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Bridging the language gap

Supplementing your fraud examination team with professional interpreters

When fraud examinations cross borders and cultures, interpreting services are crucial. Here you'll learn what to do before, during and after an interaction with a foreign-language speaker and how to effectively communicate through the use of an interpreter.

In 2011, I spent the summer working at a CPA firm in Asunción, Paraguay. During my stay, I visited clients in Ciudad del Este — a Paraguayan city at the tri-border of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Fraud and corruption plague this city more than any other in Paraguay; it's known for drug trafficking, smuggling and organized crime. Locals know that as goods cross the "Friendship Bridge" into Brazil, smugglers often bribe the border officials to avoid paying taxes. Visitors, like myself, can feel an air of corruption throughout the region.

Certified Fraud Examiners are positioned to lead the global fight against fraud and corruption, but many only speak one language. How can we conduct high-quality, global fraud examinations given the language gap? How can we operate effectively in cultures so different from our own? Professional interpreters bridge this gap and make global fraud examinations possible. In our globalized economy, CFEs must learn to leverage this additional member of their engagement teams.

The tips I'll offer in this article come from my own training as a provisional courtroom interpreter and my experience serving Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking clients. My goal is to help fellow CFEs understand the crucial role that professional interpreters play in conducting high-quality, global fraud examinations.

(Throughout this article, "client" will refer to counsel, management and the subjects who have limited language proficiency.)

Interpreting services

It's impossible to conduct high-quality fraud examinations without excellent communication between you and a client with limited language proficiency.

Clear communication allows you to understand the context of a fraud allegation, the complexity of interpersonal relationships at an organization, the completeness of a policies-and-procedures manual, eyewitness accounts and remorseful confessions from fraud perpetrators.

Using a well-trained interpreter is crucial when the client doesn't speak the same language or when the level of language proficiency is low enough to create a risk of miscommunication. Failure to clearly communicate leads to mistrust and frustration, or even poor investigative results and a violation of the ACFE's Standards of Professional Conduct.

When you're looking to hire an interpreter, select one who's familiar with investigative matters. To an untrained bilingual person, or even to an interpreter not trained in investigative dialogue, interpretive error can be devastating to a case — the risk of miscommunication is greater when the interpreter isn't professionally trained. Consider the interactions between a CFE and client in Scenarios 1 and 2, which show distortions that untrained interpreters can cause during important client interactions.


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