Interpreting / Cross-culture communication / Translation

Interpreters and translators with a happy ending

13 June 2013

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Just imagine the scene: the bride makes triumphant walk down the aisle to the wedding march. At the altar, waiting for her, the groom, the witnesses, the conductor and… the interpreter.

It could seem out of place, as in the game Which one doesn’t belong, but who did say that the natural habitat for sworn interpreters and translators is only the Court, in good company of lawyers, judges and public prosecutors? Even a church, the register office or any other location intended to celebrate a wedding may be a good alternative, above all if the bride and the groom cannot undeniably understand the language of the celebration.

This is one of the many misconceptions on interpreters and translators; focalizing only on the standard occasions and tasks generally managed by the so called sworn or certified translators (trials and lawsuits), we often forget that also a marriage is an event where the presence of an interpreter or translator may be necessary.

But what does exactly an interpreter during a wedding ceremony and when and why he/she is absolutely essential? For sure, he/she has nothing to do with the organization, the choice of the wedding gown or the location, the bridesmaids and the uncountable other points bound to this topic. The interpreter is not called to act as a wedding planner (even if the couple to be could ask them, for example, to explain to the photographer the preferred shooting style or ask the cosmetologist for a simpler make-up), but to help the conductor during the different phases of the wedding ceremony.

His/her presence is compulsory by law and regulated in Italy by the Decree of the President of the Republic No. 396 of November 3, 2000 when one or both partners are foreign citizens who do not understand the Italian language. The presence of the interpreter is also necessary whether the witnesses do not understand the Italian language. The task of the interpreter and/or of the translator is then to help the future couple understanding the ceremony through all of its phases, in both civil or religious ceremonies.

The sworn interpreter and/or translator deals especially with the following tasks:

1. sworn translation of the documents to be produced to the Italian register office;

2. interpreting of the statutory declaration, signed by the future couple, before the Superintendent Registrar. This declaration replaces the banns if the partners are not domiciled nor resident in Italy;

3. interpreting of the wedding ceremony (civil or religious ritual).

Both interpreter and translator would be asked to sworn that the task will be faithfully and accurately accomplished.

To give you an idea on the interpreter/translator knowledge base, here you are an overview of the different type of marriages that is possible to celebrate in Italy:


The foreign citizens can get married in Italy by civil ceremony. This is regulated by sections 84 and following of the Italian Civil Code and it can take place at the register office (or other premises approved by the local authority). It is celebrated by the Major or a duly authorized representative, publicly, in the presence of two witnesses.

The conditions to get married are regulated, instead, by the country laws of the future couple and the principal document to be produced is the certificate of no impediment, issued in accordance with section 116 of the Italian Civil Code by the foreign authority. Other documents may also be needed in case of specific agreements or international conventions. The certificate on no impediment must clearly state the following personal details: name, surname, date and place of birth, mother and father, nationality, main residence and condition; it also must report that no legal objection to the marriage exists.

The certificate of no impediment can be issued:

  • by the Embassy or Consulate in Italy of the foreign country (the signature must be legalized at the Prefecture for those countries not adhering to Conventions that accept apostille certification);
  • by the competent authority of the foreign country, if its laws authorize it (documents issued abroad must be translated into Italian and legalized by the Italian authority of the same foreign country).

As already mentioned, the partners not domiciled nor resident in Italy, instead of giving notice for banns, must sign a statutory form in which they declare no legal objection to marriage exists (relationship, affinity, adoption or affiliation) in accordance with sections 85, 86, 87 no. 1, 2 and 4 and section 88 of the Italian Civil Code. The form can be signed at the registrar office a few days before the marriage, even without witnesses.

The necessary files and the copies of the identity documents of partners, witnesses and the interpreter must be produced at the registrar office before 10 days at least of the date of the wedding.


The civil effects of marriage are recognized to catholic or other confessions ceremonies, both if an agreement with the Italian country exists or not. In these cases, the Parish or the minister celebrating the ceremony demands a declaration of no impediment to the Superintendant Registrar.

The Parish or minister agrees with the partners the day, the hour and the place of the celebration, in accordance with the religious ceremony requirements. Within the next 5 days, he sends the marriage act to the local registrar office to be registered. In the case of partners resident in a different district than the one the ceremony is celebrated, the Superintendant Registrar will send a copy of the marriage act to the corresponding districts of residence.

The task of the interpreter will be as always demanding, but studying hard, following regulations and bringing some Kleenex®, just in case, the wedding will end for sure happily!

What about you? Could you list other “unordinary” situations for interpreters or translators?

For the photos of this post, a big thanks to two amazing wedding photographers: © Nicasio Ciaccio and © Giovanni Giattino.



Maria Elena Leta