ITI French Network

A Network of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting

ITI Award – Best performance on an interpreting assignment: Lauren Shadi

Lauren Shadi

Network member Lauren has kindly agreed to share her winning entry for the above award. Read on to find out about this interesting and challenging assignment. Lauren is a French to English legal translator and interpreter based in Manchester.

Brief summary of these achievements

My achievement is being the “mouthpiece” of people in very emotional situations, having to accurately interpret for both sides and remain impartial. All the while, I must not display my own emotions, and must deal with them in my own head.

Background: nature of the interpreting assignment, who it was for, scale, complexity, specific challenges

A recent assignment exemplifies this predicament. I interpreted between a female asylum seeker held in custody on an attempted murder charge and a psychiatrist, instructed by her solicitor, who was conducting an assessment to decide whether or not she committed the offence as a result of behavioural problems or mental health issues. The psychiatric report would constitute a crucial piece of evidence in the case and could reduce the potential sentence. Accurate interpreting was therefore essential.

I had already interpreted for this prisoner on four occasions, the first being on the day of her arrest, so I had built up a rapport with her and knew the background details of the case.

There is more to this case than a woman being held on an attempted murder charge. It is multi-faceted, for there is an entire asylum background to it, the details of which remain largely unknown at this stage, for the solicitor has not yet been able to obtain her file from her unsuccessful immigration solicitor.

I was faced with various challenges at this appointment. One challenge was having to reproduce in my interpreting the client’s emotions. Her sadness, shame and fear all had to be accurately conveyed.

Another challenge was the lady’s reluctance to talk. She had refused to engage at the previous appointment, with a psychologist, and that appointment had had to be re-arranged. It wasn’t my job to make her talk. I had to respect her silences, as silences are important too, particularly in the context of a mental health assessment, as they may point to mental health problems, but I had to ensure that when she did speak I interpreted everything accurately, to give the psychiatrist as much material to work with as possible.

There was the client’s frequent crying too. This interrupted the flow of the conversation, and made it difficult to understand what she was saying at times. It also impacted on my own emotions, for it saddened me to see her so distressed.

The final challenge was the setting in which I was interpreting. We were in an open room where other legal visits with other prisoners were taking place. It was unfortunate that all the private rooms had been taken. Nevertheless, it was not easy repeating ‘I was raped’ with other people, who had no right to hear such information about the lady, within a couple of metres of us.

Assignment goals: what the interpreter(s) had to achieve on this job to fulfil the needs of the client, others being communicated with and the specific situation

My goal on this job was to accurately interpret the conversation between the psychiatrist and the accused, conveying all the emotion and intonation and respect silences, so as to allow the psychiatrist to form an accurate opinion and produce a report to serve as evidence in this client’s defence case. Another goal was to remain fully impartial, which meant keeping my own emotions in check. Allowing my own emotions to creep in would have cast doubt on my ability and professionalism and reduced the quality of my service to both interlocutors.

Execution: how the interpreter(s) went about the assignment, maintenance of professional standards, specific issues they faced along the way, and how these were tackled. Include any preparation work undertaken

I remained impartial throughout the assignment and simply acted as a “mouthpiece” for both parties, without adding or removing anything from the conversation or emotion. Emotions form a key part of a mental health assessment, so these could not be ignored. Simply interpreting her words would not have sufficed. I mirrored her intonation, gestures, hesitation, and even found a way of conveying her sobs in a non-disrespectful manner. I am lucky to have been able to develop this skill from the many years I have spent interpreting for mental health services in numerous contexts, ranging from secure units to counselling sessions, and taking part in training programmes for mental health practitioners on working with interpreters.

I maintained professional standards by not allowing myself to become distressed when the lady became distressed. I simply lowered my head slightly, to give her some privacy. I also maintained a neutral expression on my face throughout the appointment, despite the sometimes explicit and shocking content of the conversation. I was not there to judge in any capacity. Furthermore, there were a couple of occasions when the lady spoke very quietly, and I was unable to hear. I therefore checked with the psychiatrist if I could ask her to repeat herself, rather than simply asking her to do so, so that he did not think I was engaging in private conversation with her.

The specific issues I faced in this assignment are detailed as ‘challenges’ in the previous question.

I prepared for this assignment by reading through the glossaries I prepared for my DPSI course connected to the offences of GBH and murder. I also re-read the statements provided to me by the solicitor on our first appointment.

Results/impact: how the interpreter(s) added value for the client, examples of the outcome of the work and how it was received by the client and other audiences

I carried out the assignment successfully, for the client opened up and answered the psychiatrist’s questions. He told me he could begin his report and would re-book me to attend with him again. He later emailed me thanking me, stating that I was “very good” with the client.

The interpreter continuity element added value for both parties. Having met the prisoner previously, I had earned her trust. I am sure she was grateful for not having to repeat details of her past to a different interpreter. For the psychiatrist, I was able to clarify an essential point. When asked if she had lodged an asylum case, she simply answered yes. I could clarify, albeit with the lady’s permission, that asylum had been refused. This added value, for the refusal could be linked to why she committed the offence. Furthermore, before she arrived at the appointment, during the conversation with the psychiatrist, who had never met her, I mentioned she had refused to answer questions previously. He therefore approached his assessment in such a way as to ensure that this did not happen again.

My extra-linguistic knowledge also added value. Having interpreted for immigration solicitors for 10 years, I often hear asylum seekers’ accounts of torture. I therefore didn’t judge this lady, knowing there’s more to this case than meets the eye. Nobody knows what she’s been through. All the English-speaking parties in her case are judging her: the psychiatrist is judging her in his report, her solicitor is judging her for she tells me initially that her firm believes she is lying, at some point she’ll be judged at both the immigration and crown court. However, if there’s one person who isn’t judging her, it’s me.

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