Team Interpreting

Team interpreting is one of the most powerful tools in the interpreter’s toolbox. But like everything people do as a team, it requires proper coordination and agreement on some foundational rules and best practices.

Team interpreting is often seen in courtroom environments, but a team approach can provide the same benefits for other types of meetings as it does for hearings, depositions, and trials. Throughout this article we will refer to an active interpreter and support interpreter. This will distinguish the person actively working with someone with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) from the person who is assisting them.

The Right Approach Is Key to Success
As Jack Hoza proposed in his handbook Team Interpreting: As Collaboration and Interdependence, interpreters should approach the process in a collaborative and interdependent manner. Like every successful team, team interpreters begin by recognizing they have obligations to each other in pursuit of their shared goal, and that none will succeed unless they depend on each other.

Careful Preparation and a Meeting of the Minds Sets a Firm Foundation
A meeting to agree on procedures and expectations will build a strong foundation for successful interpreting. Each interpreter should consider and discuss the following:
● What are my strengths and weaknesses?
● How do I prefer to be corrected, if that becomes necessary?
● If there is a mistake or a disagreement on an interpretation, how will it be handled?
● Have we been in the space that is being used for this meeting, and is it arranged in a way conducive to interpreting?
● What duties will each of us have when we are in the role of support interpreter?
● What signals will be used to communicate non-verbally?
● What do I need my teammate to do to help me be successful?

No answer to that last question is too small. One manual for court interpretation gives “certain vocabulary that I tend to get stuck on” and “a signal to remind me when to switch” as examples. Be sure to depend on each other in all aspects of the process.

Lastly, review any relevant documents (such as a court file) together.

Discrepancies Should Be Handled Collaboratively
Teams should have a signal (agreed upon previously) that the support interpreter can use to alert the active interpreter if they believe a mistake has been made. The team should then discuss the discrepancy. In a court proceeding or business negotiation, this should be done out of earshot of any members of the opposition. In any case, it should be done with the minimum of discussion needed to arrive at a conclusion.

After this discussion:

● If the teammates decide an error was made, advise the other participants the delay was needed to provide the most accurate interpretation available, and you are ready to continue.
● If the teammates decide an error was made, they should present it to the judge or other presiding authority, using sentences which begin with “The interpreting team…” rather
than “He/She made a mistake.”
● If they disagree about the proper interpretation, they should take a similar team approach: “We have a differing interpretation.” Present the information to the judge or
presiding officer for a ruling.

Of course, this process may involve asking the LEP clarifying questions, asking them to rephrase their answer, replaying recordings of what was said, etc. Your first duty is to truth and accuracy, so take the time you need to ensure they are delivered.