Ethics in interpretation & translation: Beneficence

* This is the third of a series of posts focusing on ethics in the field of interpretation and translation. The  book discussed in these posts is The Elements of Ethics for Professionals by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley. I highly recommend it, especially if you are in a profession dealing with people.

An important and significant difference. Beneficence is that "going the extra mile".

An important and significant difference. Beneficence is that “going the extra mile”.

More than non-maleficence, beneficence requires professionals to be more proactive and communicative towards their clients. Ridley and Johnson highlight several aspects of what comprises beneficence in their discussion, many of which are applicable to our field, though some are not.

Is it always applicable?

As the discussion on our course showed, there are some aspects of beneficence that are simply not within the realm of the work of interpreters and translators. It is important to remember that we are oftentimes “secondary” service providers, and these principles may not be practically applicable to our situation.

One of these that stood out was encouraging a second opinion. I think for interpreters especially, this would be a difficult request, because once you are performing your service, there may be no way to get another interpreter to listen in on your interpretation. A classmate brought up a point regarding this, though – asking for a colleague’s opinion on the interpretation of a certain term. I am not sure whether this constitutes encouraging a second opinion, because it is the interpreter who is requesting assistance, not the client.

However, in translation, I think that peer review is imperative and should be built into the process of translation, without having to encourage the client to request a second opinion. Yet, it is a good idea to be clear about encouraging a second opinion after the delivery of a translated draft, so in translation, this could apply.

Beneficence: what it means to us in the field

The principles that, to me, must be front and center when interpreters and translators consider beneficence in their work are clarifying expectations, making sure that you are competent and referring cautiously.

At the Iowa Interpreters and Translators Conference 2014, I attended a workshop dealing with ethics in medical settings. I learned a lot and had many questions after, especially around boundaries and establishing rapport.

When I asked the presenter about establishing rapport with a client we serve, he told me that one of the first things to say is “Hello, my name is […], I will be your interpreter today. Everything you say will be interpreted from Spanish to English to the best of my ability, and anything said during the interaction between you and the provider will be kept confidential.”

Don't cross the line into unprofessional behavior.

Don’t cross the line into unprofessional behavior.

And then, in your performance, make sure to truly interpret everything, and not allow for any side conversation to occur between you and either party. I think this is a very good way to clarify the basic expectations regarding one’s work, in a concise and non-threatening manner. This should be the default for all I/T professionals, in order to avoid any overstepping of boundaries or any clients wanting you to extend your role as a witness or anything else.

Regarding competency, this goes without saying; your reputation as an interpreter or translator is on the line, and if you take on an assignment you are not fully comfortable with, and end up doing a poor job, the client will notice and it will reflect on your professional record.

"Don't destroy what you've built with your hands, with your feet" (Venezuelan saying on how easy it is to ruin a good reputation)

“Don’t destroy what you’ve built with your hands, with your feet” (Venezuelan saying on how easy it is to ruin a good reputation)

I learned the hard way, as last year, I attempted to interpret a political comedian’s speech into French for some guests from Haiti. Aside from the client not having their equipment prepared, among other things, I wasn’t as comfortable with my French proficiency as I am with my Spanish/English, but I wanted to help and test myself. The guests understood part of the speech, but I realized I wasn’t 100% to the assignment. In addition to having had a very bad impression from the client’s lack of organization (not the guests), I told the client that I would not be interpreting for their organization after the speech. Now I know that, even though I am fluent in French and can take on simple French-English translation assignments, I would not be comfortable with any French-English or French-Spanish interpretation assignments, especially not in the simultaneous mode.

This experience leads into the matter of referring cautiously: if you are not up to an assignment, but know someone who is, then it’s good to refer. But, make sure that you are indeed referring to someone who would be up for the assignment, someone with ethics that wouldn’t offer subpar service just for the money. Your reputation as a member of the interpreting community is also on the line then.

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