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Interpreter loses license for poor Swedish skills

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Interpreter loses license for poor Swedish skills
Photo: Jessica Reilly/AP/Scanpix (file)
14:54 CEST+02:00
The Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet) has stripped an interpreter of his license after learning he had misinterpreted during a murder trial due to his poor Swedish skills.

The agency is the oldest public authority in Sweden, established in 1539 by Gustav Vasa. It is the public body that authorises interpreters and translators, among its other current functions.

In addition to making mistakes in Southern Kurdish and Swedish, the man, who lives in Kista northwest of Stockholm, also omitted information and made his own additions.

"The notifier believes that [the man] has a 'catastrophic lack of knowledge in Swedish and also in the interpreted language,'" the agency wrote. "During the first five days of proceedings, the notifier cited detailed examples of the inaccuracies he or she felt [the man] made in his interpretations."

Southern Kurdish is spoken by about 3 million people along the Iran-Iraq border. The man has a long track record of translation and interpretation assignments and has taught legal interpreters.

The man received his authorisation to interpret in Southern Kurdish and Swedish in May 2004 from the agency. In June 2006, he also received a certificate of special competence as a legal interpreter.

The agency received an anonymous notice at the end of September questioning his language skills in Swedish and Southern Kurdish, as well as his abilities as a certified interpreter.

The man had interpreted during the trial at Norrköping district court earlier in the month. Digital voice recordings of the proceedings pertaining to the man, who interpreted the majority of the material for the accused woman, amounted to about five hours.

The types of errors raised in the notification included several examples of significantly altered misinterpretations, major gaps in idioms, syntax, morphology and semantics in both languages and lack of terminology.

Other observations were that the interpreter answered on the defendant's behalf and consistently mixed in Swedish words. There were also omissions, incomprehensible Swedish phrases, reflecting his own values, misunderstandings and significant slips.

An authorized Swedish-Southern Kurdish translator, the assessor of the agency's translator test, assessed his skills based on five recorded interrogations with the accused.

"Since the accused understands Swedish, [the man] interpreted mostly from Southern Kurdish into Swedish," the agency wrote.

The assessor judged he is not very idiomatic in Swedish, has a "fairly limited" vocabulary and lacks nuance with language. In general, there were also numerous wrong sentence structures and tenses. He also failed on numerous occasions to reflect core information, with 30 citations.

The man did not interpret on October 1st, the last day of the hearing, claiming he had to attend a funeral. The investigation later learned that he had interpreted at Svea Court of Appeal that day instead from 9:30am to 5pm.

The man was the first to computerize the Kurdish alphabet and established a Kurdish publishing house in Stockholm in 1986. He has also written four Kurdish children's books, translated two Astrid Lindgren books into Kurdish and published a Kurdish children's newspaper.

In addition, he has published a Kurdish-Swedish dictionary for legal and social terms and worked as a language tutor at the ABF, where he taught legal interpreters.

He also claimed Stockholm University's interpretation and translation institute chose him to lead a project for translating terms for an interpreter glossary and the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration asked him to assess their Norwegian-Kurdish translation test.

The man has admitted interpretation discrepancies in Norrköping, blaming them on his father's death in the summer and serious family problems. He had cancelled work appointments from August 10th to 30th to return to his homeland and attend the funeral.

The man added the Kurdish language is not as developed as Swedish and lacks direct translations for certains terms. Moreover, Southern Kurdish interpreter, one is forced to use Arabic, Persian and Swedish words depending education levels and social class, he said.

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