Judges as Translators

Written by Jack Doyle

Written by Jack Doyle


Think to yourself, quickly. Have you gotten a judge call by a player whose English wasn’t great; which would have be much better handled by a judge who spoke that player’s native language?  What did you do? How did you handle it? Could you have dealt with it better?

This short article aims to lay out the problems with the most common method of handling this type of situation, and hopefully also aims to educate judges on a more optimal solution that works both for the peace of mind of the player, and for the preservation of the integrity of judges and the judge programme. While this article may have more use for geographic regions which have many languages to work with, I hope everyone can both get some use out of it, and also use it to fall back on if they do find themselves in an applicable situation.

At the latest European Grand Prix, which, at the time of writing, was Grand Prix Vienna, the judge staff stemmed from twenty-two different countries. While English was likely unparalleled as the spoken language at that Grand Prix, it’s important to consider the players who are unable to properly express their needs or meaning in English. In the majority of cases, these are just things like misunderstandings between players during games, leading to judge calls where they are unable to articulate properly what they mean or want to do.

Sometimes, the calls are as simple as “bathroom”, “Oracle”, or “time”. Do your best to evaluate the complexity of a call before running off to find a translator. Be aware of your linguistic limitations and know when to get a translator for more complex judge calls that require good communication to resolve.

So, there’s quite an easy, and elegant way to solve these issues. I talked about there being twenty different judge nationalities at the Grand Prix, and that means there are plenty of judges who are able to speak languages represented by the player base. When one of these situations shows itself, you can simply call on your colleagues to help you.


1) The “bad” way

a. Approach the table for a judge call.
b. Realise the player speaks very bad English, and, for example, is German.
c. Find a German judge.
d. Let them take over the call.

Does this sound like how you’ve handled a judge call in the past? It’s important to consider the message that this sends to the player. While they might find it easier to deal with a German judge from the beginning, it lets the player select the judge that they get to talk to and that they get the ruling from. This is important, because cultural differences between regions lead to differences between the judges of those regions. Most regions have a forum, or a Facebook group, and there tends to be a general consensus on rulings that are given there. Letting players control the judge that answers their call is suboptimal, and should be avoided if possible.

There’s one situation in which this could be a better customer service option – if both players are equally incapable with the language(s) you speak. In this case you will spend an awful lot of time and energy (from two judges) trying to preserve the integrity of this one judge call, and it’s up to you and the head judge(s) of the event whether they want to consider using this option in certain circumstances.


2) The “good” way

a. Approach the table after a judge call.
b. Realise the player speaks very bad English, and for example, is German.
c. Find a German judge.
d. Let them translate for you.

It’s a small difference, but it is clear. Instead of taking the ruling and run away with it, instead they simply translate for you. In recent times, I have taken to clarifying this to the “translating judge” on the way back from where I found them to where I need them to be. It is also really helpful for them to tell this quickly to the players, so that everyone is on a level playing field and knows what is happening.


Now, why is this better?

a. You, as the first judge to respond, know exactly when you did so, and will be able to give the appropriate amount of extra time.
b. You give the player the opportunity to get information and a clear explanation from a judge in their own language and articulate their meaning properly, independent of the judge they primarily called.
c. The player doesn’t get to select the judge or the ruling they get.
d. The player also feels like they can call any judge and get a fair ruling.
e. You have someone to confer with if you need to.

The thing is, some of the major pitfalls with this method are largely made irrelevant by the setup of Grand Prix level staffing (the most common level at which these kinds of translation issues will occur). The extra judge taken up by translating instead of taking over will not often impact floor coverage for long, if at all.

So, you’re hopefully now aware of the optimal way in which you can use, or indeed, be used as, translators at events. How can you make the process more streamlined?

1) Interact with your colleagues

a. Look at their badge! That gives you at least one language that they speak. If it’s English, well…
b. Talk to them! You’ll often find out through random conversation and goings-on that they speak other languages.

2) Know who to call

a. It’s great that you want to help the player by finding a judge with a common language, but if you take 10 minutes to do so, it’s not useful to anyone. Remember that nationalities of judges are often written on the schedule, and you’ll be able to narrow down their locations by the team that they’re in.
b. If you don’t know a specific judge for the language, ask an experienced judge. Normally you’ll be in an area with your team, so ask one of them.
c. Worst come to the worst, you can ask the Head Judge.
d. At Grand Prix Vienna 2014, Team Leads on day one were using walkie-talkies to communicate with other team leads. This let them, in one instance, call for ‘a Spanish judge at the main stage, table 100’, and one appeared as if by magic. Be aware of these advances in technology if they’re being used at your event.

3) Interact with them in the same way you would your Head Judge on appeal

a. Brief them on what you know, if you know anything. If the language has been immediately obstructive, try and explain what the issue is.
b. Explain that you’re using them as a translator and not as a judge (for now).
c. Introduce them to the players, and get them to translate that bit so that the players understand the dynamic and the interaction that will occur from now.


Considering the two above methods, it’s important to realise that a little change in how you treat the translating judge, and how the players interact with that judge, leads to a preservation of the integrity of the judges and the tournament itself. It is longer, and more effort; but in the end, it will lead to a better experience for all parties – players should never be discouraged from calling a judge, and in some cases, the unwillingness to bother with dealing with a judge that doesn’t speak their own language is enough to encourage unwanted behaviour, leading from minor things like clarifying rules or policy questions, all the way up to committing USC – Cheating due to the lack of willingness to call a judge.

Hopefully, if nothing else, this article has gone some way into making you think critically on your interaction with players, and for your next Grand Prix where English may not be the native language, I hope you can have some better interactivity both with your judge colleagues, and with players.

Feel free to contact me via the JudgeApps forums mail service if you have any questions.