When it comes to taking legal depositions, it’s critical to communicate clearly with every witness. If anyone you are deposing for your next case speaks little to no English, some extra preparation and awareness on your part may be required to ensure a comfortable, effective deposition. Here are some practical tips for examining a non-English speaker.
- Inquire about the deponent’s English proficiency. Just because a witness requests an interpreter doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t understand English at all. It might simply mean they feel more comfortable conversing in their native tongue.
- Find out if an interpreter is necessary. Keep a record of the deponent’s request for an interpreter, which may be useful later in recovering interpretation costs. If the deponent declines an interpreter, keep this record as well, since it could impeach any later testimony that the witness didn’t understand a question.
- Determine the witness’s literacy in their native tongue. Just because the witness can speak a language doesn’t mean they can read and write it. Discover their degree of literacy in advance so you don’t make an illiterate deponent uncomfortable by handing them a written exhibit.
- Be clear and direct. If you decide not to hire an interpreter, you’ll need to speak directly to the non-native English speaker. Avoid idioms, such as “Let’s wrap this up,” and use short, concise phrases whenever possible. Speak slowly and clearly, and ask the witness to clarify whether they understand the question.
- Only hire an interpreter you can trust. Find someone from a reputable company to interpret your deposition. Swear them in using this type of verbiage: “Do you solemnly swear that you will accurately and to the best of your ability translate this meeting from English into [language] and from [language] into English?”
- Be aware of dialect differences. Many languages have distinct dialects, which may differ in both accent and word choice. For instance, there are 22 “official” languages in India, and over 200 languages are spoken in Africa. For the greatest accuracy, hire an interpreter who is familiar with, or ideally fluent in, the witness’s dialect.
- Don’t hesitate to interrupt the proceedings if necessary. It’s inappropriate for interpreters to make corrections or give commentary. Also, the interpreter should say, “My name is…” not “He says his name is…” If this starts happening, pause to correct the interpreter, and start again.
- Look into deposition time limits. Interpreted depositions are sure to take longer because every question must be asked and answered twice. For this reason, your jurisdiction may have flexible time limits when deposing non-English speakers.
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