The Linguist

The Linguist 52,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 17 of 35

FEATURES MILITARY INTERPRETING Let's get physical Ranjeeta Johnson looks at the challenges for civilians interpreting for the Ministry of Defence hen my friends ask me what I have been working on and I say 'I can't tell you', they wonder if I am making it up. But I have signed the Official Secrets Act and cannot divulge certain information, some of which is classified. In order to be able to assist military police and Special Investigation Branch (SIB) officers, I have developed vetting to the highest level. Although I am a civilian interpreter undertaking assignments for the military (rather than a military interpreter employed by the Ministry of Defence), the MoD chooses to keep me on its database of potential interpreters and therefore continues to apply and pay for the vetting process. Within the military, there is a good understanding of the work interpreters do. The issues were made very clear in 1997-98, during the Bosnian handover, when it became apparent that the British peacekeeping forces would benefit from having interpreters. Most of the work I do is in the UK and concerns military police or SIB investigations and court martials. But when crimes have occurred during military operations, I have been asked to assist overseas. The environment is very different in each setting. W by the interpretation. Court martial centres are quite flexible about this and it is easy to change places. I tend to get three or four weeks' notice for court martial assignments, but occasionally defendants realise that they need an interpreter at the last minute. People who work for the British Army generally have good English, so investigations may be conducted in English even if it is not the defendant's first language. However, during the trial, the judge needs to make sure the defendant understands everything that is going on, including legal terminology and technical language relating to things such as DNA. Because most defendants understand the majority of the proceedings, I usually only interpret when I am given a cue by the defendant or when there are specifics that have to be interpreted. I take notes to make sure I am ready when I receive a cue. When you have been an interpreter for a long time, you can usually tell whether the defendant has understood or requires an interpretation. In 18 years of experience, I have never had to interpret at a court martial for seven hours My family worries but, for me, it is exciting not knowing what is at the end of the journey. There is a thrill in a row. The court normally opens at 10am and closes at 5pm, with a 20-minute break before lunch and a 15-minute break in the afternoon. I usually interpret for five or six hours, but there is a rigid system within the army and everyone has to turn up at 9.15am, regardless of what time the case starts. As a civilian, that can be frustrating. When there are multiple defendants who need interpreters, the courtroom setting becomes quite large, because each interpreter and defendant pair is given a separate table so that the interpretation doesn't disrupt the proceedings. It is essential to use whispered On trial A court martial is conducted in the same manner as a crown court trial, except that the jury comprises high-ranking army officers, who are called board members rather than jurors. In addition, the defendant is given an 'Assisting Officer' from their unit to support them throughout the trial. The defendant will usually sit at a long desk, between the barrister and the Assisting Officer. However, it is easier if there is some space between the interpreter and the barrister, who might otherwise be distracted 18 The Linguist DECEMBER 2013/JANUARY 2014

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