking the Snide Witness in Stride

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines snide as: slyly disparaging.

Canon 1 of The Texas Court  Interpreters Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility states in part that”  The interpreter shall render a complete and accurate interpretation without altering, omitting or adding to what is stated and without explanation. The register style and tone of the source language should be conserved “

This is why when a witness is snide, the professional interpreter repeats the tone and the wording spoken despite the rudeness to the attorneys and the obstructions to a smooth deposition that attitude creates.  It is really not fun for us either.

It is also important for the interpreter to prepare to not be affected in any way by the rudeness that ensues. Instead you can prepare for delays, duration and a hostile environment. This way you can avoid any associated discomfort, fatigue or impediments to your performance.

Here are scenarios from when I interpreted for and observed several snide witnesses.

The witness: The tone is sarcastic. The pace of the responsiveness is either dragging, with long pauses or fast paced with sharp and snapping responses. For a fast paced testimony, it is best to interpret simultaneously.

The questioning attorney: may take a contentious tone or a passive one, In the latter situation they wait patiently for responses to questions.  Either of these approaches extend the deposition. Finally they may request/insist that the lawyer representing the witness intervene.  If the witness’s attorney does not intervene the deposition may be cut short.

The attorney for the witness can either intervene by instructing the witness to respond or take a break and do so privately. Otherwise, the attorney for the witness can ignore the situation entirely. In said situation the questioning attorney may respond more aggressively than is usual in depositions. The attorney for the witness may object as badgering. In my latest experience, there were no objections and the questions became faster, more compound and demanding. The witness became even more aggressive.

All persons who are on the record:

  • Expect a lot of gestures such as eye rolling to exaggerated sighs, turning to co-counsel with expressions of shock/disbelief, head shaking and long deep stares with furrowed brows. Note: Interpreters do not convey or indicate gestures.
  • There can be raised voices, talk overs and cursing.
  • There can be reactionary behavior like pounding on the table, exhibits slapped on the table, exhibits tossed or pulled away.

When a witness replies refusing to state the requested information, the questioning attorney may remind them of the obligation they have to provide information in depositions. If the witness continues to refuse, the questioning lawyer may call the Judge to intervene and instruct the witness. The interpreter needs to stay until the deposition is officially ended on the record. Even then, the issue may not be resolved.

If you were contracted by an agency, you should notify them afterwards of the incident to keep them apprised. Do not comment in any way that can be considered your opinion on the situation. Do not show any displeasure or frustration to the attorneys.

Know that attorneys are trained for these situations. The best attorneys I know take it in stride. I suggest you perform like the best attorneys and continue to enjoy your work.

When You Suffer from Acyrologia, We Suffer Right Along With You.

 

I recognized this condition right away. I have suffered at the hand of those who suffer from Acyrologia. Yes it happens in other languages too.

When I am on the stand or in a deposition and I am sight translating a document in Spanish out loud in English, I am following the word sequence of whatever is written to be able to process the translation correctly. And when the words in the document stop making sense, I am halted in my flow.  What usually happens then is the quizzical looks and even an objection- directed at me and my interpretation of which I am innocent.

And no matter how funny the words sound, we are not allowed to laugh, as per our regulations. Even if everyone else in the courtroom is laughing.

So this  is not just the result of untrained translators or online translation apps, but people writing without proofreading. So, now attorneys and Judges can put a name to this condition.

So it was a relief to know there is a condition with a root cause and behavioral symptoms of the author of a source document that causes difficulty in my work. Now maybe if they can come up with a cure.

This description starts serious and then gets funny.  See if you can count the malapropisms.  But the truth is, a lot of us legal translators on a regular basis see this in the most sensitive of documents.

 

 

When Speaking to People, are you Self-Sabotaging ?

Count your Uhs and Ums.

Whether you are speaking to an audience of three or three thousand, you want to be taken seriously. In an interview, an interrogation, questioning a witness in a deposition, addressing a jury or even on a first date, you want to make the right impression. You want to be believed and you want to hold the attention of your audience. You can’t rely on the content of your message alone. You also have to rely on your delivery skills.

I’ve become very aware of how a speaker’s message is distorted by interruptions such as “uh” and “um”, because my simultaneous delivery of the words spoken is also interrupted.  If the statement is evidence, I see first hand how it is perceived and accepted or not by the listener.

If you are filling their ears with “uh” and “um” and “eh”, most people will quickly tune you out.

This the message you are sending:

  • You don’t know what you are talking about.
  • You are making it up as you go along.
  • You are not familiar with the subject enough to speak continuously.
  • You have to throw in words to your sentence as fillers.
  • But worst of all, you are telling the listener that you don’t care about what you are talking about.

(So why should anyone else care?)

The solution is easy.  By yourself, practice making a point that you would in a short casual conversation.  As soon as you catch yourself saying “Uh” or ‘um”, start over.

Replace every “uh” or “um” with a silent pause. Keep repeating the same point until you do not interrupt yourself with either a pause or an “uh “or “um”.  This will give your brain the practice of speaking without theses interruptions.

Now, move up to a prepared statement and follow the same routine, without reading it word for word. Add convincing body language and you are ready to fly, nonstop.

Blueprint for a Credible Apology . Tasks for the Receiver of the Apology

There is such a thing as a credible apology. I have seen it given, heard the words and witnessed the very moving acceptance. I saw this happen many times. So I have compared what I witnessed to the thousands of non-credible apologies that fall flat. I broke down all the aspects and preparation performed to create a credible apology. The Receiver of the apology will benefit from preparation for hearing and deciding how to react to an apology.

In my line of work, the biggest obstacle of most apologies I see is that the apologizer is prohibited from admitting guilt. I am a forensic foreign language linguist in the judicial and law enforcement fields. My clients, top lawyers, detectives and mediators clear that hurdle with this same process which also works for apologies in your personal life.

You may not be able to accept or benefit emotionally from an apology where the Giver has not admitted guilt. And that is not only understandable, it is your right to not accept an apology. If it shows that the Giver recognizes how you can feel the way you do and that you both have an analogous view of the event and offers regret for the outcome that will take space in the void of not hearing anything at all. Focusing on expectations that the Giver will say exactly what you want to hear sets you up for disappointment. If the giver of the apology is in a position of power, lives a sheltered existence and/or has a large ego may have no experience being wronged in such a way as you were. That type of person needs to be enlightened before they can have empathy.

Part One: Empathy Development

Start with finding out what you don’t know. Why do they feel they did nothing wrong? This will take research and investigation on your part.

·        Define and qualify “wrong” in their terms not yours.

·        Know that the Giver will approach the wrong as qualitative, not quantitative.

·        Know that if the Giver personally committed the wrong then it is a personal event now in his or her life also.

·        Know that if the Giver is a representative or head of the company that committed the wrong that all participants will know about the apology.

The Receiver of the apology should be able to reiterate the POV of the Giver comfortably in their own words.

Part Two

·        Spend the time needed to get comfortable hearing about what stopped the Giver from avoiding or impeding the event from taking place. 

·        Acknowledge the level of difficulty in making such an apology for this specific person.

Part Three

·        Know that you need to acknowledge the apology. But you get to decide if or if not you will accept it.

·        Don’t expect reparations or amends as a part of an apology.

·        Acknowledge the change being made to bar such an incident ever happening again.

·        Express appreciation that they apologized.

The Blue Print for a Credible Apology

Not everyone will apologize, even when facing imprisonment, the destruction of their career, or an established corporation. Many times I’ve seen representatives of Fortune 100 businesses apologize for their role in events to the level of the death of a loved one. And the accepted apologies diffused potential devastation. An apology takes preparation, for both the Giver and Receiver.

The tasks for the Receiver are outlined in a separate blog post.

In my line of work, the biggest obstacle of the apologies I see is that the apologizer is prohibited from admitting guilt. I am a forensic foreign language linguist for the judicial and law enforcement fields. My clients, some of the best lawyers, detectives and mediators clear that hurdle with this same process which also works for apologies in your personal life.

Tasks of the Giver

Part One: Empathy Development

Start with finding out what you don’t know. What do they feel you did wrong?

·        Define and qualify “wrong” in their terms not yours.

·        Approach the wrong as qualitative, not quantitative.

·        Spend the time needed to get comfortable hearing about the Receiver’s circumstances that led to their sensitivity. 

·        Take special steps to assure both the credibility of the wording and body language if a public/media statement will be made.

The giver of the apology who is in a position of power, lives a sheltered existence and/or has a large ego will need to work out the apology in a setting with only a few people who are not subordinates.  Such a person may have no experience being wronged in such a way, so it will have to be introduced and explained in a non- judgmental way.

Others can realize what was done “wrong” from the POV of the Receiver with a simple explanation.

Then discuss and explore facts that support or negate the possibility of an exaggerated baseless claim. The giver should air those out and resolve concerns so they don’t seep into the apology. If an apology is warranted you can apologize for what is based on facts. 

The Giver of the apology should be able to reiterate the POV of the Receiver comfortably in their own words.

Part Two: Create the Apology

·        Outline how the actions aided or contributed or caused the impact suffered by the Receiver.

·        Demonstrate these by describing the incident scenario without said actions and note the different and more desirable result.

·        Practice eliminating justification for your actions and replacing it with optional behaviors or processes.

·        Practice eliminating expressing self-defense and replace it with the responsiveness of the apology.

Part Three: Delivery

Display proper body language that are naturally indicative of sincerity.

The timeline of a credible apology.

·        Start with relating the incident, factually without adverbs or adjectives. This shows that there is a mutual familiarity of the event.

·        Express the role/actions in the incident.

·        Acknowledge the impact on the Received.

·        Express regret.

·        Finally express the change being made to bar such an incident ever happening again.

·        Express appreciation that they gave you the time to apologize.

Scope of Regret 

The Giver will have to regret their actions and the impact of those actions. When damage is more than emotional, do not simply express regret for how the Receiver feels.  That is not an apology it is a rude deviation and it eliminates any perception of regret.

Questions that Sink and Questions that Float

Big JoyYour question is hanging in midair and the witness, in the sworn proceeding is looking at you, gape mouthed. Was the question clear?  Or maybe the witness is deciding what part of it to answer. You could be facing  a cycle of delays and frustration. This occurs whether the proceeding is interpreted or not. But it does seem that as the interpreter, I can see the disconnect happen before the questioning attorney catches on.

The fault lies in the broad wording of the question that allows for a flexibility in responsiveness. Add a nervous, reluctant, or even impatient witness and you have Q&A chaos. I’ve even got a name for it: the “Who’s On First” scenario after the famous Abbott and Costello comedy sketch.

It’s no fun for any of us to go down that bumpy road. Sometimes the lawyers get irritated at each other as the objection, “Non Responsive” triggers the objection: “Asked and Answered” over and over. Other times I’ve seen the questioning attorney instruct that the question be certified because the opposing counsel will  refuse to allow the question to be repeated after several attempts. Fact witnesses and Pro Se witnesses, who are unfamiliar with the questioning process, can quickly stymie whatever progress has been made when the “Who’s On First” routine starts up.

In such cases that there is an interpreter, professional interpreters know to simply be patient, show no reaction and continue interpreting accurately and completely. These situations are not a challenge to an interpreter.

In 1999, Claims Magazine, the national publication of the Insurance industry, published my article titled, What do You Mean by That? Specific Terms in a Q&A Produce Direct Responses. You can find the article on my website here http://www.linguisticworld.com/books_and_articles.html.  At the date of this blog post it is a full 17 years later and I still see many of these examples of questions that sink.

The most common culprit is the compound question. This is a question that contains two or more questions being asked. Often it offers alternative responses much like a multiple choice question. This kind of question is standard for casual conversation but in a Q&A setting, where the person is under oath, a single yes or no to such a question encompasses more factors. Another form is when the subject action is maintained but extra dates, times and persons are added to the single event.

Unfortunately, even a seemingly simple question can be compound.  The Yes or No to “Do you know if the light was red for the other driver?” could be responsive to the light being red or not, or it could be responsive to the witness knowing or not. Several clients of mine offer a follow up question to that one with a “No, you don’t know or no, the light wasn’t red?” And surprisingly, the response is the complete answer that contains the question.

The solution is to break down the question as soon as you see the witness is not able to transition to compound questions smoothly. Limit high register legalese terminology that will trigger confusion. The result will be more concise responses and a well-connected communication.

How Distance Protects You : The Witness Outburst

Legal interpreters are taught to keep an emotional distance with the witness to guarantee the witness complete access to the  judicial process, as if they spoke fluent English. It also benefits the interpreter  to have a sole focus on the linguistic components of the statement  while monitoring the content.  Certified interpreters are  bound  by our Code of Professional Responsibility to not show any emotion or bias  in reaction to the statements we are interpreting. In order to do this we have to remain oblivious to the base problem  between the parties.distance-can-protect-you380w

Sometimes maintaining  distance can protect us too. By virtue of being a party to a lawsuit,  some witnesses are facing a very difficult phase of their lives. No matter if they are the plaintiff or the defendant.  The setting exposes the interpreter to a witness whose perception of the difficulty  can range anywhere from an inconvenience to a  life changing crisis.

For example, in a civil matter where a business agreement was not honored, the party will suffer compromise of the investment of time and money.  A personal injury affects one party’s physical and emotional life yet may affect the financial life of the other. Family law and criminal cases easily display a strain on either party and often it is on both parties.

The interpreter can’t predict aggressive questioning or  know how a witness will react to a probing Q&A process.  Establishing the distance at the start of the proceeding is  a good safeguard. In my introductory spiel I include that I have nothing to do with the case and that my work is regulated by state law.  Not making eye contact reinforces the distance. Most outbursts in a courtroom are quickly diffused by the Judge. But that is not the case in other discovery proceedings.

I’ve had a 6’7 Stevedore pick me up by my shoulders and yell in my face, angry at the pointed question I very accurately interpreted. I’ve had several witnesses dissolve into tears in my lap when reminded of the loss of a loved one. I’ve seen witnesses curse and yell  at everyone in the room. I’ve seen a witness knock over the videographer’s camera. One angry witness hit the court reporter’s steno machine to stop writing what he said. The most memorable was a divorce mediation and the wife announced she was a witch, whereupon she went around the table putting a curse on everyone. When she got around to me, I reminded her I would have to interpret the curse and it would fall back on her.  I was spared.

Interpreters need to understand the lawyer’s obligations to their client. Lawyers are trained to evaluate their client’s personality so they can best represent them. Lawyers can assess their client’s responsiveness patterns during deposition and trial preparation.  But we interpreters need to  be prepared for outbursts  from the start of our career. We also need to be comfortable knowing that in such an eruption that we can and should reference the event as an impediment to our performance. We can ask for a break. And we can address the issue with the attorney. We can protect ourselves and our good work.

Interpreting in the Middle of A Missile Attack

missile-attack

A missile attack  is disorder, loud disruption and chaos. Depositions and even court trials can take on that air before being  brought under control. For the interpreter and the court reporter it is  very difficult to perform our work under those conditions. And mistakes are understandable.  For the interpreter, these are impediments to your performance that you cannot overcome. But you can do damage control as soon as the disruption begins.

Certified (“Licensed” in Texas) court interpreters are bound to a Code of Professional Responsibility that includes an instruction to report any impediments to our performance.

(i) CANON 7: ASSESSING AND REPORTING IMPEDIMENTS TO PERFORMANCE. Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver their services. When interpreters have any reservation about their ability to satisfy an assignment competently, they shall immediately convey that reservation to the judge.

I have been interrupted while interpreting by jackhammers breaking up a parking lot next door, that was so loud I could not  hear the witness. Also I’ve experienced the witness yelling at the attorney while the attorney continued asking the question and while the other attorney was yelling at his witness and the court reporter was yelling at all of them to stop talking over each other.  I recall several more incidents when the witness has erupted over an aggressive question, behaving physically or starting a screaming rant.  In those situations you could easily misinterpret so you have to retain control of your actions including possibly to stop interpreting.

Once everyone calms down the interpreter has  to report , on the record, to the attorneys or to the judge the point in the testimony at which you were no longer able to interpret and specify the cause: the specific impediment. Then they decide how to rectify the miscommunication.

More often than not the witness goes silent and I find I am interpreting the attorneys argument and I indicate by gesture the respective attorney while they talk over each other.  The court reporter is often the one who stops the  disruption at a deposition, at trial it is the Judge.

Sometimes the location itself is a minefield of impediments.  I’ve interpreted in industrial facilities with loud machinery operating around me. I’ve interpreted  statements on the deck of container ships in the middle of the Houston Ship Channel.  Colleagues report interpreting assignments where they are at the back of a City Council room filled with protesters.

Attorneys, investigators and insurance adjusters have to go where they can find the answers to the questions in order to best represent their client.  If that means talking to a Limited English speaker at their workplace or wherever they can be found then that’s where you will go.

A professional interpreter understands this but also knows to  assess the location for impediments at the moment of the assignment. Ask where it is  specfically and look up the address.  If it is a questionable location, express your concerns to the person you will be interpreting for and ask for a change of venue. Tell them that you will have to stop the proceeding if you are not able to interpret accurately. Then don’t be afraid to turn down the assignment.

Know the difference between milder forms of chaos that you can overcome and still perform your job according to your oath and impediments that  will not allow you to interpret accurately.

Keeping Up With the Warp Speed Witness

12512317_1666237360285094_2805551571254001401_nListening to anyone speaking fast in a sworn proceeding is more of an event of animated questioning for most participants at the trial or deposition.

Unless you are the interpreter or the court reporter.

Court interpreters are sworn to transmit the question and the response word for word, accurately and completely. So we develop listening, note taking and responsiveness analysis skills. Here are a few tips on identifying and rendering the complete and identical sounding statement of the warp speed speaker in compliance with  your oath.

The attorney and the witness have a higher probability to speak super quickly during a Q&A process. In trial, Judges pick up speed while reading out loud the  written instructions or the charge to the jury. Almost everyone speaks faster than normal when reading written evidence into the record.

TIP: Ask for a copy of the document to sight translate simultaneously, in trial if there is no screen displaying the document or during a deposition .

The attorney will respond quickly to  evidence mentioned by a witness that is uniquely  positive or negative impact on their case. If positive, they will want the witness to stay on that topic so they will quickly add related questions. If negative,  they will want the witness to go no further on that topic and they will change the topic altogether.  In both situations they will accentuate the words in tone and volume that pertain to their chosen emphasized topic.

TIP: In your taking, jot down the accentuated words, since they will possibly be repeated by the questioning attorney for whom that is a valuable topic. And if one side wants the subject matter changed, the opposing counsel may zero in on that subject during cross.

Witnesses launch into hurried responses when triggered by something they feel strongly about. Their attorney may want that emotion displayed for the jury or on the deposition record, so we interpreters need to perfect our skills as much as possible before resorting to asking for intervention from the judge (or the questioning attorney (deposition).

Some triggers are obvious in the pointed, aggressive wording of the question, others are unknown to the interpreter.

TIP:  We ignore the impact of the  question or the response and focus on the content.

An animated emotional response has  peaks of loudness, words that are run together, repeated points and sometimes stammering if  the witness is flustered. We are supposed to render the same tone and style of the speaker in our interpretation.

TIP: Take notes while the witness responds to allow the witness to respond completely without interruption. Speed up your note taking with symbols and abbreviations.

TIP: Circle the loud words or phrases. ( I reserve underlining for topics frequently repeated in a question.)

TIP: Separate the words that were run together when spoken or you won’t be able to read your own notes. But encapsulate from end to end them with an underlining arrow or brackets to remind you to render them in a run together fashion.

TIP: Number the repeated points and the words that are stammered so that you repeat them just as many times as they were originally spoken. For example   He turned left⁴

Have an evacuation plan. Know your limits by shadowing with a recorded lecture or television audio. Be prepared to notify the Judge, on the record and  in the third person, that the witness is speaking too fast and is impeding your ability to render an accurate interpretation. Normally the Judge will advise the witness to slow down. Frankly, this instruction rarely sticks. If necessary, tell the Judge  that you respectfully request that the witness be asked to break up their response into 3 or four sentences at a time.

TIP : Remember if you or the attorney interrupts the witness, that you have to interpret every word spoken  for the record, even if it is an incomplete sentence.