As more people from overseas choose Washington State as a place to set up home, courts in the region are finding there is an increasing demand for interpreter services.

KEPR reports that the languages courtrooms are finding they need to cater to include Russian, Vietnamese and Spanish, among others. As a result, the public sector interpreters working in the area need to travel across multiple counties in just a day in order to cater for everyone.

Ana Armijo is one of the hard-working interpreters serving courts in the area. She says her clients are always grateful for her services. “I just explain to them that that’s my job … and I do it gladly,” she adds.

Ms Armijo primarily offers Spanish translation, but increasingly the courts require languages like Russian and numerous Asian dialects, which is a reflection of the area becoming more multicultural. This is not only the case in the US, but also in the UK.

Rising demand

In November last year, we reported how today’s multiculturalism has prompted hospitals to prioritise their current language service provision. While there may be residents who settled in the UK decades ago and speak English every day, if the language is not their mother tongue they could find it hard to understand all the technical lingo used by the medical professionals they speak to. Indeed, it can be tough for an English speaker to understand it all!

It’s for this reason that interpreters can choose to specialise in public sector interpreting. They are responsible for bridging the language gap between the doctor and patient, the police officer and suspect or the barrister and witness. In courtrooms it is absolutely vital that nothing gets lost in translation. If it’s later proven that a suspect or witness didn’t understand the questions being put to them and so did not provide a reliable answer, there could be legal implications.

That’s why it’s imperative the courts in Tri-Cities – and everywhere else for that matter – are able to cater to anyone whose mother tongue differs from the native language. When it comes to something as important as getting clarification on your health issues, getting a fair trial or giving a statement to a police officer, it is vital nothing gets lost in translation.

You may be wondering why a member of the family can’t just act as an interpreter, but it is advisable a professional with all the necessary qualifications who is used to working in the public sector is employed. A non-expert might not interpret technical terminology correctly, or they could add their own thoughts and opinions rather than repeating the person they are interpreting verbatim.

Yet it is costly ensuring there are enough public sector interpreters to meet the demand. KEPR notes that $70,000 (£44,000) was spent on interpreters for local courts in 2012 – an increase of $10,000 on 2011. And as demand rises, more public sector institutions are hiring interpreters through agencies, who may be based further away.

A price worth paying?

In 2012, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that £5 million had been spent on interpreting and translation services for Northern Ireland’s hospitals and surgeries over the last three years. Social Democratic and Labour Party politician John Dallat claimed the figure was “alarming” and that a “reassessment” was urgently required.

Doctors might disagree though, with one GP saying at the time that interpreter services helped a “very vulnerable group of people”. One of a doctor’s biggest concerns is knowing that their message has got through to the patient. They need to be sure the person in their care understands exactly what medication they need to take, and when and how it has to be taken. Failure to take their medication correctly means a person may not get better – and could even get worse.

Speaking last year, a spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust explained that healthcare institutions had a duty to ensure patients had equal access to language services, no matter what their mother tongue. We certainly believe it is an investment worth making.