Tips on working with an Interpreter

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Need an interpreter as part of work? Communication across languages can be tricky but with the right interpreter and the correct preparation, there is nothing to fear. Here we give you 10 top tips on working with interpreters.

With people from all over the world participating in business meetings, conferences and events, overcoming the language barrier naturally becomes the key to ensuring all attendees contribute and benefit from such occasions. The interpreter is an integral cog in the wheel of cross cultural communication. Knowing how to hire and work with an interpreter is a must for international business personnel.

Hiring an interpreter is the easy part. Most interpreter services that provide interpreters will only work with qualified and experienced interpreters. In addition, they will ensure an interpreter is familiar with the subject matter, i.e. an interpreter specialising in medicine will not be used in an agricultural conference.

Working with an interpreter offers challenges. Interpreters on the whole have a stressful job. Unlike translators they do not have the luxury of breaks and time to think. Interpreters have to perform ‘live’ and in front of an audience.

In order to ensure you get the best out of an interpreter, good communication is necessary.

Top Interpreter Tips

By way of offering some tips on working with interpreters the following guidelines may be of some use:

1 – Establish and agree ground rules with an interpreter. For example, try and communicate how you want a meeting run, the number of sentences to be translated at a time, the confirmation of jargon or idioms before they are translated, when breaks will be taken and seemingly trivial matters like seating arrangements.

2 – Try and brief an interpreter prior to any face to face meetings. Familiarise them with the whos, whats and whys. If there is any specific terminology to be used ask them if they understand it. If you foresee any tricky issues or tense topics, prepare them for it.

3 – If you plan to give a speech or read from a script, give the interpreter a copy. The more familiar they are with the subject matter, the better a job they will do.

4 – While speaking through an interpreter always engage with your counterpart directly. Even though you cannot understand what is being said, show interest, keep eye contact and remain focused. If you start to converse through an interpreter you lose any chance of building trust, rapport or confidence.

5 – Try and avoid humour. Most interpreters will agree that jokes do not translate well. If you are giving a speech and plan to start it off with a joke, it is advisable to consult the interpreter first to see if they think it will work.

6 – Plan your time carefully. Conversing through an interpreter makes conversations twice as long. For example, if you are making a presentation remember that anything you say will first be translated, so the likelihood is that a one hour presentation will take two. Compensate for this by either cutting down your presentation or speaking in shorter, sharper sentences.

7 – Do not rush. Interpreting is a taxing job and is mentally exhausting. To alleviate the pressure as much as possible, speak slowly and clearly. If you rush the interpreter is more likely to become stressed and the quality of the translation may drop.

8 – Interpersonal communication, by its nature, involves emotion. An interpreter should never translate emotions. If the speaker is annoyed this will be obvious in their body language and tone. Never involve the interpreter at a personal level in any discussions and if you see an interpreter translating your emotions, ask them to stop. The interpreter is there to purely translate what is being said.

9 – Make sure the interpreter is clear that they are never to answer questions on your behalf. Even if the answer is simple, the interpreter should still convey this to you. If an interpreter starts to speak on your behalf, this can have numerous negative consequences such as undermining your position or even losing face.

10 – Ask interpreters not to change or alter what you say even if they think it may cause offence. If you plan to talk about a controversial issue let the interpreter know. Before discussing it with an audience announce that what will be said is not the opinion of the interpreter but your own. This then frees the interpreter of feeling uncomfortable and nervous.

These guidelines should enable you to get the best out of your interpreter and consequently your business meeting, presentation, conference or event. If you have any questions about interpreting services, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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