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About Depositions – Deposition Interpreters

Deposition interpreters worldwide

A deposition (or Examination Before Trial [EBT]), usually held before a trial begins, is part of the litigation process. This is for both Civil and Criminal Cases in the United States and Canada and their respective legal systems. It is an out-of-court testimony by a witness (aka. a deponent). S/he answers questions put forward by attorneys to gather information in preparation for the trial as part of the discovery process.

Depositions fall into the category “hearsay” a statement. This cannot be used as evidence”, offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts). However, there are some circumstances where what is said at a deposition may be admissible at trial. These include when a witness is unavailable for trial. For this, they will record their statement at a deposition onto the record.


About Depositions – Deposition Interpreters: It often takes place outside of a courtroom. The only parties present are the deponent, attorneys, someone to administer oaths and possibly a stenographer/court reporter (although they record many depositions electronically) and/or an interpreter if the witness’s first language is not English, and often even if the witness speaks English to a good standard but not fluently, to avoid any confusion.

Recently, the number of non-English speaking witnesses has increased rapidly, which means interpreters are in much demand for this vital part of the legal process. Considering the vital importance of depositions, interpreters in deposition must be professional and adhere to judicial protocol; the actions of the interpreters often decide the outcome of the trial.

Attorneys and deponents

It is important for attorneys during a deposition to look at and speak directly to the deponent. Interpreters (and it is a sign of a poor interpreter if they do not do this) will use the first person when interpreting. Should the deponent say “I do not remember,” the interpreter will repeat, “I do not remember,” and not: “She says she does not remember”. According to ‘The Person Behind the Face: A Lawyer’s Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions’ by Nina Ivanichvili (Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Vol. 61, No. 6 | July 2004), a court interpreter’s role is to “translate exactly what is said and at the same level of discourse the speaker uses.”

An interpreter in a deposition should not summarise, paraphrase, explain, or verbalise his or her personal opinions. Instead, the interpreter must interpret exactly what the counsel says and properly convey the style and form of the message of what the non-English-speaking deponent says.

Deposition proceedings

The deposition interpretation sometimes increases the length of the proceedings. To avoid delays, it is best to opt for interpreters with extensive experience in depositions and, if the case is regarding highly technical/specialist areas, one with relevant expertise in the field. TJC can offer this service.

Also, take note that in some languages, English phrases/words do not have a direct equivalent, and an interpreter may need longer than you expect to convey the exact meaning of a phrase. In Russian, the word “deposition” itself requires four words to convey. Similarly, the use of double negatives, common in legal argot, can be highly confusing for Japanese speakers (in whose language this construction does not exist) and may take time to process and understand for both the deponent and interpreter.

Non-Verbal communication

It is essential for legal professionals to remember that it is not only verbal communication that may need interpreting. Non-verbal communication can also vary dramatically from culture to culture. Things like silence (to process the question and answer accurately – a common trait in some cultures), avoiding eye contact (often a sign of respect), and facial expressions can cause confusion and possible misunderstandings for American attorneys.

Deposition Interpreters:
Interpretation, in general, is a very complex process involving a high degree of concentration as the interpreter attempts first to hear, then understand, analyse, and ultimately express ideas coherently in the target language. Still, in deposition, this is even more crucial. Language takes on an extra element, and nuance, idiom, and register can make all the difference. With this amount of pressure, a level of fatigue can set in after too long a spell, and the quality of interpreting may be affected. This is why interpreters do require regular breaks during depositions. This ensures that the quality of interpreting does not decrease over time.

TJC Global’s expert deposition interpreters are professional in the fields in question. Their expertise in the area means they can manage these situations efficiently and effectively to ensure transparency and understanding for all parties at all times.

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