The importance of good legal and medical interpreting

  • 04/03/2019
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Interpreting in a normal situation is an important job; being unclear can lead to misunderstandings which can often lead to mistakes. So when the stakes are raised and an interpreter is providing their service in a court of law or in a hospital, a person’s life can be irrevocably damaged if errors are made. The importance of professional interpreting in these situations cannot be underestimated.

For example, an interpreter in a law court needs to understand that words need to used properly and within the correct context for an argument to work, there is also an emphasis on semantics as well, and so if the interpreter is not up to scratch on these aspects the court will take away a different understanding to what the deposition set out, which can be a deciding factor in the result of the case. Cultural differences can be important as well, for instance the vast difference in culture between Japan and the UK make interpreting a deposition by a Japanese witness into English much more difficult than interpreting a similar deposition by a witness from French or Spanish.  

One of the most obvious pitfalls of interpreting in these situations are false cognates, which are words that sound the same in different languages but mean different things. An example of this is the Spanish word ‘embarazada’ which sounds like embarrassed but actually means ‘pregnant’. You can see why this could be problematic in a hospital situation, as a doctor could waste time or worse barking up the wrong tree. Another example of this is the word ‘intoxicado’ which translated properly from Spanish means ‘poisoned or having an allergic reaction’ but if a qualified interpreter isn’t used it can be misunderstood as intoxicated; this mistake was actually made in the US, where a young man was left quadriplegic after being sent to a hospital in a comatose state and misdiagnosed… the court settlement could end up rising to 71 million dollars.

In these situation it really pays to have an expert interpreter, because the risk of leaving it up to someone without the correct qualifications can actually be life-changing.

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