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Every court in the land will have a story about how a mis-translation or misinterpretation caused terrible consequences for an innocent person or cause a valid case to fail.

When one of our interpreters was training to do the DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) she was told a story by some Polish colleagues of how a poor unfortunate was taken to trial over the wrong interpretation in a police station of a Polish person’s words, by an Ukrainian interpreter who also spoke Polish (but not at native fluency).

The police wanted to ask the person in custody if they knew anything about the drugs in a case they were investigating.  The interpreter should have used the Polish word “narkotyki” but instead used the Ukrainian word, which was different, and was roughly equivalent to “the other people” in English.  The suspect being interrogated was repeatedly asked questions to do with “the other people” and agreed that other people must be responsible for whatever had got on. Unwittingly they had confessed to involvement in a drugs case.

Once the case came to court this mis-translation was unravelled, and the defendant was cleared, but the court case failed and the cost of money wasted on the prosecution was very high.

How can poor translation be avoided in the first place?

Often in police cases, speed is of the essence as the witness statements need to be taken quickly so further action can be pursued. This means that often the interpreter chosen is the one who is available soonest, not the best one – take the time to find a good translator.

The cost of public sector interpreting has long been an issue for governments, who have tried to reduce the costs, at the expense of quality. Translators and interpreters often work at odd times of day or at short notice, and the better ones are in demand. You really do get what you pay for – be prepared to pay more for a good translator.

The advice on allowing time and a sensible budget to get the right translator equally applies to business translation. Don’t end up needing costly re-writes of your materials, or risk losing web conversions on your website. Talk to Accutranslate about how a professional translation agency such as ours will handle your project – you’ll see the difference.