Why provide a forensic transcription translation?

By Helen Eby, in consultation with Teresa Salazar

 

[image of headphones]Recently, I was asked if I could be an expert witness regarding whether the interpreting provided in an interview that was recorded on video was accurate. I would go to the attorney’s office, watch the video and be deposed regarding the accuracy of the interpreting in this video, and later be ready to testify in court. This seemed unadvisable according to best practices published by NAJIT[1].

Because of the risks involved, I recommended that instead of this we do a forensic transcription translation (FTT). As an on-site expert witness of the translation or interpreting of an audio or video product, or as an on-site simultaneous or consecutive interpreter of an audio recording or a video, I would not have the tools available for a proper analysis. Interpreting is “the process of first fully understanding, analyzing, and processing a spoken or signed message and then faithfully rendering it into another spoken or signed language. Interpreting is different from translation, which results in the creation of a written target text.”[2]

“The FTT professional must be willing to take the stand…”

According to the Oregon Judicial Department Best Practices for Working with an Interpreter[3], having an interpreter provide interpretation of a recording is not recommended for many reasons. The following is a sample of some of the reasons.

  • From an access to justice perspective, it is necessary to provide a full version that includes both the transcription and the translation to both parties, thus complying with the same rules for evidentiary written materials submitted in a non-English language.
  • The interpreter is required to be a neutral party in the proceedings, but the person providing interpretation on the recordings is an expert witness on the evidence presented. This removes the interpreter’s neutrality in the case.
  • Interpreters are required to interpret without explanation. In a transcription-translation, explanatory notes are provided.
  • The on-site interpreter is able to clear up slang/code terms by asking direct questions. When dealing with a video or sound recording, the FTT professional needs time to research the term.

 

Resources available

As FTT professionals, we have the following resources available, which are essential for our work:

  • Transcription software, which starts and stops the recording very accurately and allows us to loop a short section. It also allows us to adjust the speed of speech without altering the recording for better accuracy in transcription.
  • Access to a wide variety of dictionaries, including dictionaries of slang and regionalisms used in every Spanish-speaking country in the world.
  • The ability to review our product before turning it in since it will be scrutinized by others. Translation always involves the ability to review our work.

The most updated best practice is clearly explained in Fundamentals in Court Interpreting[4], quoted below.

 

Use a four-column format in which:

  • the first column (on the left) contains the line number;
  • the second column contains the speaker labels;
  • the third column contains the verbatim transcription of all utterances spoken in the source language as well as relevant contextual information, i.e., legend symbols; and
  • the fourth column contains the English translation.

The legend containing all symbols used in the FTT document should be conveniently available in the document to assist any client’s reading. The use of this format promotes readability and allows for efficient comparison of the discourse with other versions, should a challenge arise.

Chapter 40, section 8.2.1.c, “Using a Four-Column Format”

There is a three-column sample on page 7 of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) General Guidelines and Minimum Requirements for Transcript Translation in any Legal Setting[5], showing how to set up the columns, certify the translation, and develop a cover sheet. However, the standards have been updated since its publication and a four-column format is currently recommended.

Ideally, the same person does the transcription and the translation, and that person has interpreting and translation skills. NAJIT and other associations supported a description of transcriptionist/translator[6]. If the work of transcription and translation are separated, it is essential for the translator to have access to a digital copy of the transcription and a digital copy of the audio source to be able to incorporate metalinguistic data[7].

“…be questioned on every single utterance of the document, and attest to the accuracy of the translation in court.”

When the project is significantly large, it is often divided into sections for a team to produce the initial draft. All drafters produce full transcription-translations of their assigned sections and are under the same confidentiality and non-disclosure rules. Additionally, the team leader is responsible for performing a thorough review of the work of all drafters and is solely responsible for providing expert witness testimony in court regarding the final product.

The FTT professional must be willing to take the stand, be questioned on every single utterance of the document, and attest to the accuracy of the translation in court. FTT professionals often document their terminology research so as to be ready for these questions.

Because taking the stand involves having a very deep knowledge of the recording, translators and interpreters run a significant risk of being wrong if they evaluate a recording on the spot during a deposition or in court, instead of doing a full FTT.

According to the Oregon Courts, this would not provide proper access to justice and is not considered best practices for the use of an interpreter. See Appendix E, page 35 of Oregon Judicial Department Best Practices for Working with Interpreters[8].

[1] Salazar, Teresa C. and Segal, Gladys. 2006. Onsite Simultaneous Interpretation of a Sound File is Not Recommended. Accessed 06/23/2018. https://najit.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Onsite-Simultaneous-Interpre.pdf.

[2] ASTM International Designation F-2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting. West Conshohocken, PA.

[3] Oregon Judicial Department. 2016. Oregon Judicial Department Best Practices For Working with Interpreters. Accessed 06/23/2018. https://www.courts.oregon.gov/programs/interpreters/policies/Documents/OJD%20Best%20Practices%20for%20Working%20With%20Interpreters.pdf.

[4] Dueñas González, Roseann, Victoria F. Vásquez, and Holly Mikkelson. 2012. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

[5] National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. 2003, revised 2009. General Guidelines and Minimum Requirements for Transcript Translation in any Legal Setting. Accessed 06 23, 2018. https://najit.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Guidelines-for-Transcript-Translation.pdf.

[6] 2015. T&I Descriptions. NAJIT. Accessed 06/23/2018. https://najit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TI-Descriptions.pdf.

[7] Dueñas González, Roseann, Victoria F. Vásquez, and Holly Mikkelson. 2012. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

[8] Oregon Judicial Department. 2016. Oregon Judicial Department Best Practices For Working with Interpreters. Accessed 06/23/2018. https://www.courts.oregon.gov/programs/interpreters/policies/Documents/OJD%20Best%20Practices%20for%20Working%20With%20Interpreters.pdf.

 

 


Teresa Salazar, MA, Translation and Interpretation, contributed to developing the content of this article.

[Helen Eby - 2018]Helen Eby is an ATA-certified translator (Spanish > English) and a certified DSHS Translator (English > Spanish) by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. She is also a Spanish state-certified (Oregon) court interpreter and a medical interpreter certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) and the Oregon Health Authority. She has held volunteer positions in the ATA Spanish and Interpreting Divisions and in NAJIT, and is currently on the leadership team of the ATA Savvy Newcomer.

 

 

08/29/2018: Edited to correct the name of the Oregon Judicial Department.

Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ata-divisions.org/ID/why-provide-a-forensic-transcription-translation/

7 comments

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  1. Sarah, I am glad to provide practical help to someone who needs it! Thanks for letting me know, and please update me on how it went.

    • Sarah Pfefferle on September 6, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Thank you, Helen. I have been subpoenaed regarding a sensitive forensic interview, for which I interpreted. Your article helps me to clarify my thoughts, my role, and to be ready for questions on the stand.

  2. Hello Helen, thanks for useful post, I enjoyed reading it and helped me.

    • T4A on August 25, 2018 at 2:00 am

    Very elaborate Article. I have learnt a lot, thanks for sharing

    1. That helps me know these articles are worth working on! Thanks!

  3. Thanks, Gio!

    • Gio on August 23, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Very nice article, Helen, as expected.

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