Three simple words from a straightforward request: “What’s your address?” Ask mine and you’ll hear “611 West Maple Street, North Canton Ohio 44720.” A typical LEP amplifies a simple question into “Oh, I am living with my brothers not too far from here and I get up real early and my shift doesn’t end sometimes till four or five.” Where does this chap live? Next our friend slowly reaches for his wallet, pulls out a tattered scrap of paper with an address written in pencil, hands it to the interpreter and waits. I think to myself “Why doesn’t he know his address?” Where did I develop the notion that EVERYONE knows her address, social security and phone number? I memorized my social back in the 70’s on Miami University’s campus where — — —- was a pre-requisite along with Applied Linguistics 401.
A kind-hearted magistrate posed the same question after he recorded a not guilty plea for a non-responsive traffic offender. “Mr. Rivera, what is your address?” Mr. Rivera rambles on with “Pues apenas estamos en el departamento con mi esposa con las niñas y pronto llega mi hermano con su mujer y dos niños y …” No address, no zip code and certainly no state. Ethics require court interpreters to render everything in open court. “Well we just got the apartment with my wife and the girls and my brother will arrive soon with his two kids and…” Your Honor peers with suspicion at a long answer to a short question.
A HURRIED WINDOW
Interpreters anticipate in order to facilitate communication, or, at least I do. The first time I expected a quick response from a Spanish speaker and encountered the scrap of paper response was at the women’s clinic registration window. “What’s your address?” inquired the lady behind the counter. A Guatemalan woman, bursting with pregnant child, fumbled through her bag, shifted her bulk in a cramped chair and emerged with an electric bill, unopened envelopes and a tattered scrap of notebook paper. No address yet but a smile for the interpreter. Ms. Receptionist-at-the-window-of-Doctor-forty-plus-patients a day casts me a disapproving look. Am I the only uncomfortable one in the room? Seconds tick by and no address yet.
A CHANGE OF HEART
I find these moments touching. Mrs. Ixcoy knew where her address was and gladly handed the information over. Mr. Rivera probably breathed easy with the notion that he would go free, continue to work and support his family here and abroad once he answered all the judge’s questions. I snap back to reality and remember my role is to interpret. Period. Honestly, though, does anyone out there ever tire of lengthy answers to simple questions? Please let me know.