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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Telephonic Interpreters

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Without interpreters, the asylum system could not function. 


For interviews at the asylum office, applicants must provide their own interpreter, either a friend, a volunteer, or a paid professional.  To ensure that the interpretation is accurate (and that there is no funny business going on in the translation), USCIS requires that a professional interpreter monitors the interview by phone.  Who are these mysterious monitors?


One is Maria McFadden, interpreter extraordinaire, who works in the Washington, DC area and beyond.  Here are her thoughts on telephonic interpretation:


One of the most challenging tasks for an interpreter is telephonic interpretation.  While court interpreters aspire to be unobtrusive in order to allow each party to have their say, being able to observe or signal the speakers can make communication flow much more easily.



When using a telephonic interpreter, be sure to speak loudly into the phone.



During interviews at the asylum office, telephonic interpreters are rarely used to interpret the actual proceedings; rather, they serve as monitors.  The role of these monitor interpreters is to ensure the quality and accuracy of the on-site interpreter.  Oftentimes, the person brought to the interview to serve as an interpreter is not a professional.  While such a person might be aware of and adhere to the interpreter code of ethics, their ability to interpret is sometimes not sufficient to ensure an accurate translation.  This could damage the credibility of the asylum applicant and deprive her of the chance to tell her story.


At times, the monitor might "challenge" the interpretation.  This could cause the on-site interpreter to become flustered and become defensive.  If he/she feels that their interpretation is correct, they should state so to the officer and not directly to the monitor.  Each interpreter has the right to stand by their interpretation and it is up to the officer to settle the matter.


Being a monitor is not an easy task and most interpreter's take the job seriously.  If you feel that the monitor is being unnecessarily disruptive and combative, this issue should be addressed to the asylum officer.  There is no need to talk to the monitor interpreter.


If you have a telephonic interpreter, please keep the following points in mind:


1. Keep your voice loud and clear.  While this is important when working with an on-site interpreters as well, it is even more important over the phone.
2. Don't shuffle papers as you speak; you might as well stop talking because the interpreter will not be able to hear you.
3. Try not to talk over other people.  The interpreter can only translate for one person at a time.  Over the phone, it will be impossible for the interpreter to understand what is being said if people talk over each other.  This could result in a statement by the applicant going unheard by the asylum officer-with potentially disastrous consequences.
4. Wait for the interpreter to finish interpreting before making another statement or asking a question.
5.If you don't hear or can't understand the interpreter, speak up!


By keeping this short list of pointers in mind, the process will go more smoothly for all involved.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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