Ethical practices: A necessity in the interpretation industry

Emanuel Longo | September 12, 2011
ethical practices

Translators with the American Translators Association have a code of ethics. Interpreters with Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services have their own code of ethics.

Do you? The topic of ethics is so complex and subjective; we’ll barely scratch the surface in this blog post, so I’ll focus on ethics in interpretation this time. We’ll be back later with another installment on ethics, but I’d love to keep the conversation going until then! So please leave your thoughts and comments below!

Ethics in interpreting
Interpreters, who deal with the spoken word, must think about many factors when determining their work values, since they work so closely with their subject. For example, as easy as it is to form a bond with the client, interpreters must strive to stay objective in their work. Here are a few things interpreters must keep in mind:

The language services industry, as a whole, works with extremely sensitive materials. So, it almost goes without saying that interpreters have the same confidentiality rules as translators and others who work for this industry. From medical visits to court appointments to conferences to business meetings, interpreters are trusted with information that is often guarded by layers of confidentiality agreements. In other words, someone’s medical condition should never become dinner table conversation.

With the delicate subject matter interpreters often deal with, it’s important to remain objective. Interpreters should never suggest solutions to their client. For example, during a medical appointment where treatment options are discussed, the interpreter must translate these options to the patient, without showing preference toward one option or suggesting which option the patient should choose. Liability issues arise when an interpreter starts making medical decisions for near strangers!

Acceptance of assignments:
It’s OK to say no. If interpreters are too busy with other assignments, or if they don’t feel completely qualified for a job, saying “no, thank you” is the best way to go. An interpretation assignment should not be taken lightly. People on both sides of the conversation are relying on their interpreter to facilitate contact. If the interpreter is unqualified in the subject matter or too stressed to do a proper job, the resulting conversation could range from ineffective to disastrous.

Interpretation is the transformation of the spoken word from one language to another. Just like translation, the message must not lose its meaning in transition. That’s why interpreters are trained not to omit, change, condense or add content when converting one language into another.

If you’re an interpreter, or have another job where objectivity is demanded, do you evaluate yourself on a regular basis?

In my opinion, every few months to a year, we all need to take time to reflect on the ways we have incorporated ethics into the workplace. Slow down and remember why you do what you do, and brainstorm any ways in which you could improve yourself and your work.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself:
– Do I feel content with the projects I’ve completed?
– When, during a past project, could I have been more objective?
– Are there any bad habits I wish I could break?

Let me know what you think! Have you ever followed a code of ethics? Was it regulated by an organization or did it use the honor system to keep you (and others) accountable?


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