The Role of a Community Interpreter

24th May 2013

Community interpreting is a job or role that includes interpreting language for individuals or small groups in a local community.  Community interpreters help these individuals to function within a society that speaks a language that is not their own, and one that they may not fully understand.

 Interpreters who have been specifically trained for this job role may not understand all of the idiosyncrasies of their clients, but they benefit from knowing the native dialect and cultural pointers out of the community at large, which helps them to provide more orientation for immigrants or others in need of community interpreters. By contrast, untrained interpreters, often acting as volunteers, may be more familiar and comfortable to their clients, but may not have the same access and the same ability to produce successful interpretations.

One of the main benefits of working in this type of interpreting role is that community interpreters rarely speak formally to a crowd of people. This type of formal “conference” interpreting has some specific challenges. One is that the interpreter may be asked to remember long sentences or paragraphs at one time. There is also the inherent challenge of speaking clearly to a crowd of people. Community interpreters do not have to deal with these challenges and the style of their services is usually relatively informal.

An interpreter is needed when people do not share a common language. The interpreter’s aim is to facilitate successful communication over linguistic and cultural boundaries. The interpreter is an essential link between the communicating parties, since the interpreter helps both parties to express themselves to the full extent of their mother tongue.

Through interpreting, individuals are fully able to perform their duties and secure their rights in a multicultural society.  A professional interpreter can also help authorities to make fair decisions even if they do not understand their client’s language or know enough about his or her cultural background. Interpreters maintain professional confidentiality. Interpreters inform their clients of the fact that interpreters are bound by professional confidentiality defined in the code of ethics for interpreters. Interpreters’ professional confidentiality also pertains to the material they receive beforehand. The interpreter should respect his or her fellow professionals. For instance, following the Code of Ethics for community Interpreters is a clear expression of solidarity towards the interpreter’s colleagues.

The interpreter should not make evaluative or critical comments about another interpreter, nor should this type of commenting be demanded of the interpreter. If an interpreter, however, finds another interpreter acting unprofessionally, he or she should point this out to the colleague in question, and if necessary, also inform the interpreting centre. An interpreter’s task is to convey both linguistic and culturally bound non-linguistic messages as comprehensively as possible while the contents are left unchanged. If the interpreter cannot find an equivalent for proverbs, figures of speech, rare terms, abbreviations, etc., or if there are no counterparts for them in the target language, the interpreter asks the speaker to clarify his/ her message and informs the listener about this. However, interpreters do not explain anything on their own initiative on behalf of either one of the persons representing the interpreter’s working languages. If the accuracy in conveying the message suffers due to the overlapping or the length of the speaking turns, the interpreter should interrupt the conversation to get an interpreting turn. Interpreters are impartial, remain outsiders to the situation, and do not let their personal attitudes or opinions affect their work.

When accepting an assignment, as well as during and after the assignment, interpreters have to function impartially in order to achieve good and confidential relations with their clients. Interpreter’s impartiality means that interpreters’ personal opinions or attitudes do not affect the quality of their work. If the matters discussed in an interpreted situation are against the interpreter’s own morals or ethics, the interpreter does not let this show through gestures, tone of voice, or word choices.

If the interpreter, prior to the assignment, knows that he or she cannot remain an outsider to the situation or impartial in relation to the topic or the persons that are being interpreted, the interpreter should refuse to accept the assignment. If, for instance, the topic that is to be interpreted generates such deep feelings of hatred, disgust, empathy, etc. that they might reflect in the interpreting output, the interpreter should refuse.

Fakhra Khalid, Punjabi, Urdu, Mirpuri Interpreter (full time)


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