How Interpreters And Translators Manage Moral Dilemmas

Translation is a vital bridge between different languages which means that in a wide range of critical situations, effective, clear translation is essential.

A Polish translator might, for example, be present when a witness makes a statement but is most comfortable stating the facts in Polish rather than English, and interpreters are vital parts of business meetings, court cases and diplomatic negotiations that cross language boundaries.

This can naturally lead to situations where a translator ends up with an ethical quandary, and these situations can be astonishingly common.

Less critical but still highly important examples of this include conflicts of interest, where your ability to impartially translate between two parties could be affected by knowing one or both of the parties.

Here are some of the ways translators and interpreters manage ethical grey areas.


Immediately Step Away

The most common response in a conflict of interest situation is to step away, contact the agency involved and arrange for another interpreter.

Whilst this can be frustrating for all parties involved in the moment, it is far better to have a delay than cause a conflict of interest that might cause both legal and ethical issues for the people involved.


Retain Impartiality

Ultimately, an interpreter or translator is a conduit between different languages. For this to work, they must remain impartial at all times.

 This can lead to some difficult ethical dilemmas in and of itself. What if the client or non-English speaker says something that the other party could take offence to, for example?

Ultimately, to be an effective language conduit, the interpreter must translate everything that is said as accurately as they can, even if it leads to potential offence.


Add Explanations To Translated Text

Ultimately, when working as a translator, some words do not effectively translate. One of the most popular Polish-language novels ever made used a word that did not have a completely accurate translation into English.

This is a problem in fiction, but in legal documents translating the intent of a document is essential to ensure that its meaning is conveyed, so in cases where there is no direct translation, sometimes it is important to add footnotes and contextual cues.