Alibi mystery magazine cover

Do you teach a language in addition to your translation work? Or do you have a pack of kids swarming your house this summer? “Alibi” is the game for you!

This works best for small groups (5-10 participants) and is fun for all ages. (Really. We tried it at an office party with the attorneys, and no one wanted to stop.) You might want to use this for intermediate language learners and above.

Set the scene: A crime or murder has been committed. Use some imagination to customize it for your group – for instance, someone stole all the cookies from the cookie jar. The police have narrowed it down to just two suspects, but unfortunately, the pair are providing an alibi for each other. Be a little specific here – such as, they say they were at the movies together at the time. 

Choose the potential criminals: Now pick two people to be the suspects with the alibi, and ask them to leave the room for a minute before the interrogations. They should be corroborating their story now (for example, what movie did they see, where, and what time). In the meantime, explain to the rest of the group that they will be the interrogators. They should brainstorm a series of questions to try to catch the suspects in a lie.

Interrogate suspect one: Ask only one suspect back into the room. Sit the person in a chair facing the group, and let the questions begin. For writing practice, someone can be in charge of noting the answers. Go through about 3-5 minutes or 20 questions at this stage. The interrogators can improvise questions as they go. The suspect must answer (pretend to be their attorney if they try to use that defense to get out of playing).

Interrogate suspect two: You can ask the first suspect to leave, but it’s more fun if they stay – as long as they are quiet. Bring in the second suspect and go through questions agan. Ask the same or similar ones to see where their alibi is weak. Cap this stage, too, at 3-5 minutes or about 20 questions (unless you clearly catch the lie – then a questioner should holler “Aha!” and “the law” wins). You will likely catch the pair in a lie, but they might hold out – in which case, “the citizens” win.

My favorite part of this game is that each round is equally fun. There aren’t many tricks you can learn that make it too easy for either side, and it doesn’t get vicious – people are too busy puzzling through the logic flow. Even your most reticent students will be itching to chime in. No one can resist a mystery…

What language games do you like, for fun or for class? How do you get shy people talking? Share in the comments below!


Foreign language document review: why choose a translator?

I recently attended an excellent ATA Webinar on the role of the linguist in legal document review. In my market (Washington, DC), more and more law firms are requiring their document reviewers to have at least a J.D. to get near their foreign language discovery files. If only they knew what they were missing out on by excluding so many professional linguists!

Legal translators are an excellent choice for document review teams. Why?

  • Linguists are neutral to the case. This means we won’t skim over anything important-but-damning—our facts reported are just unemotional facts.
  • Linguists are educated in both sets of laws. We can help you understand why a société anonyme (French) is similar to, but not quite equal to a limited company (UK English) or an incorporated company (US English).
  • Linguists create better glossaries and cheat sheets. Trial lawyers can be sure they are using terms consistently in references to their evidence base, and possibly even use some of the foreign words [correctly] at the negotiation table or trial. Not only are we efficient, we make you look good, too!
  • Linguists are trained to pick out small details that make a difference—a sudden switch to exclusive, singular nouns after using inclusive plurals, for instance. And we always get our date formats right!
  • Linguists can handle a wider variety of documents. Sometimes your key piece of evidence will come from a standard contract or patent. But just as often, it will be in email form with lots of slang and abbreviations, or handwritten notes squeezed into margins, or tax tables. Professional translators deal with these documents regularly in the normal course of their work. Their analysis won’t suffer from an unexpected twist in writing style or format.

Translators, can you think of any other reasons why lawyers should add you to their discovery team? Lawyers, what has your experience been working with linguists on document reviews?