21 May /13

Interpreter Spotlight: Translating on the Front Lines

Many people still believe that working in translation is a job that consists of sitting at a desk, thumbing through a dictionary, and working on projects such as the translation of literary works and the occasional birth certificate; however, this could not be further from the truth. In times of ever increasing interaction between cultures and languages, translators and interpreters are manning the front lines of cultural interaction, from hostile war zones to airport arrival halls.

While this may seem like a fairly obvious observation, the fact remains that unconventional translation roles are still underpublicized and underestimated. Take, for example, a recent case involving the U.S. Forest Service in the state of Washington that even caused a fatality.

During a routine divorce questioning of a Latino couple on the Olympic Peninsula, agents of the U.S. Forest Service questioned the divorcees about their immigration status. Unfortunately, as the result of ineffective interpreting the couple panicked and attempted to flee. As the man attempted to cross a river he drowned in the strong current. The suspect’s death is both unfortunate and unnecessary for if the regional Forest Service had simply employed more qualified Spanish interpreters maybe a life could have been saved.

Though the aforementioned case is a very sad and regrettable, one has to assume that this isn’t the only instance of misunderstanding that occurs because of lack of professional  interpreters, especially if one considers the penultimate scenario that necessitates the quick and accurate translation of information- an armed conflict, one has to assume that there have been mistranslations that have claimed the lives of soldiers, civilians, or the interpreter himself. Logically, interpreting on the front line is a dangerous business. It often sends interpreters shoulder to shoulder with front line troops, risking their lives in combat or facing death threats as a result of their work. The current NATO mission in Afghanistan, for instance, has produced a whole army of native Afghan interpreters who have been translating for NATO over the course of the last 12 years, and who now, with the withdrawal of NATO troops imminent, fear for their lives.

Most NATO countries who employed native translators in their ranks have therefore granted their front line interpreters the right to political asylum, recognizing that their service has put their lives in jeopardy. Just today, the UK joined that the list and extended the right to asylum to interpreters who have been working for the British forces for more than 12 months and worked alongside British troops on patrols and combat missions outside military bases.

EVS Translations provides interpreting services for both the private and public sectors. Our qualified and experienced interpreters are frequently selected for AGMs, SE Work Councils, compliance audits.