help or hindrance?
: the impact of two different methods when interpreting witness recall in police interviewing

  • Anita Grzybek

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In recent years, Europe has been experiencing large waves of immigration. The need for using interpreters has thus increased across many jurisdictions from police interviewing to refugee information gathering. The question of how interpreters can be utilised in these police interview settings to obtain sufficient material in terms of quality and quantity remains undetermined, yet gathering reliable information from witnesses or victims of crimes is essential to any police investigation. This study investigates how two different interpreting methods impact the free recall segment of an investigative interview. A group of 80 participants (20 with English as their first language and 60 Polish participants with English as their second language) viewed a short film of a staged burglary with English and Polish features. Subsequently, the participants took part in an interview in order to describe what they witnessed in one of four conditions: (i) Native English speakers recalling in English (no interpreter control condition), (ii) Native Polish speakers with an intermediate level of English recalling in English (no interpreter control condition), (iii) Polish speakers recalling in Polish through an interpreter using consecutive interpretation (as used in most police investigative interviews; where the interviewee speaks, stops and the interpreter interprets the recall- this happens multiple times throughout the free recall of the interviewee); and (iv) Polish speakers recalling in Polish using a simultaneous interpreting method (interpreting at the same time that the speaker is speaking but the interpreter is located in a different room).

The analysis concerned two key areas: (i) The quantity and quality of the interviewee’s free recall, and (ii) the accuracy of the interpreting. Participants recalling information in English (their first language or a second language) recalled more details than participants using an interpreter (i.e., both interpreting conditions). Interviewees talking through an interpreter using a simultaneous interpreting method elicited more details in a shorter amount of time. The simultaneous interpretation was thought to be less accurate in comparison to the consecutive interpreting. The interpreter’s work experience and accumulated event knowledge gained from assisting several witnesses in recollecting the same situation affected interpreting accuracy. The overall findings suggest that witnesses presently do not elicit the amount of evidence they potentially could when using the current police interpreting method. With more research, the modified simultaneous interpretation method could prove to be a more suitable interpretation method than the present police interpreting technique.
Date of AwardOct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorBecky Milne (Supervisor) & Francis Pakes (Supervisor)

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