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As stated in previous thoughts of mine, abiding by a code of conduct has many advantages even if some interpreters find these very restrictive.

I decided to use a scalpel to start cutting and analysing the code of conduct on my working table. I will be posting my thoughts in parts. Part 2 was posted last week, so if you haven’t yet read it, you can check it out at the bottom of this page.

Part 3 – Impartiality and Confidentiality

 Let’s continue our surgical analysis and look at impartiality and confidentiality…

Point 3.12 “Practitioners shall at all times act impartially and shall not act in any way that might result in prejudice or preference on grounds of religion or belief, race, politics, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability otherwise than as obliged in order to faithfully translate, interpret or otherwise transfer meaning.”

Impartiality is a difficult concept for some interpreters. To get impartiality right we must have critical thinking, and have independently reflected on the reasons why we act.

So when we are asked about the accent or dialect of a person, why is it wrong to answer?

Surely one would say this comes under our expertise, after all we are from the same country, or we speak the same language and can recognise the accent/dialect.

Well, if we answer the opposite to what the person chose to say, aren’t we in fact calling the person a liar?

If they chose to say they come from a country that contradicts their accent/dialect, why would we agree or disagree? Surely doing either is participating in the decision making because either answer will elicit a decision from the service provider, one that can help or hinder the objectives of the non-English speaker.

The same applies when we are asked if they come from one country or the other. To give you an example, I was once asked if the person’s accent means they are Brazilian or European Portuguese.  It would be easier for me to say, but what do I know about this person other than that I just met them 30 minutes ago?

After spending 40 days in Brazil, going from Rio de Janeiro beach hopping to Jericoacoara, in the northeast of the country, when I spoke, I was mistaken by someone from Sao Paulo because I unconsciously had adapted my accent to the local’s way of speaking.

So, in my professional opinion we can never answer these type of questions if we have just met the person in question. Yes, we can guess, yes, we can assume, but do we really know this person that well to be sure?

These are seemingly innocent questions that can have a detrimental effect on an immigration decision for example, which can even result in deportation.

Age is another tricky way in which interpreters may inadvertently influence support being given to a minor. Some children develop faster than others and we are not experts.

What about religion, do we let our beliefs influence the way we interpret for individuals of other faiths? After all we may believe them to be infidels, non-believers, not worthy of the same treatment.

Whatever our implicit and unconscious bias we need to have a point of reference and this far point 3.12 must be one to follow.

And what about confidentiality?

Point 3.13 “Practitioners shall respect confidentiality at all times…”

Point 3.14 “The duty of confidentiality shall not apply where disclosure is required by law.”

Can an interpreter who has not followed training know or understand when these points are applicable? Let me add here that ethics is not covered in most interpreting courses.

To make it clear, interpreters can breach confidentiality in 3 instances:

  • Child abuse (read about Victoria Climbié and Baby P)
  • Self-harm (threat of suicide), and
  • Harm to others (intent to kill another).

I am often told by students that “I tell my husband/wife when something terrible happened to me at work. It helps me relax and forget about it.”

This can be dangerous. My comment is always:

“What happens if one day the partner in question meets the person you interpreted for and makes a comment that such person knows was only told in confidence to a service provider and the interpreter?

Worse, the partner can make a comment to someone else, omitting the name but the someone else may be related to the one being mentioned. After all some communities are quite small and know each other.”

So I leave here a suggestion: reflective practice groups. These are becoming more available to interpreters and these are safe spaces in which to share cases and challenges from interpreting assignments.

Still on confidentiality, I read recently a notice that said “Following Police advice could you please refrain from posting certificates on social media platforms.”

Why would the police feel the need to suggest this to interpreters? Has anyone ever asked this question?

Maybe because we are more permissive nowadays than ever before. Maybe because we are more visible than ever before. Maybe because our need for validation is higher than ever before.

Whatever maybe applies to us, I would like to share what I read recently on a LinkedIn post and I re-shared on my FB page. This person posted: “This girl on Instagram posted her plane ticket and I called and cancelled her flight.”

There are scammers amongst the many potential clients we want to reach, and it would pay to follow a simple point from a code of conduct to avoid being the victim of a serious prank.

It may work very well as advertising for some interpreters but in certain language combinations where interpreters give voice to murderers, gang members or the like, it can be dangerous to be so permissive with our whereabouts and/or achievements.

The code of conduct does not intend to suppress interpreters. The points were carefully thought of to assist us in making the right decisions.

In the absence of Standards of Good Practice lets reflect on our actions and potential situations that can harm our reputation.

Being impartial does not mean we do not care, it means we have made choices that indeed show our utmost respect for the voice of others.

Let’s all share good practice in challenging situations and maintain confidentiality as a mantra.

by Helena El Masri