Day 16 Don’t you ever make mistakes?

Do you remember the list of 30 days? I’m only through half of it, and it’s well over a month, but since I designed it to cover topics that I wanted to share with my readers – here we go. I will continue down the list as soon as I have an opportunity to do so.
And to answer the question in the headline: Of course I do! It has almost become my mantra “interpreters make mistakes”, and I also treat it in a blog post here.
The question is not whether you make mistakes or not, it’s about how you deal with mistakes. Take a court or medical interpreter for instance – if you are unsure, or spot a mistake you may have made it is your duty to report it to the parties immediately. It is your absolute responsibility that you get everything right. Your domain knowledge as a court or medical is extremely important since you have less opportunity to prepare (i.e. you can get called in with just an hour or less of warning).
I don’t mean to say that your responsibility is less when you work in a booth, or at a conference. But usually you have more time to prepare AND you have colleagues that are usually willing to help you. This means that mistakes usually are spotted and corrected fairly quickly. If terminology went wrong, the correct term will probably follow in the next sentence (a colleague wrote a note), or if a line of reasoning was misunderstood it will most surely be sorted out. How does the interpreter indicate whether it’s the speaker or the interpreter who corrects him or herself in simultaneous? Well, if it’s the speaker you’ll hear “the speaker corrects him/herself” and if it’s the interpreter “the interpreter means X or Y”.
The situation I personally like the least is in court where my language knowledge has been challenged several times just as a trick (often) from the “other” party’s lawyer, in order to discredit the counter party through the interpreter. I have had to correct myself in court too, but luckily it has not happened on the same occasions where I have been challenged. I cannot imagine the courage you would have to show in order to first defend your word choice and then stop the proceedings in order to correct yourself.
I have written earlier about my embarrassing mistake when interpreting the word piracy, in this case it was easily corrected by saying “the interpreter excuses herself in this case it should be XXX.” It is also fair to say that even if I hadn’t spotted and corrected the mistake it would hardly had been the end of the world. But I cannot stress enough how these incidents can really be dangerous. It can be absolutely crucial for an individual, but also for states as I wrote about in this post.
So, as said above, the question is not whether you make mistakes or not. The question is how you deal with it. The worst thing you can do is to not be attentive, or not care about your mistakes. A good interpreter knows about damage control. A careless, or maybe inexperienced interpreter, does not care about correcting mistakes or worse, does not admit to or realise a mistake was made.

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can view the whole list here.

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