Things change in the judiciary interpreting world, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. How to adapt? My courthouse and medical in-person assignments vanished as of 3/12 due to COVID-19. Our household’s revenue stream decreased by nearly half without any warning. Over-the-telephone assignments fill the gap for the interim. Imagine my surprise when a bailiff called for a voice acting gig.


(phone rings) Bailiff: Hey John. We’re looking for someone to record “Your Rights as a Defendant” for our court’s web page in Spanish. Do you do that type of thing?

Me: (stifling a squeal) Yeah, I have voice acting experience.

Bailiff: OK, let me send you the document. Only prepare the circled portion.

Me: I’ll translate the text and begin to practice. Will my regular hourly rate do?

Bailiff: Perfectly acceptable. Thank you again for assisting us with this.


Now I transition from interpreter to translator. My dear friend Sandra Bravo of International Language Solutions agreed to translate “Your Rights as a Defendant” into Spanish. Mind you, I interpreted the text hundreds of times but sought a native speaker’s expertise to achieve a more pure script.

Criminal defendants are entitled to constitutional rights that include the requirement that the prosecution prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to remain silent, to confront witnesses, too have a public/jury/speedy trial and representation by an attorney. The defendant’s recording sprang from the court’s transition to VRI (video remote interpreting) hearings. Defendants need to hear their rights in spite of the change from a live to a remote appearance.


Now I change from translator to voice actor. Although the  piece ran just short of three minutes, I “exercised” in order to create a professional product. Exercises prepare the voice just as a sprinter warms up before bracing at the starting block. James R. Alburger’s The Art of Voice Acting, a “bible” with suggestions to relax and record, tumbled from the shelf. I also called upon the guidance of Dan Popp, Sound Czar (voice actor, audio producer and voiceover trainer) of Colors Audio. Dan directed me in “End of Life Care: Advance Care Planning for Primary Care Practitioners” through Sarah Lawrence College.

Exercises prepare the voice just as a sprinter warms up before bracing at the starting block. Here are some of many in Alburger’s bible.Here are some of many in Alburger’s bible. For starters stretch your tongue toward the nose and hold for ten seconds. Then, stretch it down toward the chin and hold for another ten to warm up the jaw and mouth. Move and hold the tongue to the left side of your mouth. Lastly position the tongue to the right, hold for ten seconds then release. Confession: I slobber. Keep a Kleenex or handkerchief at hand for residual saliva.


Yep, that’s the name. Horse lips. Take a deep breath, slowly release air through the lips and let them flutter. Repeat three to five times. Tired yet? Try to yawn on purpose. Hold an exaggerated yawn for ten seconds. Rest and repeat two more times.

Next scrunch up your face as tight as possible. I clench my teeth but not to the point of pain or discomfort. Then, open your eyes and mouth as wide as possible to increase blood flow to the face. Hold each position for ten seconds or more. On to record.


Switch from voice actor to audio recording engineer. Fancy schmantzy title for a guy who uses a simple app on the iPhone. Apple’s Voice Memos worked easily to record, archive and send the file to the client.

I read through the script several times to warm up the pipes. Usually I don’t sing but imagined Father O’Leary at the pulpit during Sunday morning mass at my childhood church, St. Anthony/All Saints Parish. I sang the script to my parishioners/defendants à la call-and-response from the pulpit. Suzan-Lori Parks of Watch Me Work suggests writers walk around and read the script aloud. In the creative process you’ll “get the work in your body, start telling yourself the story, imagine the story on the screen.” These ideas blend well with the voice actor experience.

I marked pauses, places to breathe and spots to enunciate on the script. Dan’s voice whispered in my ear “just slo-o-o-o-o-w down.” I noted when to emphasize a word, inflection up or down, and pause. After several passes with Voice Memos a viable recording emerged. I went through three changes to the serve the court’s need to serve the Hispanic community. Personally, it’s a kick to voice act. Click on Getting into Voice Acting to start on a new path.

Published by The Interpreter Fellow

I am an Ohio State Certified Court Interpreter and Certified Healthcare Interpreter in Spanish. MA Translation from The Institute for Applied Linguistics at Kent State University. Currently I serve Akron Children's Hospital Pediatrics and local courts.

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thoughts on interpreting

Liam O'Dell

Freelance Journalist and Campaigner

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