Interesting, Hard-working and Stubborn Ling Song Chase: Cantonese and Mandarin Interpreter
Ling, would you like to share with us a story, or a memorable interpreting assignment which is the highlight of your career, or something that has had an impact on you?
When I was interpreting for a trial in Maidstone Crown Court a few years ago, in this trial the Chinese defendant was charged with growing cannabis. He claimed that he did not know those plants were cannabis while he was paid to water and feed those potted plants as he was told by his employer that those plants were ‘Lingzhi’ (‘灵芝’, a kind of Chinese herbal medicine). However, the CPS stated at court that the defendant was lying as he said during the recorded interview at the police station that he knew ‘Lingzhi’ looks like a kind of mushroom. The defendant denied that he ever said that during the recorded interview at the police station. The court then asked me to listen to the tape to find out whether he said so during the interview.
So I listened to the tape and realized that the interpreter at the interview actually answered the police officer’s question on behalf of the defendant! Police officer: Do you know what does ‘Lingzhi’ look like? Interpreter: ‘Lingzhi’ looks like a kind of mushroom. The transcription of this interview considered this as the defendant’s answer instead. Therefore the police believed that the defendant must have known those cannabis plants were not ‘Lingzhi’ as they didn’t look like a kind of mushroom…the defendant thanked me for telling the court indeed he didn’t say that ‘Lingzhi’ looked like a kind of mushroom and he was sentenced as a gardener rather than someone who was much higher up in the chain of cannabis production.
Therefore it is important for an interpreter to understand her/his role, he/she mustn’t put words into the speaker’s mouth!
I agree with you, Ling. An untrained, unexperienced or insufficiently qualified interpreter often makes mistakes like this, while fully qualified and experienced interpreters are more likely to act in an impartial, ethical and professional manner. As we all know, there is a huge disparity among the interpreters working in the UK, and right now, many under-qualified or unqualified interpreters are working as ALS interpreters in British courts and police stations, while many qualified ones are out of work.