Interpreting Equipment: To use or not to use?


As interpreters we feel strongly about many things related to our work, and the use of interpreting equipment is no exception so today we’ll look at interpreting equipment.

My first exposure to it set a very high non-standard bar, because it was the equipment in Tucson’s Federal Courthouse. Audio quality is excellent, interpreters sit pretty at a table with quality adjustable headphones that receive a direct audio feed from microphones at the Judge’s and attorneys’ areas. We’ll skip the issue of how it all falls apart if they don’t actually speak into the microphone because that NEVER happens [insert sarcastic emoji]. Defendants are handed headsets with rubber ear parts that can be disinfected. So that’s the ideal world. Now let’s move on to reality as most interpreters live it: all other courts (State, City, Justice, Juvenile, Family, Traffic, etc).

If you’ve interpreted in the aforementioned courts, you know how noisy they can be. A veritable cacophony of sound from squeaky chairs and doors, to multiple conversations between attorneys and their clients, the rattling of chains, and all going on at the same time as the actual hearing for which you are supposed to interpret. Microphones may be set up at the tables and judge’s bench, but that doesn’t mean they’re on or actually being spoken into. Then there’s the matter of the defendants, who will be of varying heights and into whose ears you attempt to interpret. Regardless of your height, you will be inevitably craning your neck in some direction IF you don’t have equipment. As an Occupational Therapist, I recoil at the bad ergonomics this represents! Hours a day of doing this will not be a good thing for you in the long run.

I see many advantages to interpreting with good equipment (many courthouses like mine offer portable equipment): you save your neck and you are able to maintain a distance from defendants, which is a good thing for several reasons, some personal, some professional (if you remain close by, defendants start asking you questions or making conversation.) Distance makes them pay more attention to the actual hearing and focus less on you.  With equipment you can also provide services to more than one person at a time without whispering (which we know is stressful to our vocal folds). In Family Court/Mediation there are occasions when very antagonistic parties do not want to sit near each other, and using equipment makes this possible. Long hearings such as trials would be painful without it. In a noisy courtroom you can move around to wherever you can hear best. So, what’s not to love about using equipment? There are some downsides: not all equipment can be cleaned (think spongy or in-ear setups), batteries must be replaced, plus setting up can take some time and not all judges are patient. It’s a matter of asserting yourself. Our customers mess with settings and get tangled with long cords.

It’s important to consider the fact that if a courthouse does not offer equipment, you can purchase your own as a tax-deductible expense. Cost is a limiting factor, but if you see it as a long-term investment in your health, it’s worthwhile!

So, we at The Confident Interpreter hope you’ll share your favorite “interpreting with equipment” stories (the good, the bad and the funny), what your favorite brand is and maybe its cost, so that we all learn from each other. Thanks for liking our page and following us!

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