A compassionate mother smiles and hugs her child close while thinking of lessons learned as a parent and interpreter.

What Being a Parent Taught Me about Impartiality and Interpreting

Ever been wrong?

Ever made a wrong judgment?

Ever said something and wished you could take it back?

I’ll be the first one raising my hand.

I consider myself a smart and insightful person (for the most part). Yet, as my 6-year-old looked me in the eyes and pleadingly replied, “Mom, I know you don’t believe me, but I am telling the truth!” I somehow wondered if maybe — just maybe — I could be wrong about him taking something off my desk.

When weeks later I found the lost item buried in my belongings, not only did I have to apologize to my child, I also had to ask myself whether that slight smirk I thought I saw on his face was any indication of guilt after all.

You could be wrong

I COULD be wrong. I could be wrong even if I were convinced that I was right . . .

I tell myself this often as I navigate relationships in my personal life. I also remind myself of this when I am interpreting.

When I am prone to jump to quick conclusions, I protect myself by remaining impartial. I choose not to say what I may be thinking because, after all is said and done, after the call ends, after I may not even remember the name of the individual I interpreted for, after weeks or months or years later, when the truth is finally revealed, I could have been wrong.

You may have recently read news stories about interpreters violating principles of impartiality. The interpreters probably thought they were helping, but they ended up causing confusion and misunderstanding instead.

I know that, as interpreters, we do not set out to heavily moderate our encounters. We do not intend to deliberately hurt the customers or the people with limited English proficiency (LEP). I know that we just want to help, but for just one moment, please consider this: What if you are wrong?

Are you willing to take that risk with someone’s life? Are you ready to misrepresent someone’s experience even when it is done in the spirit of trying to help?

Related: Keep These Things in Mind When Interpreting for Mental Health Interactions

Impartiality is essential in interpreting

Impartiality is strongly embedded into both the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) and International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) codes of ethics. These two amazing documents are chock-full of ideas on how to maintain impartiality and remain neutral in your encounters.

Impartiality protects you and me from potential complaints and personal liability. Impartiality allows you and me to support the needs of the person with LEP while protecting the interests of the client.

As an interpreter, my responsibility is to clearly and accurately convey exactly what the customer is saying. It falls to the customer and the person with LEP to make sure the information they are providing is accurate, fair, and polite.

Because again, you could be wrong

I didn’t see my child take something from my desk. Instead, I made an assumption based on the current environment in front of me. And I was wrong. My perception was not accurate and, luckily, since the encounter was with my child, I was able to reflect and quickly apologize when I realized my error. No harm (hopefully) done.

But the consequences of not remaining impartial during real-life interpretation encounters can be dire. So it’s important to remember that you are only seeing a snapshot of the situation — not the entire picture. And always remain impartial and neutral in all encounters. This ensures that everyone has the safest, most complete experience possible.

Are you a keen, impartial interpreter? Then we’d love to work with you! Hit us up on our Careers page to submit a résumé.