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.