Court interpreters public services

Court interpreters are great at public service

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After graduating from Matthayom 6, Saowanee Saetang left Thailand for Taiwan to do her Bachelor of Business Administration degree. While she was doing her degree, Saowanee accepted small jobs to help with her expenses.

Saowanee Sae-tang and life in Taiwan

It was almost 20 years ago. I was in Taiwan and my life did not run smooth. Since my mother had been sick, I had to earn more money to support myself. I got a part-time job at The Voice of Free China radio station where I did the translation from Chinese into Thai and broadcast it where Thai audiences can be reached around the world. 

The national radio station provided 10 language news updates from The Republic of China (ROC) to the world. At that time, it was good pay, and the budget came from the Taiwanese government. I also took a secretarial job for foreign employers. This is where I got myself familiar with translation work. 

Becoming a court interpreter

After returning to Thailand, I worked in an import-export company and later decided to join a tour guide course at Silpakon University where I earned a license to operate as a tour guide. Through this, I had extra income. 

One day, I was asked to help monitor a Chinese court interpreter performing interpreting in a Chinese court case in the witness examination appointment. This job was recommended by someone I know from a job I took from a reception event at the Chinese Embassy. Apparently, the court interpreter did not perform well because his translation is too literate just like looking in a dictionary word for word and did not consider the semantics. Eventually, I was asked to replace the interpreter when the content in the case became difficult to comprehend for everyone, and then everyone was happy with my translation. Therefore, the judge in the case advised me to join the court interpreter training at the Court of Justice (COJ).

Challenges of a court interpreter

I already took 3-4 jobs from the Court of Justice and found that the notable challenge is that many cases are too urgent, and the pay is too little. The regulations from courts say the minimum pay is THB800 per hour, but when at work, court interpreters have to be at the court at least 30 minutes before and ended up not knowing what’s going on with the case. But since I have legal vocabularies in my head, the interpreting can be less of a concern for me. Interpreters stand there doing the interpreting for one hour, but the rest of probably three hours wait for the court to manage stuff or wait for the plaintiff and defendants to appear. 

Interpreters still get THB800 for that morning, which does not reflect the real situation of employment. But that’s the rule and all interpreters have to accept that if they want to work with the court. Another challenge is handling people who create difficult situations during trials such as lawyers and defendants. But court interpreters know well how to handle these situations. It may be difficult for new interpreters or those who are not familiar with the court cases. 

Advantages of being a court interpreter

I am very proud of being a court interpreter as I can help people and also help both countries – Thailand and China – to maintain diplomatic relations. Interpreters won’t badmouth their own country to foreigners in court cases and they also don’t look down on other countries in the presence of foreign defendants. 

Meanwhile, interpreters keep the defendant company while they feel surrounded by strangers in courts. Consolations can help a lot to not frighten them. Being a court interpreter will get you jobs directly from the court. 

Because courts will not use any interpreters outside or those who don’t know the court proceedings, it is a good chance to get more experiences than doing interpreting outside of courts. 

Advice to new court interpreters

New court interpreters have to accept the fact that they will not get rich working as a court interpreter because it is more like working for the court, but just better than pro bono. 

Court interpreters who work with law firms are different because they get better pay. New court interpreters must prepare a list of vocabulary for the case. 

Court interpreters for law firms are well prepared because they can rehearse the examination while court interpreters at the Court of Justice don’t have any chance to do so.

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