The Problem with Non-Professional Legal Interpreters

The Problem with Non-Professional Legal Interpreters

Every interpreting situation comes with its own set of rules, terminology, difficulties solutions, and patterns. Like healthcare, judicial interpreting is a go-to example of this. Some people will assume courtroom or justice interpreting is a matter of understanding two languages and some legal jargon, and putting those pieces together to render a puzzle compete. But there are a lot of aspects of justice interpreting that are unexpected and problematic, and the use of non-professional interpreters is one such challenge. Justice interpreting is a federally mandated must, so professional interpreters must be used consistently, and telephone interpreting seems like an easy, quality way to ensure this at a low-cost to the judicial system.

The Need for Interpreters

Legal interpreters are needed more often than expected. Bilingual, non-English speaking individuals, or monolingual persons, are also at an incredible disadvantage in the court system. However, even if an individual seems fairly competent in the English language, it can't be presumed that they will not profit from having an interpreter.

The emotional stress of being in court can generate communication problems for people who are native speakers, therefore, individuals whose first language is not English easily become confused or lost, to their own disadvantage, in the legal process. Even for a bilingual person, when under stress (for instance, being interrogated), a person whose first language is other than English can become muddled and fail to understand the process they are involved in. An interpreter will alleviate some of that stress. But, it needs to be a trained interpreter and not any bilingual person in the courtroom or on staff at the precinct.


Bilingualism is a matter of degree and not an absolute. The demands of legal speech on a person's linguistic resources differ vastly from those of the situation in which many people become bilingual. Soon after an individual begins school in a country, proficiency in their native language often stagnates or at least fails to develop at the same pace as their skill in their secondary language, and the native language ceases to be the "primary" one. Thus, many "bilingual" attorneys, policemen, government agents and clerks with an excellent command of the language used in their jobs, can only speak their native language at the level of a child. They aren't able and prepared interpreters.

Problems with amateur interpreters include:

  • lack of understanding regarding their role as an interpreter
  • tendency to give advice to individuals
  • failure to interpret all of the information that is being said
  • tendency to paraphrase
  • lack of familiarity with the culture and idioms of the dialect
  • failure to relay all of what the non-native speaking person has said to the court or other justice professionals
    *conflict of interest due to familiarity and an inability to remove themselves from the case
  • tendency to act as an advocate
  • lack of legal terminology fluency in either their primary language, their secondary language, or both

Remote Interpreting Services

In order to guarantee professional interpreting on a regular basis, in all needed languages, without the overhead of a full-time staff, the only workable solution is to access interpreters online or via the telephone.

In fact, telephone interpreting services are ideal in these situations, as people who have been the victims of crimes will be better able to discuss the traumatic event without the presence of a strange interpreter in the room. Even those who are suspected of, or are guilty of crimes, may better be able to narrate their experience when an already highly charged scenario is not burdened by the presence of another body in the room.

Working through a reputable company, like Ablio, not only makes sure that all citizens are able to fully and fairly access the judicial service, it makes sure that it can be accessed 24/7. And, there is the comfort that comes from knowing all necessary translation is being performed by professionals who are able to render translations accurately and impartially.