30 Jul


Today I interpreted for a kind judge who is accustomed to simultaneous interpreting at all times. My mistake. Interpreters shift from simultaneous to consecutive to sight at the drop of the hat. How can I let Your Honor know that I need time to interpret consecutively? He continued to speak and I was still interpreting.

I asked to approach and explained that when the Court addresses a defendant directly to ask and answer questions, consecutive is the usual mode. When the prosecutor calls the case I begin interpreting immediately in the simultaneous mode. The judge appeared confused as I didn’t clarify this before. After the hearing the Spanish-speaking attorney asked why I didn’t always interpret simultaneously. Dumfounded, I responded “that’s the way I was taught.”


I turned to “Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice” for support. Simultaneous interpretation “refers to the technique whereby the interpreter speaks at the same time as the SL (source language) speaker.” When the prosecutor calls the case, I interpret simultaneously “Your Honor, this is Case No. XXX the State of Ohio vs. Raymundo Jimenez Alvarado.” At that point the Spanish speaker knows that he is before the court for his case.


Consecutive interpretation comes into play “when the interpreter waits until the speaker has finished the SL message before rendering it into the TL (target language).” For example: “Mr. Jimenez Alvarado, good morning. Do you understand the charges brought against you?”

After the prosecutor called the case I stopped interpreting simultaneously and waited for Your Honor to finish before interpreting consecutively. The judge continued to speak although I hadn’t finished. Politely I asked to approach and explained that when he addressed the defendant directly, please wait for me to interpret. He kindly apologized as he didn’t know.


“Fundamentals” explains that an interpreter “should use the simultaneous mode to interpret for the defendant the running dialogue among the judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel. When the judge questions the defendant, or if the defendant needs to communicate with an attorney, the consecutive interpretation mode should be used.”  This protects the court record and also the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

Hence I’ll write a letter to this other judges to explain the interpreter’s role. The Court patiently learns (once again, as I do) how to work seamlessly with interpreters. When do you shift between simultaneous and consecutive? Please let me know your thoughts.

Dueñas González, Roseann, Victoria F. Vásquez, and Holly Mikkelson. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1991.


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