Working effectively with an interpreter

Communicating through an interpreter is often crucial to successful work. A skilled interpreter can communicate difficult ideas and overcome cultural differences leading to a successful exchange of information. However, even an excellent interpreter will end up only summarizing or even altering a conversation, if his/her client does not understand the specifics of speaking through an interpreter, does not cooperate with him/her and does not offer verbal “source material” good enough for interpreting.

There are two kinds of interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation is usually used for conferences and presentations, since it takes no extra time making it possible to work in "real time". Special equipment and booths are used. Consecutive interpretation, rendering statements one at a time, is used for meetings without special equipment. While parties have time to think when the interpreter speaks, he must remember everything that was said. Consecutive interpretation requires special skills/practices, not always understood or employed.

The following principles apply to simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, but are especially important for the latter. Adherence to these principles helps ensure effective communication through an interpreter.

  1. Speak directly to the person/people with whom you are communicating. The meeting is not with the interpreter, and the message should not be addressed to the interpreter. The other parties should not be left out, or be made to feel left out. The interpreter does not need to have eye contact with you in order to hear and relate your message.
  2. Look directly to the person/people with whom you are communicating. Eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are important aspects of communication. Even if your language is unknown, you сan still convey interest, sincerity, and honesty.
  3. Look directly at the person/people communicating with you. The best way to show interest is to look at those who speak to you. Try to understand some of the words, or read the personality of the speaker through facial expressions and body language. Nod or show assent if this is appropriate. Look at the other person even while the interpreter is speaking.
  4. Do not lose interest while others speak. Do not look away or around the room. If necessary, take notes. Look at the interpreter to signal that you require a translation.
  5. Speak in short and clear sentences. Complete a single thought, and then pause. Complex sentences and long thoughts are counterproductive for interpretation. So too are idiomatic expressions and slang. Interpretation is always better, and there is less chance of paraphrasing, omitting, or making a mistake, when speakers use оnе clear and straightforward sentence at a time. Use tone and body language to make the sentence interesting, while avoiding overly colorful phrases.
  6. Do not waste words. Avoid useless phrases like "I would like to take this opportunity to ask you a question about..." Simply ask the question!
  7. Try to gauge the reaction of your audience. Determine if others are bored, confused, or dis-agree. React accordingly by repeating, rephrasing or making a different expression.
  8. Provide requisite work environment for your interpreter. An interpreter is a highly important asset, adding value to your business, so treat him/her right! Make sure he or she is seated where desired, has necessary equipment, and is comfortable with the way you speak (speed, diction, etc.). Encourage him or her to frankly discuss difficulties, or request clarifications. Remember that the interpreter is a diplomat who can bridge languages and cultures, but only when given the necessary support and cooperation. If you speak directly to the audience, clarifying conversations with the interpreter will be understood for what they are, and not be seen as disrespectful.

Original idea by Mark Segal; expanded by National League of Translators

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