Interpreting is critical to fostering effective communication between speakers of different languages. It is most crucial in the medical and legal fields because even a minor miscommunication can be the difference between life and death or freedom and prison.
However, despite many similarities, legal and medical interpreters perform vastly different jobs.
Modes of Interpretation
Who do they interpret for?
Types of Appearances
Role of Interpreter*
* The role an interpreter plays in medical settings differs somewhat from that in legal settings. All interpreters aid in the communication between two or more parties speaking different languages. However, due to the nature of legal proceedings, interpreters are required to strictly adhere to the role of an impartial party, meaning that an interpreter should not interject any additional information (as well as omit any). Regardless of what the interpreter may have heard from or about the LEP during any other interactions, or if the LEP asks for an explanation of the legal proceeding or any advice, the interpreter is barred from interceding on their own volition.
Medical settings allow the interpreter some leeway to act in a limited capacity as a patient advocate and cultural broker. The interpreter’s job is still to facilitate communication so that all parties understand each other. However, when deemed professionally appropriate, the interpreter may, as a patient advocate, interject relevant information that may have been learned at another time, such as any known allergies. Of course, such interjections should be made known they are coming from the interpreter and not currently conveyed by the LEP, and should be used sporadically, when the patient’s well-being or life are at risk. Additionally, a medical interpreter might serve as a cultural broker and may provide explanations to clarify culturally relevant information. For example, if a patient tells the doctor they used a culture-specific holistic treatment for a certain condition, the interpreter may provide a further explanation and/or details regarding the home remedy used.
However, independent medical exams are an exception to the leeway granted in medical settings. The interpreter is required to adhere to the same restrictions as legal interpreters since these exams are usually conducted as part of an ongoing legal case.