Interpreters for depositions

The setting: Depositions in the American legal system

Depositions are pre-trial witness testimonies conducted under oath in a legal dispute in the United States. Their aim is to collect evidence and document the statements made, which can later be used before court, if needed. To do this, a court reporter will create a real-time record of the examination of the witness.

When interpreters are used during depositions, they play a crucial role: as they translate the witnesses' statements into English, their wording is what appears in the transcript and would be considered by the court. This highlights the importance of selecting the right interpreters for the deposition.

The problem: Language barriers during depositions

Depositions can be quite stressful for witnesses. When a witness does not speak English as their mother tongue, even those who work in an international context and are used to communicating in English may not feel at ease providing testimony in a foreign language under such pressure. When a witness makes a statement under oath under these circumstances, various challenges can emerge:

  • The unfamiliar scenario can cause difficulties to find the right word, even for individuals who are otherwise proficient in English. In such a highly specific context, it can be challenging to find the right expression. In a worst-case scenario, a witness may choose inaccurate wording that can later be used against them. 

  • Depositions are a routine activity for the attorneys asking the questions, who know exactly how to elicit specific statements from witnesses. Typically, these lawyers are native speakers of English, leveraging both their linguistic advantage and years of experience. They often employ questioning tactics and specialised legal terminology unfamiliar to the general public. When a witness misunderstands the question, this can easily lead to a problematic answer. 

  • When non-native speakers use English, they inevitably devote a significant portion of their mental resources to speaking correctly. This means they have less capacity to focus on the content and to recall facts that may have occurred a long time ago. 

The solution: Working with interpreters for depositions

Interpreters with experience in legal settings can significantly mitigate these challenges, thereby having a crucial positive impact on proceedings and potentially even affecting the outcome.

During depositions, interpreters can serve in two roles: as the Main Interpreter and the Check Interpreter.

Main Interpreter: The main interpreter will translate everything that is being said during the deposition, that is the attorneys' questions and the witnesses' answers.

Check Interpreter: Employed by the opposing party, the check interpreter's role is to monitor the main interpreter's work for accuracy. They ensure that the translation is precise, and any mistakes are identified and corrected instantly. This role is crucial for ensuring that the record is an accurate reflection of the witnesses' statements.

In both roles, deposition interpreters are specialists in accurately and faithfully reproducing both the attorneys' questions and the witnesses' answers in the target language. They are adept at recognising legal and technical terminology, as well as linguistic nuances, ensuring that witnesses fully understand the questions posed and that there are no discrepancies in the translated content.

Even when questioning turns confrontational, deposition interpreters are trained to remain calm and convey everything exactly as it was said. Aware of the importance of time constraints, they interpret quickly and concisely.

This expertise provides attorneys with the confidence that their witnesses can respond thoughtfully and correctly in their native language, free from the worry of language barriers. Consequently, attorneys can focus entirely on the substance of the case.

Here's another benefit of using translation: If the interviewee understands the question while it is being asked in English, the translation provides them with valuable extra time to calmly formulate their response.


In depositions, qualified interpreters play a crucial role in minimising the risk of significant misunderstandings and enhancing the quality of the evidence collected. This ultimately contributes to the overall success of the deposition and the legal proceedings.

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