I recently heard a story where a client had blamed the interpreter for the inconvenience caused by the intepreter’s “mistake” during a negotiation process. This upset me a great deal. As interpreters we offer our services in negotiations. Negotiations are normally done between business people who try to outsmart their counterparts with their communication skills in their mother tongue. They use tricky language, use metaphors and often speak in an intentionally vague and imprecise way. Is it really possible for interpreters to capture all these nuances?
When they get into difficulties they can always claim that, “I did not understand it like that.” or “You did not say that.” How far should we, as interpreters, guarantee the truth? Of course we cannot or shouldn’t. We do our best to make an accurate and literal translation. However, we cannot add or modify what we heard / interpreted. Sometimes we can make it more comprehensible for the counterpart for cultural reasons, but we cannot change the content.
Therefore, if I see any dishonesty or a lack of confidence in a client or their partners I prefer to withdraw my services. However high my fees are, I won’t accept it, because it might land me in trouble one day. Interpreters should protect themselves from any these kind of difficulties especially they are working on a freelance basis.
Recently, I was accused of not informing “well enough” the fact that Company A demanded Company B to pay for defects in their product. Company B said they had never heard about it. Fortunately I communicated with Company B by email so I had an audit trail and was able to prove that I had correctly mentioned these issues. If I must justify myself like this on every occasion, it’ll make me a nervous wreck. So we, interpreters, must be careful when choosing our clients. The good clients will trust your judgements even when so-called “mistakes” are made.