At Legal Language, we receive a wide range of requests for legal translation, transcription, and interpreting services. Sometimes, we even have joint requests. Such was recently the case when a client asked us to perform a direct translation of an audio recording.
While such a task is technically possible, it is not the best approach to ensure quality transcription or translation services, especially when in a legal setting.
What Our Client Wanted
The client was seeking a transcription of an audio file from Spanish to English. This would require a bilingual individual who would not only listen to the source recordings and transcribe them, but simultaneously render then into English in a single pass. The linguist would then certify the accuracy of that work product in order to facilitate litigation and/or administrative decisions.
While such a direct translation of audio recordings is feasible – and does provide a benchmark against which a lengthy audio recording may be analyzed in order to determine pertinent sections that have bearing on the legal issue at hand – it is not the gold standard for submission of evidence into a legal proceeding.
Why We Recommend a Two Step Process
When you require a transcription that also needs to be translated into another language, the optimal solution is a two-step process where each step is independently undertaken and independently verifiable.
In the first step, the audio recording is reviewed by a native speaker of the language, and a verbatim transcription is produced. If warranted, this transcription may be reviewed and/or edited by other experts in order to ensure the highest quality possible (especially where recordings are indistinct or dialects are obscure).
The final work product is then certified by the transcriber of record, which produces a document that can be independently verified as an accurate rendering of the original spoken dialogue.
Only after that first step is completed would the second step commence: a translation performed by a qualified linguist from the source language (the original language recorded) to the target language (in this case, English).
For added quality control, we recommend that the translation be edited and proofread. Once these steps are complete, the document can be certified as part of a submission for a legal procedure.
By separating these two steps, the work product can be verified in a legal proceeding with a greater degree of accuracy.
If both transcription and translation are performed by a single individual, the chances for error are effectively multiplied, and a dispute may arise. Also, the credentials of an expert witness may be more easily questioned, as they are taking on multiple roles/tasks.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are certain cases where a direct translation of a transcription are not only allowable, but can prove extremely useful and efficient.
If, for instance, a source recording is administrative in content, and is not part of any legal or juridical proceeding subject to the rules of law and evidence, performing transcription and translation in a single pass may be the ideal solution.
However, if it is deemed likely that the audio recording would be involved in a legal proceeding, you should always utilize the two-step process described above.