Legal interpreting is a process that requires professionals, though it is tempting to use a family member as an interpreter instead.
Family interpreters seem like they would be perfect — friends and family members can be comforting if someone is in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. If someone needs to respond to questions or information from authorities, then a close friend or family interpreter seems like a good idea.
However, having a friend or family member as an interpreter is rarely the best thing to do. Here are three reasons why:
1. Friend & Family Interpreters Are Not Neutral Parties
Friends and family members have personal and emotional attachments. They usually do not want to confuse or upset their loved one, nor be the bearers of bad news.
As a result, friend or family interpreters can end up adding their own opinions or withholding crucial parts of the message being conveyed.
In legal situations, this is not ideal behavior for your interpreter to have. While your family interpreter wants to do what is best for you, an impartial legal interpreter would be better.
2. Friend & Family Interpreters Are Not Professional Interpreters
Legal interpretation is actually very complex — professional legal interpreters only make the process seem simple.
If your friend or family member can speak more than one language, but is not trained as an interpreter, there is a good chance that they are not fluent in all of the legal, medical or technical terminology that they may need to interpret. They also may not be aware of the professional and ethical responsibilities of trained interpreters.
This means that they may omit key words or summarize the message, which results in an inaccurate interpretation.
3. Inaccurate Interpretations Have Serious Consequences
The US Department of Health and Human Services released a statement on having friends and family act as interpreters, along with several real stories of what has happened in cases with family interpreters.
For example, a man convicted of raping a minor avoided a life sentence because police officers used the mother of the victim to interpret during their initial interrogation. She threatened the man instead of reading him his Miranda rights.
In many settings, professional legal interpreting services can be arranged and provided for. This may be in everyone’s best interest. In addition to the possibility of inaccuracy, having friend and family interpreters can strain relationships due to stress or mistrust.