RICHMOND, Va. -- A Spanish-speaking woman embroiled in a child visitation battle said in court that the father could see their child, but not after 9 o'clock at night. But when a court-appointed interpreter relayed the testimony in English, it came out as a flat refusal to allow any visitation at all.
Luckily the woman understood enough English to say, `That's not what I said,"' said Patricia Michelsen-King of Richmond, a certified court interpreter who was not involved in the visitation case. "A mistake like that can really change a judge's decision."
Such blunders are not uncommon in Virginia courts, Michelsen-King said. As the state's immigrant population grows, so does the demand for interpreters who can accurately convert foreign-language testimony into English for judges and juries.
The 2000 census showed more than 570,000 foreign-born residents in Virginia, most of them from Asian and Latin countries. They represent 8 percent of the population, up from 5 percent in 1990.
The census found that 11 percent of Virginia residents over the age of 5 speak a primary language other than English. Among that population, about one-fifth live in "linguistically isolated households" in which little English, if any, is spoken.
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