Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Interpretation: Portuguese vs. Spanish


A funny story: I had to interpret for a deposition a few weeks ago. I had never interpreted for any lawyer or court case before and I was very nervous, even though my employer assured me that a deposition isn't really like being in court. The questions would be simple, it should be low-stress.

Well, I was still nervous, and even more nervous when they broke out the recording devices and court reporter. The client I was interpreting for was Brazilian. The deposition took place in the client's lawyer's office, but the opposing council's lawyer was the one asking all the questions. Before the proceedings began, I just had to open my big mouth and announce that this was the first deposition I had ever interpreted for.


The opposing lawyer looked at me and said, "I'm very surprised about that." When I asked why he was surprised, he gave me a lecture about how this was a legal proceeding and how I was not to summarize or paraphrase but repeat everything he said perfectly, word for word.


I explained that this was not my first time interpreting, I have been trained. It was just my first deposition. Well, that's my fault for instilling doubt in his mind about my abilities.

Everything was going fine, my employer had been right, the questions were easy, there wasn't any difficult legal vocabulary. And then he asked an interesting question:
"Did the doctor you saw speak Spanish?"

I interpreted the question, word for word, but I was already realizing that the lawyer was thinking the client was Hispanic and that all this time I had been speaking Spanish. The Brazilian man shook his head and said that no, the doctor didn't speak Spanish.


"Well, how did you communicate with the doctor then?" the lawyer asked. I raised my hand and interrupted.

"The client is Brazilian, he speaks Portuguese. Maybe you would like to re-ask your question."

It was if we had blown his mind. "Right," he said. "That didn't sound like Spanish to me. Now I know why." So he repeated the question, asking if the doctor spoke Portuguese. Which, of course, she did not. Very, very few doctors in New Orleans speak Portuguese.


"So again, I'm asking, how did you communicate with the doctor?"


"One of the nurses spoke Spanish." the client said. And now I had to interrupt because the look on the lawyer's face was one of total confusion. I explained that while Spanish and Portuguese are, in fact, two different languages, they are somewhat mutually intelligible. The nurse, interpreting in Spanish was probably able to convey some of the doctor's instructions to the Brazilian.


"But how did you communicate with the doctor when no one at the clinic spoke your language?" the lawyer asked again.








I smiled on the inside. Isn't this the question though? Just how do immigrants receive medical care when no one at the clinic or hospital speaks their language?

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1 comment:

Carly said...

This is a great story. I really need to practice my Portuguese more - not that I'd ever entirely lose it, but I'm certainly no longer fluent. Great job letting the lawyer know that he incorrect in his assumption without making him feel put off!