Subpoenaing the Trump-Putin Interpreter: Pros and Cons

January 19th, 2019 by

Congress Democrats want State Department interpreter Marina Gross to answer questions about the July 2018 meeting between Trump and Putin. The idea was first suggested almost immediately after the summit was over, when it became clear that there might be no other way to discover what was said in the meeting.

The question is, would this be a positive step, not only for Congress, but for the government, the interpreters, and the American public?


At first thought, subpoenaing an interpreter might seem like a brilliant idea. Here are a few reasons why the idea is so appealing in this case.

One Reliable Witness

There were exactly two Americans in the Helsinki meeting: the American president and the interpreter. Since Trump’s behavior is in question, that leaves only one person who can offer an objective account. At the face of it, it would make sense to ask that one person for the details.

Extreme Secrecy

This Trump-Putin summit was no ordinary meeting. The secrecy before, during, and after the meeting was far outside the norm. The interpreter, usually privy to inside information about the upcoming meeting, was often excluded.

An Extraordinary Situation

Even those who recognize the need for interpreters to maintain confidentiality may say, “Yes, but this situation warrants the intrusion.” After all, the details could either clear the president of suspicions or play a part in ending his presidency.


For people who understand the way interpretation works, the question is not so clear cut. In the bigger picture, there are considerations that go beyond the simple gathering of information.

Depth of Knowledge

The incredible depth of knowledge possessed by interpreters who pass the State Department’s test sets these interpreters apart as the best of the best. They know the vocabulary for every subject that will be discussed. They understand the cultures and the related nuances of the languages. They have impressive knowledge about government and diplomacy as well as the details of the current situation. Losing these phenomenal individuals would not serve the country’s interests.

A Harmful Precedent

Requiring Marina Gross to testify before Congress would have implications beyond the current political sphere. It would set a precedent that could change the way interpreters work for years to come.
Presidents and other high-ranking officials might begin to have meetings without any interpreters present, which could lead to critical misunderstandings. Future presidents would likely miss the extra help interpreters now provide. There would be no interpreter to question their inaccuracies or help them make their meaning clearer.
And, without the interpreter’s usual records of the meetings, historians and the general public might never have a clear understanding.

A Possible Refusal

Whatever position you take on the need for a subpoena, there are two very real possibilities to consider.
First, Marina Gross may simply refuse to testify. Her professional code of ethics tells her that interpreters must maintain confidentiality in all private meetings. Most reputable interpreters would likely prefer being charged with contempt to falling short of those ideals.
Second, Trump might claim executive privilege and block the subpoena. Given President Trump’s statements on presidential powers, that outcome is easy to imagine.

So, should Marina Gross be subpoenaed? The question is certainly more difficult to answer than it might seem. The outcome could have far-reaching consequence for the government and the American people. For interpreters, the wrong answer could be a devastating blow.

What do you think? Answer this one-question survey and we will share the results later.

The Role of Language Learning at Both Ends of Life

December 14th, 2018 by

When is the best time in life to learn a foreign language? People of all ages can benefit from learning a new language, of course. But recent studies have revealed two key life phases when language learning has a tremendous impact.

Childhood Learning Languages for Fluency

Language teachers have been saying for years that language learning is easy the younger you are. After testing people of all ages on their English grammar skills, researchers have more specific data to back up that assumption.

The scientists created an English grammar test, posted it on Facebook, and analyzed test results. Of nearly 670,000 people aged 10 to over 70 years old, 246,000 test-takers grew up speaking English. The rest were bilingual or multilingual.

Researchers concluded that those who learned a foreign language early in life could become proficient, even fluent. Up until the teen years, people were still able to learn foreign languages well. Around the age of 18, this natural ability seemed to fade somewhat. While people of all ages can learn language well enough to communicate, it’s rare for someone who learned after 18 to be able to pass as a native speaker.

Language Learning as a Dementia Treatment

Learning a new language may be harder as you get older, but it’s still absolutely worth doing. Consider the 2015 Glasgow program offering language workshops for elderly people. The workshops use a foreign language class as cognitive training to help older people stay mentally active.

Researchers studied how the workshops affected the people who participated. It wasn’t altogether surprising to researchers when the program showed that language learning can help the elderly stave off dementia.

As it turns out, programs like this may be able to delay the onset of dementia for four to five years. That’s longer than any dementia medication available today. The researchers’ ultimate goal is to explore exactly how this insight can be used to create the most effective kind of language learning therapy for the elderly.

Whether you’re young, old, or in between, you can learn a language you’ve never spoken before. You can learn to communicate well enough to manage in another country or community where people don’t speak your native language. If you’re young, you can become fluent more easily. Even if you’re quite old, you might very well put off age-related damage to your brain.

Since language learning isn’t easy at all ages, finding interpreters who know a foreign language well can be a difficult task. Once you find them, keeping them is essential. Contact us at Interpreter Intelligence to find out how you can schedule and manage your interpreters, keep them happy, and rely on them in the coming years.

New Doors Are Opening Around the World for the Deaf

November 28th, 2018 by

The language barriers that deaf people have always faced are beginning to come down. Around the world, businesses and organizations are beginning to open their doors to the hearing impaired like never before.

A Sign Language Café in Pakistan

There’s a café in Pakistan where you can order your food using sign language. The mother, father, and brothers of the family that own the café are hearing impaired. Deaf customers can come in, order by sign language, and be served a variety of tasty foods, including the café’s special-recipe double chocolate brownies.

An Uber App for Deaf Drivers

Uber has been working with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to create a new app for deaf Uber drivers. The old app, with audible notifications, wasn’t helpful for drivers who couldn’t hear the beeps.

The new app uses flashing lights so that deaf drivers can see the messages and respond. As the driver makes their way to the rider, the rider gets a notification that their driver is deaf, and they’re prompted to enter their trip information before the driver reaches them. The app is only available for drivers in four U.S. cities, but Uber says it will be rolled out more widely soon.

A Starbucks Signing Store

Starbucks’ new Signing Store in Washington, D.C. is a coffee shop where the baristas communicate with their customers using ASL. The store not only benefits deaf customers, but it also brings employment opportunities for deaf people in the area.

Baristas at the location communicate with sign language. They also take orders using specially designed digital displays and ordering technology that uses two-way keyboards. What’s more, the Signing Store celebrates deaf culture with a mural created by deaf artist Yipiao Wang.

An Austrian Language Class for Deaf Refugees

When refugees arrived in Austria in 2015-2016, there were deaf people among them. An organization in the country saw an opportunity to help them thrive there. They began offering a unique language class for asylum seekers.

In this class, refugees who are hearing impaired learn sign language and written German, but it’s more than a language class. They also learn about the cultural norms in Austria so that they understand how they’re expected to behave at work and in the community. They learn practical skills, too, like how to fill out job forms.

These organizations and others are finally recognizing that deaf people need equal treatment and equal access. While it’s hard to say just how far and how fast this trend will go, it’s a step in the right direction. Regardless of what happens, interpreters will continue to play a role in serving the deaf community.

As a language services provider, you’re a part of the solution. Contact us at Interpreter Intelligence to learn how our platform makes interpreter scheduling easier and more reliable.

When Justice Stands Still: Here’s Why Court Interpreters Are So Important

November 9th, 2018 by

When judges, lawyers, and defendants can’t communicate with each other, the judiciary system quickly grinds to a dead halt. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. That’s because many courts lack the court interpreters that they need to keep the wheels of justice turning. In a country with both non-English speakers and limited English speakers, court interpreters play a critical role.

Ensuring Accurate Communication

Without effective communication, justice in the court system would be impossible. A non-English speaker can neither answer questions nor give important details if a court interpreter isn’t there to help. Even someone who knows some English usually has difficulty understanding and responding accurately.

A court interpreter can communicate the legal language of the court proceedings to the defendant. They can also interpret the responses of the defendant at the authentic level of simplicity or complexity expressed.

Giving Defendants a Voice

Non-English-speaking defendants may not be able to understand why they are being tried. They can’t communicate with their lawyer. They can’t explain to an only-English speaking judge why the charges against them aren’t valid.

They can’t give important details that might bring the judge to drop their case or reduce the charges. A court interpreter can give them the opportunity to tell their story and respond to questions about it. It’s an important aspect of giving defendants fair treatment.

Avoiding Court Delays

What happens when a defendant needs a court interpreter, and none is available? It’s simple. The court date is pushed back and rescheduled. One reason it happens is that the court can’t schedule a court interpreter until after they determine one is needed. That’s the first delay.

There may be other delays if an interpreter for the specific language needed is not available for each step of the process. Each delay costs both the court and the defendant precious time and money. The defendant may have problems getting back to court again. Every delay is frustrating for the defendant.

Avoiding Dropped Charges

If there are too many delays, the charges may eventually be dismissed. The court is required to provide a speedy trial. When the court can’t provide a court interpreter as needed, the delays can add up until they must drop the charges.

In Maui, an assistant professor named Kaeo needed a court interpreter to defend himself against charges related to a protest. He spoke Hawaiian, which is an official language of the state. Yet, no interpreters were available to help. The charges were dropped. No one will ever know whether Kaeo would have been convicted or not.

Scheduling interpreters is a large part of the solution. However, interpreter scheduling isn’t easy with so many different languages, so many court cases to cover, and so few interpreters to do the work. Fortunately, Interpreter Intelligence offers a platform that can help language services providers manage their interpreters to get the right ones where they’re needed. Find out how it works by contacting Interpreter Intelligence.

With efficient interpreter scheduling, the court runs smoothly and defendants get fair treatment. Everyone wins.

How Interpreters Can Help with Multilingual Voting

October 29th, 2018 by

As the U.S. moves steadily towards the next election, interpreters are helping to make voting easier for people who speak languages other than English. Although the Voting Rights Act was passed decades ago, in 1965, states have been slow to put systems in place for fulfilling its goal of giving everyone the ability to vote. Recently, that has begun to change. Interpreters are being called on to help with a variety of tasks related to multilingual voting.

Why Translated Ballots Don’t Solve Everything

Translated ballots are a good first step to helping people vote. On the other hand, have you ever really observed what happens at a busy polling place on election day? If you’ve ever worked an election, you already know that people have questions. They have questions about their ballot, how to mark it, and how to submit it.

Primaries can be even more difficult, as many people from other cultures don’t understand the concept. They may feel they’re being cheated if they aren’t allowed to vote for candidates on both Republican and Democratic ballots. So, it’s not only what’s written on the ballot, but the whole voting process that many people have a hard time understanding.

Interpreting During Campaigns

Voting is meaningless if you don’t know the candidates and their positions. Fortunately, candidates are using interpreters more often now and giving them more prominent roles in their campaigns. Sign language interpreters have been used in rallies for candidates as disparate as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

There are some challenges for interpreters working for political campaigns. For example, campaigns have certain set phrases and jargon that may not be easily translated to another language. Accuracy is always important in interpretation, of course. In the political arena, it can make a huge difference in how the audience perceives the candidate and ultimately can influence who wins the election.

Voter Registration

Voter registration is required, but some states don’t provide interpreters to assist with this important task. Going to sign up for the vote can be intimidating to someone who doesn’t speak English. They may not know what is required of them. They may have difficulty relaying the personal information that’s required on the form. Most of all, they may feel much more comfortable with the process if they have someone guide them through it. Interpreters aren’t usually on staff where registration is taking place. However, they can be called on if they’re needed.

Steps in Voting

Even people who have been voting in the U.S. for decades sometimes have trouble understanding the steps in voting. Different types of voting machines make the process confusing for those who have recently moved or just started voting. If you have a paper ballot, how do you submit it correctly to make sure your vote is counted. There may be signs saying what to do, but if the signs aren’t in a language you speak, they don’t help. With interpreters available, these people have someone to ask about these details.

Reading and Marking Ballots

Everyone who can read should be able to recognize the names of candidates. Even so, there is more on the ballot than those names. There may be instructions as well as propositions, amendments, and other issues to vote on. If there is a translated ballot, this isn’t too hard. For those who don’t receive a translated ballot, these issues can be difficult to understand. Interpreters are tasked with helping them understand the text without showing any partiality.

“Available on Request”

In some states, interpreters are made available for elections as a matter of course. In Queens, New York, for example, they are preparing for the upcoming election by hiring interpreters who will work only for that specific election.

In many other states, though, interpreters are only available on request. This means that people who need them have to know they’re available and how to make their request for help. Counties like Multnomah County in Oregon are making special efforts to get the word out about the availability of interpreters for voting. Other counties are less vocal about their ability to help non-English-speaking voters.

The problem is significant, especially in places like Florida, where there are tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have recently relocated after Hurricane Maria. Activists have brought a lawsuit against the State of Florida demanding language services for these new residents and other Hispanic voters based on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Scheduling Interpreters for Voting

Scheduling interpretation services for rallies and elections can be challenging. Only the most skilled interpreters can handle rally interpretation effectively. A large number of interpreters are needed for elections, and they may all be needed on the same day. If the voter is in a small town or rural location where few people speak different languages, the interpreter may have to travel a considerable distance to reach only one voter.

At the same time, life goes on as usual. Court and medical interpreters must continue to do their work on election day as they do on any other day. The demands on a language services provider can be enormous. Fortunately, scheduling software is available to help LSPs manage all their interpreters even on the busiest days. To learn more about interpreter scheduling software for language services providers, contact Interpreter Intelligence.

What Can Language Services Providers Do to Help?

Certainly, the most important job of the language services provider in multilingual voting is to make sure the right interpreters are sent when and where they’re requested. Still, LSPs may wish to help in other ways as well. They may want to contact their local polling places and ask if their services are needed. They can reach out to help voters understand their voting rights and know what types of language services are available to them. In the end, interpreters for multilingual voting can make an important civic contribution to their country, their state, and their local community.

Can Alexa Really Take Over Interpreting for the Deaf?

October 5th, 2018 by

Yep. It happened. Somebody made an app for deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) to interact with Amazon Alexa. While all the bugs haven’t been worked out yet, the app promises a world where the deaf will no longer be excluded from technologies based on non-text input. Since most people can enjoy the benefits of voice-assisted technology, it’s a step in the right direction.

The question for people who do real-time interpretation for a living is: How soon will computers take over the industry? The answer is that such a future hasn’t arrived yet, and it isn’t likely to come tomorrow. Still, wise language service providers need to be ready to explain the advantages of human interpretation in situations where every word counts.

Where Current AI Fails in Interpretation

Interpretation of basic words and phrases is relatively easy for both beginning language learners and computers. Where it gets tricky is when the language being used has more than just a limited, literal meaning.

At its current level of sophistication, computer technology can start with a gesture in American Sign Language and replace it with its literal English equivalent. That’s great if all you want is for Alexa to turn on the TV. The technology isn’t ready for interpreting more complex meanings, though.

Cultural meanings, figurative language, and contextual cues need to be considered, too, to come up with the true and exact meaning the signer intended.

Cultural Meanings

Culture is defined as the way of life in a specific society. It can include knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors. A part of culture relates to how technologically advanced the society is. Another part is the types of art and literature in the society. All these cultural factors influence the words people in the culture use and the way they put them together.

Whether the language is ASL or a spoken language like Spanish or Chinese, it’s used differently in different cultures. A person who lives in Barcelona uses Spanish differently than someone who comes from Argentina. Culture influences the way people use sign language around the world, too.

Figurative Language

Poetry is probably the hardest type of language to translate. It’s not only filled with cultural meanings, but it also uses metaphors extensively. As an interpreter, you may never be asked to translate a poem. However, figurative language doesn’t just happen in verse. People from all walks of life use metaphors to describe their world. A human interpreter can understand that when someone uses a metaphor like “He was my rock,” they don’t mean he was a block of stone.

A computer doesn’t understand anything. It simply substitutes one word or phrase for an equivalent word or phrase. Common figurative equivalents can be programmed into the system, but what about the person who creates their own metaphors as they speak? It isn’t at all uncommon. Human interpreters know what to do with figurative language, while computers still just don’t get it.

Contextual Cues

Software developers have been working on creating software that can use contextual cues in translation. Clik earbuds translate 37 languages, and they have a contextual component, too. They can analyze the sentence before rendering an interpretation based on the contextual meaning.

Yet, context often goes beyond a single sentence. The context may be found in the entire conversation as well as in the location where the conversation is taking place and the people who are present there. An interpreter who is right there in the room with the speaker or signer has much more information about the context of the conversation than a machine currently has to work with.

Besides that, contextual cues are constantly changing, because, well, the world is constantly changing. The human interpreter can stay abreast of the newest words and phrases, and they can recognize and understand word inventions as they happen.

What Can a Language Service Provider Do?

It’s a good idea to document instances where human interpretation was essential to the correct understanding of important details. If you follow privacy protocols, you can use those examples to build your reputation. Besides that, interpreters who are fully aware of the difference they’re making will be more motivated to stay in the industry.

Getting on the Technology Bandwagon

Computers probably won’t be able to come close to the proficiency of a human interpreter for the foreseeable future. Computer interpretation might work fine for common daily tasks, but when precision and accuracy are absolutely required, such as in a court or a hospital, computers just aren’t up to the task.

At the same time, technology can be very useful for interpreters. Just having smartphones and tablets can enhance the interpreter’s workflow. Interpreter software solutions are also helpful for promoting the language service provider’s reputation. The software we provide at Interpreter Intelligence can help with scheduling and workforce management to help get the right interpreters with the right qualifications where they’re needed. That’s important. After all, if you want to do it better than a machine, you have to have the right interpreter for each job.

So far, there is no viable substitute for a human interpreter. As technology advances, language service providers will need to stay aware of the state of the industry. They’ll need to adapt to the changes that are coming. They’ll need to use technology for their own purposes, to manage their interpreters and customers, to build their reputation, and to grow their business. Most of all, they’ll need to educate their customers on the superiority of human interpretation.