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Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences, 2024, 7(6); doi: 10.25236/AJHSS.2024.070629.

Crossing Linguistic Barriers: The Court Interpreter's Balancing Act with Limited Language Proficiency in Legal Discourse


Zixiao Chen

Corresponding Author:
Zixiao Chen

Faculty of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Kunming University of Science and Technology, Kunming, 650500, Yunnan, China


The influx of international students, businesses, and immigrants in China has led to a surge in civil, commercial, and criminal cases involving non-Chinese speakers. Magistrate courts in many Chinese cities began to offer Chinese-English court interpreting service. But many defendants at the court are not native English speakers. This paper delves into the intricate roles of court interpreters, particularly in the context of limited English proficiency (LEP) defendants. It scrutinizes the social, ethical, and interpersonal dimensions of interpreters' responsibilities, highlighting the pressures they face and proposing solutions to the challenges they encounter. The analysis is grounded in the case study of the Intermediate Magistrate Court of Guangzhou's drug smuggling trial involving an Ethiopian defendant with minimal English proficiency, which took place on August 12, 2019. The study underscores the interpreter's critical function in facilitating cross-linguistic legal interactions, and discusses the various roles interpreters may assume, such as the non-person, advocate, gatekeeper, filter, and faithful renderer, each with its own set of ethical dilemmas and pressures. The paper also addresses the inherent difficulties of court interpreting, such as the complexities of legal language, which can be perplexing even to native English speakers. To mitigate these challenges, the paper suggests the need for better regulations and formal recognition of the court interpreter's profession. It advocates for comprehensive training programs that include legal language and concepts, the use of visual aids, and the education of court participants on the interpreter's role.


Courtroom Interpreting, Limited English Proficiency (LEP), Interpreter's Roles, Interpreter Training

Cite This Paper

Zixiao Chen. Crossing Linguistic Barriers: The Court Interpreter's Balancing Act with Limited Language Proficiency in Legal Discourse. Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences (2024) Vol. 7, Issue 6: 183-188. https://doi.org/10.25236/AJHSS.2024.070629.


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