Role of the Interpreter in a Deposition

The interpreter must translate each speaker's words exactly.
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At the best of times, clear communication between two people is a chancy thing. It's even more difficult when those two people speak different languages, and the subject matter is complex and technical. That's what makes careers in court interpreting such an intellectual challenge. Whether in the open court or in a deposition, the interpreter must accurately convey both the words and meaning of each speaker.

About Depositions

Depositions are opportunities for the parties to a case, and their lawyers, to sit down together and establish the basic facts of the case. It's legally the equivalent of testifying in court, but without the judge and jury present. Lawyers question both witnesses and principals in the case, seeking to understand each participant's perspective and to identify information that can be used advantageously in court. Depositions can be even more challenging for interpreters than normal court work, because the absence of a judge gives the lawyers opportunity to talk and interrupt more than they would in a trial.


The interpreter's role in a deposition begins with advance preparation. It's important to know the names of all the principals in advance, as well as any specialized legal terms or concepts that will be introduced during the deposition. It's also important to understand any cultural biases that might color the speaker's perceptions. You're required to interpret the speaker's words accurately, but your knowledge of their cultural context can help you choose the words and sentences that best convey the witnesses' meaning.

During the Deposition

During the deposition, your main role is to provide the non-English speaker with an accurate and complete interpretation of all questions and comments, and to report their words just as accurately to the English speakers in the room. If the lawyers are holding forth at length without pauses for interpretation, you might need to interrupt them periodically and establish a more interpreter-friendly rhythm. Always convey the speaker's words accurately and completely, without summarizing, paraphrasing or unnecessary commentary.

General Conduct

Throughout the deposition, your actions should be consistent with your code of conduct as an interpreter. These vary between states and organizations, though they're broadly similar. You should never interpret at a deposition if you have a personal interest in the case, or a personal relationship with any of the parties to the case. You must respect the confidentiality of the proceedings, never violating the clients' privacy by repeating what you've heard during the deposition. You should never accept a contract if you don't have the skills or knowledge to fulfill it adequately, and you must demonstrate professionalism and neutrality throughout the proceedings.

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