Conflict of interest or no?

I recently interpreted for a person who applied for a civil stalking and sexually oriented offense protection order. The victim advocate helped prepare the petition for an upcoming court hearing. Once completed, a question arose: ”Can you serve as the table interpreter for this hearing?” My interpreter ethics alarm went off. I mentioned that I recently read “Best Practices on Witness Preparation” by Janis Palma on the NAJIT blog. After a few hems and haws I replied ”I’ll get back to you.”


I re-read Janis’ article and Judith Kenigson Kristy’s ”Language and Litigation: What Judges and Attorneys Need to Know about Interpreters in the Legal Process.” Judith helped me with another ethical dilemma when a court subpoened me to testify on a botched jail interview. I always provide a pre-session, no matter if the attorney or court wishes to rush ahead. At the jail interview the detective forgot to push ”record” during the pre-session when I introduced myself to the prisoner and clarified my role. The prisoner had addressed me as “Mr. Attorney” at the end of the interview. That’s a topic for another blogpost.


Janis writes ”A conflict of interest is not the same for an interpreter as for an attorney. An interpreter can work for either side or both sides of a case. The only prohibition is that an interpreter cannot be a witness in the same case in which he is acting as a proceedings interpreter … A proceedings interpreter (me) should reveal to the judge and parties any prior contacts with the case.” I later contacted the advocate to offer to interpret.

This same situation surfaced several weeks ago. A simple hearing turned into a trial with witness testimony at the last minute. I warned the judge that ideally there would be an interpreter for both parties. She was aware and received approval from both lawyers. The trial continued without a hitch.


What is your experience when a conflict of interest arises? Please share your strategies here.

Do you have any questions?

I interpret at Akron Childrens Hospital. At the end of sessions the provider asks “Do you have any questions?” The other day during a pulmonology appointment a mom asked a question that broke me up. I lost all sense of decorum and laughed aloud. Here is the scene.

A nurse practitioner took great pains to explain a child’s asthma action plan. She apologized as the action plan was in English, not Spanish. After ten minutes of careful instructions, the provider asks “Do you have any questions?” The first words out of the mother’s mouth were “How do you manage to get your hair to that lovely black color? I dye my own and can’t get it to hold.”

I cracked up. A puzzled look from all parties. Why is the interpreter laughing? I gained composure and interpreted mother’s question. The provider offered the beautician’s name and number. Mother, provider and child exited the room with the comfort of knowing that the little one has an action plan and mother can get her hair done right.

Can you share experiences you have had with unexpected questions? Thanks for listening.

Collegiality Counts


Years ago when studying for my Masters in Translation, a professor advised “You need to have friends and colleagues to contact when in a pinch.” Those words rang true today when I couldn’t reach an internet connection on the trusty iPhone. I needed a term stat. A mother mentioned in the waiting room that her son ”No atina el sonido.” What? I had seen ”atinar” before but couldn’t understand the context. Let’s consult Linguee Alas, no internet connection on my phone. Blasted cement walls.


I tried the hospital’s Wifi. No dice. I tried a second hospital Wifi. Nope. Soon Miss Medical Assistant would call us to the room. Whom could I contact and how? Luckily text messaging worked. I wrote my dear friend Adriana with the query. She responded in seconds … ”He can’t hear … ’atinar’ is to be able to do something.” Now, that makes sense. By this time Miss Assistant brought us to a room and asked “What brings you to the doctor today?”, ”He can’t hear” rolled off my tongue like butter. Thanks, Adriana. A side note – later on that day two colleagues responded with suggestions. Don’t underestimate the power of collegiality. I hope to help others in their time of need. Have you had situations where your colleagues helped out double-quick? Thanks for writing.


Confession. I love me my cartoons. On Christmas morning the bestest present from Pixar arrived on Apple TV. The animated movie Soul features mentors   who “guide fresh souls so that they can discover a ‘spark’ that will drive them to a happy and productive life down on earth.” Mentors who dedicate their lives to a profession transform me. These experienced and trusted advisors schooled me in art, music, culture, and the responsibility to serve others by joining professional organizations. Here is a story of mentors who guide me to this day.


Donald R. Greenham, Ph.D., was  my first mentor and mate. Everyone called him Green. He served the teaching profession through the Ohio Foreign Language Association (OFLA) and the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF). His posts included treasurer and grader for the National French Contest. He used to say (apologies to the Hartford of the West ) that the AATF didn’t hold conferences in Des Moines but international spots such as Quebec City and Fort-de-France. One year the AATF held a conference in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. There Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet, writer and statesman, spoke. Through Green I learned to appreciate cultures far from the confines of my birthplace in Stark County, Ohio. He also stressed the importance of joining professional organizations.

Green’s advice? Live. He introduced me to Broadway and often quoted lines as in “Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death” from Auntie Mame. LINK

image TAPIT


Through Isabel Framer, who founded the original Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio, I met Judith Kenigson Kristy and Marvyn Bacigalupo-Tipps of the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators Judith and Marvyn taught “The Tennessee State Court Interpreter Ethics and Skill Building Workshop” in Nashville 2003. At the time Ohio did not have a certification process, but does today. I attended their two-day conference on the path to become a certified court interpreter. Judith, ever the professional, stressed the need to educate the judiciary on the interpreter’s role. Her publication Language and Litigation: What Judges and Attorneys Need to Know about Interpreters in the Legal Process serves to educate interpreters and the judiciary. Little did I know in the early aughts that I would eventually train interpreters and the judiciary in my home state of Ohio. Judith’s advice? “Look the professional.”


I met my first official mentor when the American Translators Association (ATA) launched a formal mentoring program in 2001 LINK Once paired with Rudy Heller LINK another journey began. Although the ATA already assigned him a different mentee, he agreed to take me on. We chatted monthly about career goals established with the assistance of materials by Linda Phillips-Jones’ The Mentor’s Guide: How to be the Kind of Mentor You Once Had, or Wish You’d Had and The Mentee’s Guide: How to Have a Successful Relationship with a Mentor. LINK The program demanded that I take the initiative to set up phone conferences and establish objectives. I later ventured east to his home in Massachusetts for an onsite learning experience. Rudy brought me to a New England Translators Association LINK meeting where he served as an officer. As my dear friend and colleague Jill Sommer LINK says, “He worked the room” and greeted everyone with kind words and encouragement. I owe him for the success of a twenty-plus years as a judiciary/healthcare interpreter. He encouraged me to write an article from the ATA conference experience as a newbie to the field. To my surprise the ATA Chronicle LINK  published the work. I learned to share my experience as a newcomer to the field with others. Writing boosted my self-esteem. His advice to me? “Work local.”


I discovered a free image editor to crop JPG photographs online LINK Check it out. 


Who are your mentors? How do they affect your life? Please share here. 


I prepare to this day for assignments with term lists and a good breakfast under my belt. Yet, what I expect to happen can quickly change course without a moment’s notice. That happened the other day at a pediatric cardiology appointment. I researched at MedlinePlus, a trusted source of health information in English and Spanish.

Is an EKG the same as an echocardiogram? Nope. Dr. Ahmed, an interventional cardiologist at The University of Alabama, cleared up the difference right away. Thank you, Doctor and trusty iPhone. The echocardiogram is an ultrasound that shows the structure and function of the heart. An EKG draws lines on a graph that display the heart’s rhythm. Two different tests. I walked into the exam room with the parents, the little one and bam! The assignment turned on a dime from holes in the heart to feeding difficulties. A simple question* initiated the switch. 

Medical Assistant: *What are your concerns today?
Parent: Oh, when she drinks her milk it comes out through her nose and she cries.

(Medical Assistant, nose buried in computer, continues with questions)

Medical Assistant: Does it appear that she is any pain today?

Parent: No, she’s fine.

Medical Assistant: Does anyone use tobacco products, either inside or outside the home?

Parent: No, no one does.

In the meantime I saw white stuff pouring out of the infant’s nose and sensed mother’s concern. In order to maintain transparency, I asked the assistant if I could ask mom a question.

Me: When did the nose problem and congestion begin?

Parent: Oh, she’s had this for over two weeks now. I try to feed her and she hardly eats anything at all. She’ll get frustrated then start to cry.

I interpreted mother’s concern and the assistant assured her that the doctor would discuss the troublesome feedings.


When the Dr. Cardiologist entered, he asked about the feeding problems and promised to notify her pediatrician. He explained that his specialty was hearts, not feedings. Mother said that her little one had an appointment with the  pediatrician the next day. Parents relieved and back to cardiology.

Doctor: What brings you in today?

Mother: When Verónica was born there were to holes (agujeros) in her heart. Will they get better?

Quick interpreter note: Do I use agujero for hole as the LEP did or switch to the more formal term orificio? I learned orificio from a native speaker years ago. Why confuse the issue? I’m not there to improve someone’s vocabulary but to facilitate communication. Agujero it is. Dr. Heart Guy read the EKG results and ordered an echocardiogram, a longer procedure. In the meantime I learned the proper term for a hole in the heart: Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) comunicación interauricular, a congenital heart defect AKA “a hole in the heart.”


All three of us schlepp the stroller, baby bag, knapsack and little one wrapped in a pink blanket into the EKG room. Once on the exam table the technician notices that Baby Cardiology Patient would not sit still for the exam.

Technician: Mom, do you have a binky (pacifier)?

Mother: No lo recibe (she won’t take it).

What to do? Wiggly baby = no echocardiogram. The magic of the Internet to the rescue. In order to pacify this squirming infant, the technician fired up her iPad with funky veggies on Baby Sensory Lively Latino music and dancing vegetables appeared on the screen. Miss Cardiac Sonographer continued with the exam while salsa music played. The parents smiled and looked my way.

Me: We’re laughing because broccoli, a radish, carrots and peas dance on the screen. (Or, perhaps conga.)

Technician: My five-month old loves Baby Sensory. It’s a life saver.

The parents smile again and dad finds the Baby Sensory website on his phone. How do you calm a child when there is no binky? Distract with merengue. Crisis averted and echocardiogram completed. We return to the exam room and Dr. Heart Guy announces that the little one will probably grow out of the holes, but he’ll keep an eye on her in the meantime. Parents are relieved and I turned on a dime from baby milk spit-up to dancing vegetables.


  • Angina pectoris (chest pain)
  • artery
  • Cardiologist
  • EKG electrocardiogram
  • Feedings (infant)
  • Heart attack
  • Heart condition
  • Heart murmur
  • High blood pressure
  • Medical history
  • Observe, monitor (Monitorear vs. vigilar)
  • Palpitation
  • Pulmonary stressors
  • Shortness of breath
  • Spit up (milk)
  • Stroke
  • Tachycardia

A shoutout to our colleague Yuliya Speroff who offers medical interpreter materials. More terms available here .


Have you ever walked into an assignment expecting one thing and another happens? Intervened on behalf of a patient?

Peter and the Interpreter


According to Mark’s Almanac of WKSU November 20, 1945, commemorates when the first of thirteen Nuremberg trials began to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. The criminal proceedings required interpretation for defendants and judges in English, Russian, French, and German. Hence, the birth of simultaneous interpretation with team interpreting. US Army Lieutenant Colonel Leon Dostert recruited Peter Less (1929-2019) to serve as a simultaneous interpreter from English and French into German.


Peter lost his mother, father, sister and grandmother to the Holocaust. Nataly Kelly writes that Less interpreted for the people who murdered his family. Yet he sat feet away from the Nazi criminals and dispassionately rendered their testimony in open court and depositions. Seventy-five years ago people proclaimed that simultaneous interpretation was impossible. History proved otherwise. 


Peter spoke on his experience at Nuremberg at the American Translators Association 46th Annual Conference. I attended the workshop where he focused on the process, that is, all team members collaborated to assure a clean record for the court. His colleagues also translated documents and supported one another to remain calm midst an emotionally-charged experience.

A mentor years ago taught me to thank any speaker with a handshake. Once Peter concluded the talk many flocked to his side. For a brief moment I “shook hands with history” and thanked him for his service.

Whom did you meet over the years who left an impression? Please comment below. Thanks.



In spite of careful preparation and certification, we health care interpreters can’t know what turn an appointment will take or what topics will surface. Tension inherent in over-the-telephone interpretation increases the difficulty (at least for me). The other day a simple one-month checkup turned into a lengthy discussion of breast feeding. Not my strongest suit yet there was no turning back. I used two strategies to handle the call: visualization and my iPhone for the postpartum depression scale.

The mom had switched from breast feeding to the bottle and her little one balked. This conversation ensued. What with calm the provider addressed all concerns and I could sense confidence in the mother’s voice by the end of the appointment.

Medical Assistant: You can fill out this survey* and I’ll ask you some questions. Today is his one month visit. Do you have any questions or concerns?

Mother: Recently I switched from breast feeding to the bottle, but I do both. He struggles to latch, lasts about ten seconds, gives up and pushes away. 

Medical Assistant: Does he have any allergies to food or medication?

Mother: As far as I know, no.

Medical Assistant: Does anyone in the house smoke or use tobacco products?

Mother: No

(pediatrician enters)

Good Morning, Mrs. Belaunde. How are you today?

Mother: I’m fine but my little one is having problems.

Pediatrician: What kind of problems?

Mother: He has trouble latching on and refuses to feed. He gets upset, cries and doesn’t sleep.

Pediatrician: When did you first notice the difficulties with feedings?

Mother: Just this week. I thinks he was confused when I switched from breast feeding to the bottle.

Pediatrician: Do you pump and do you have one?

Mother: Yes, I do. Which is better, an electric one or manual?

Pediatrician: Both work equally well. How long does he feed?

Mother: Usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast.

Pediatrician: Try this. Make this “shhhhhh” sound when he gets frustrated. He hears your breath which mimics the sound of your blood flow that he heard in your womb, a familiar sound that comforts him.

Mother: OK, I’ll try that.

Pediatrician: Another thing to do is wrap him a blanket. See how he practices sucking with the pacifier in his mouth? He’s content.

Mother: He looks more calm now.

Pediatrician: I’ll give you a handout about positions during feedings in Spanish. Try the breast milk first in different positions, then a bottle.

Mother: How do I know he has had enough?

Pediatrician: Use his spitting up as a gauge that he has had too much in his little belly. Burp him after latching on each breast and keep him upright fifteen minutes after each feeding.

feed: amamantar When you feed him, how long does he usually feed?   

latch: prenderse Does he struggle to latch on?

pacifier: chupete Do you have a pacifier at hand to help calm her down? (NOTE:  a native speaker chastised me for using “chupón” because in her country that meant sucker bite or hickey)

lose hope, give up: desesperarse My little one gets confused and gives up, unable to get any milk – he struggles and cries.

burp: hacer eructar, darle palmaditas Be sure to burp him after latching on each breast.

(baby) bottle: pacha, biberónHow many bottles do you give him in a twenty-four hour period?

*I called up the postpartum depression screening tool on my iPhone during the interpretation.,


I had to chat with Natasha Curtis, my director at the time, after breast feeding came up at the clinic. While live interpreting a woman began to breast feed right in the middle of an appointment. Her two other children jumped about and pleaded for mom’s attention. What? Too much input at once. Breast feeding wasn’t part of my growing up. For a split second I paused, the provider didn’t miss a beat and I kept on interpreting. Natasha let me know that the mother was more interested in feeding her crabby child than my discomfort!

QUESTION: Have you had any “cultural enlightenment” episodes in your career? Please comment below.  

Caught off guard


As of late I became lax and didn’t prepare properly for once-a-week hearings. Years ago I regularly researched terms, prepared a list with parties to appear with charges and case numbers. Discipline paid off and the hearings ran smoothly. Not for this assignment. The kindly court clerk had sent the findings that I buried somewhere in the Gmail ether. This guy was not ready.

When I do have materials at hand, I mine them for terms. My complacency didn’t cause a hearing to go off the rails, but my mind raced to pull words from the ShakleeDataBase (my brain). An unexpected ten minute interchange ensued between the magistrate and defense counsel about changes to a parenting rights’ agreement. Darn! Forgot to ask to see the agreement beforehand. A quick read would have made that rendering easier. These terms surfaced during testimony. A shout out to Linguee is in order.

Allocate: v. Distribute (resources or duties) for a particular purpose 

The judge granted child custody to the maternal grandmother.

Conceder; El juez concedió la guarda y custodia definitiva al demandado el derecho de visitar y convivir con la niña.

Complaint n. the first document filed with the court (actually with the County Clerk or Clerk of the Court) by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another. The party filing the complaint is usually called the plaintiff and the party against whom the complaint is filed is called the defendant. The paternal uncle filed a complaint in the Juvenile Court of Segovia. Queja: El tío paterno sometío una queja en el Tribunal de Menores de Segovia.

Consideration Take into account This situation has to be taken into consideration in the definition of the new rules for the banana import regime. Tener en cuenta: Forzosamente hay que tener en cuenta esa situación en la formulación de las nuevas normas para el régimen de importación de plátanos.

Continuance n. A postponement of a date of a trial, hearing or other court appearance to a later fixed date by order of the court, or upon a stipulation (legal agreement) by the attorneys and approved by the court or (where local rules permit) by the clerk of the court. The court finds the sudden death of a family member to be good cause for a continuance. Aplazamiento: Si una solicitud de aplazamiento se hace en el transcurso de una audiencia …

Waive v. To voluntarily give up something, including not enforcing a term of a contract (such as insisting on payment on an exact date), or knowingly giving up a legal right such as a speedy trial, a jury trial or a hearing on extradition. Certain representatives residing in Paris waive their right to the subsistence allowance. Renunciar a: Algunos representantes que residen en Paris renuncian a las dietas que  tienen derecho.


Years ago my colleague Isabel Framer encouraged us to ask for case materials beforehand in order to interpret smoothly. She suggested the following:

Case materials in order to work efficiently and accurately

  • Crash report
  • Documents from investigative agencies
  • Indictment, plea, plea agreement
  • Motions, response to motions
  • Name, phone numbers of attorneys involved in the case
  • Transcriptions of tape recordings
  • Medical records
  • Names of expert witnesses and their accompanying reports
  • Complaint affidavit of the arresting officer

In order to not get caught off guard again I prepared for the next Friday. West’s law dictionary helped. The docket and case file information at the court’s website offered docket and case file information. I hadn’t heard the charge “Ohio Revised Code 4509.101 Operating a motor vehicle without proof of financial responsibility/FRA suspension” in months. That term had collected dust in the ShakleeDataBase. I discovered the “Ohio Driver’s Handbook/Compedio (typo) De Las Leyes De Ohio Vehículos Motorizados and “responsabilidad financiera”. Bam! Now the term makes sense. That led to infracción por no  presentar prueba de responsabilidad financiera.


Term list at hand. Listen interpreting equipment charged and I’ll arrive fifteen minutes early to review case file. What preparation strategies can you share? Please comment below.

A single red thread


What does red signify in your culture? Red stones such as garnets and rubies were believed to have health-giving and disease preventing properties. In Rome, children wore red coral as a talisman to protect them from diseases, and in China, for similar reasons, children always wore a piece of red clothing. My dear mother, Elizabeth Ann and first-generation Italian, pinned a slip of red cloth to her brassiere till the day she died. Why? For protection from  il malocchio or evil eye.


Mom would pluck the eyebrows of our Romanian neighbor, Annie, at least once a month. When Annie showed up for her beauty regimen, the red cloth was in place. If not, mom claimed Annie gave her a headache. “Johnnyboy, you have to protect yourself against il malocchio.” Do you want to laugh? To this day I include red in my ensemble. My hearing aids perch on each ear, a shiny bright red. I’m covered.


This brings us to cultural brokering in the healthcare setting. Recently I had to assess a situation to decide if the patient’s life would be in danger. If a child drinks a few drops of water before surgery, would that effect a procedure? I knew that parents routinely receive instructions the day before any operation to stop all foods and liquids the night before.

A little one struggled last week with the hiccups while waiting for an adenoidectomy.  The mother reached in her bag, grabbed a syringe and proceeded to give her a drops of water with a syringe. Whoa. I asked her to stop and searched for a nurse to explain what happened. Miss Nurse asked “Did you give your daughter water? How much?” Mother reluctantly reached for the syringe to show how much. “No water!” admonished Miss Nurse.


The little one continued to hiccup. Once the nurse left and without missing a beat, mom pulled a single thread from her daughter’s anti-slip socks, twisted it into a ball and placed it on her daughter’s forehead. I inquired: “Why the red thread on her forehead?” “Oh, to get rid of her hiccups” mother replied.

I laughed aloud and remembered my dear mother. Red protected my mom without fail. Know what? From that point on till the surgical nurse carted the tyke into the operating room, no hiccup cropped up. So much for mainstream medicine.

Later Nurse Recovery Room explained the water ban. “If a patient has anything in the stomach before surgery, upon inserting the breathing tube a patient can aspirate or draw stomach fluids into the lungs”, a clear threat to a patient’s well-being. I repeated the story of mom’s home remedy. We chuckled.   

Have any readers encountered a similar cultural situation? Please write your comments below.

A day in the life of a remote interpreter


I switched suddenly from live to over-the-telephone interpreting due to COVID-19. Local courts and hospitals cancelled in-house assignments for the short term. The change presents struggles not encountered on live assignments: adapting to speaker phones, multiple voices on a call and increased concentration to visualize the phases of a doctor’s visit. Luckily I toiled previously for Language Line, Language Services Associates and NetworkOmni. There I refined consecutive interpreting skills and developed a massive terminology database in the medical, legal and insurance industries.


Earbuds may or may not amplify sounds sufficiently. Sometimes providers assume the cordless phone detects all voices equally well. A cordless phone in the examination room may or may not guarantee audio acuity. The interpreter must take into account that an additional muffle enters the scene what with face masks. The other day a chatty physician droned on and on in a low tone. A rich foreign accent permeated her English speech. “Doctor, could you please move the telephone closer?” The patient’s mother willingly responded to questions with a faint voice. “Doctor, let me clarify her response.” In the meantime the door clicks open and a medical assistant announces “Doctor, forgive me, but you have the Cleveland Clinic on line two.” In the meantime the physician brutally pounds on the innocent keyboard to input the patient’s symptoms in the medical record. So much for a gentle touch and sponge keyboards.


I interpret primarily for pediatric specialties and encounter a multitude of sound waves in a single call. Let’s start with volume. A baby screeches when the pediatrician approaches for the examination. Last week a little one maintained a high-pitch scream throughout the entire exam. My $4000.00+ hearing aids faithfully amplified sounds that nearly pierced the eardrums. I couldn’t reach the volume control fast enough. The provider and mother cooed in an effort to calm him down. In the background his sisters and brothers start to join in the din because their little brother suffers. Five voices to sort out.


Another voice may inhabit the encounter. A trusted friend accompanies the patient’s parent and insists on interpreting everything before I have the chance to speak. Ugh. How to politely ask the third party to kindly stop intervening? Add to the mix the requisite intense concentration that may stretch for an hour in a typical appointment. How to sort out many magnified sounds over the phone wires as compared those during an in-person assignment?


Where else can you hear a mother coo a lullaby to calm her little one during a lengthy ultrasound? A little one had to endure an ultrasound that lasted over twenty minutes, an eternity to an eighteen month old. Squidward Tentacles and SpongeBob SquarePants bickered over Krabby patties in the background while a technician completed the exam. Cartoons help soothe a panicked child. This interpreter, too.

Another change is the cordless phone that follows a patient from check-in to discharge. The staff parks me on a shelf till the physician enters the room. In the meantime I hear office chatter about the weekend or another patient’s symptoms. One nurse sang quietly to herself while accompanying a family down the hall. When the phone stays in the patient’s room in-between providers, a family member invariably calls a friend on their cell phone to fill the time. Here’s a chance to become more acclimated to speech velocity and terms peculiar to the dialect. I learned the word “chorro” and “fuente” for tap water once. Those words help to interpret the boilerplate question “Does your child drink city or well water?”.

All in all I’m grateful for the chance to serve our LEP community over the telephone. What struggles have you encountered? Please share them here.


thoughts on interpreting

Liam O'Dell

Freelance Journalist and Campaigner News

The latest news on and the WordPress community.