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December 31, 2019 |

Top 9 Guidelines for Working with an Interpreter

Are you planning an event that requires the presence of an interpreter but have no idea where to start? There’s an etiquette that comes with working with an interpreter that will not only smooth conversations but also make your guests feel more at ease. 

Here are nine of the most useful guidelines for working with an interpreter and how they improve the overall organization of your international event.  

Working with an Interpreter

1. Consider Your Audience

When looking to hire an interpreter (or a team of interpreters), make sure you choose the right professionals for the job. Besides checking for language skills and references, make sure they also meet the expectations of the people they’ll interpret for. 

Whether you organize a large event or a small meeting with international guests, make sure you know whether they have any special requests regarding interpreters. 

Ask what languages and dialects the guests speak and whether they’re more comfortable working with women or men. This is essential for medical or legal interpreting sessions, as well as in situations that involve religious questions. 

If the parties involved in the conversation don’t feel comfortable with the presence of an interpreter, they might skip crucial details. Remember that, ideally, interpreters should have the same mother tongue as your guests to make sure they overcome cultural barriers.   

2. Give the Interpreter a Proper Brief

Interpreters work better when they’re familiar with the topics discussed during sessions, meetings, or presentations. So, make sure you provide the language experts with all the details about the event they’re going to attend. 

The brief should include information about the guests, the subjects that will be discussed, presentations, and even breaks. 

Not only will the brief facilitate conversations, but it will also allow the interpreters to get ready for any sensitive moments that require a specific tone of voice or attitude towards your guests. 

3. Speak Directly to Your Guests

In small meetings, you may feel tempted to speak to the interpreter and expect the language expert to address your guest. It’s impolite, as you should try to make eye contact with your guests. 

Introduce the interpreter at the beginning of the conversation. Once you’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, try to communicate naturally with your interlocutors. 

Working with an interpreter is meant to facilitate communication, not to replace you with someone else. You’re the reason your international guests participate in the workshop or meeting, so make sure you speak to them directly. 

4. Use Your Normal Tone of Voice

Interpreters are professionals who can listen to what you say and instantaneously send the exact meaning to listeners in a different language. They don’t need you to stop after every three words or to speak unnaturally slowly so that they can keep up. 

Of course, speaking too fast and without any pauses can put interpreters in a problematic situation, as well. So, for the success of your event, you should try to maintain the natural rhythm of your speech and speak clearly, to avoid repetitions. 

Also, make sure your syntax isn’t broken and that you finish your sentences. Otherwise, you risk interpreters losing some of your message when passing it on to your audience. Your speech should help interpreters understand where you’re going with your ideas. 

Inconsistency can put language experts in a bind–pretty much like Donald Trump does with his chaotic words.

5. Keep Your Speech Simple

If you want to help interpreters and guests to keep up with what you say, make sure you don’t alter the conversation. As a guideline, this means you shouldn’t be jumping chaotically from one topic to another, nor making never-ending phrases. 

Make a pause after each sentence or main idea, to give the interpreter the time to communicate the message correctly and accurately. Also, use plain language and simple wording when possible, to facilitate communication. 

6. Don’t Ignore Cultural Differences

Write your speech or presentation with your audience in mind. Cultural references, metaphors out of context, or slang might put people in difficult situations. 

While the interpreter is most probably familiar with what you want to say, it may not always be that easy to explain it to people who have a different cultural background. 

Sports metaphors, terms that evoke the local history, or corporate terms are hard to translate, as they don’t have equals in the target language and culture. 

Interpreters shouldn’t be required to give your public context, as this could generate unpleasant situations for all the parties involved. Besides making you lose time and conversation flow, it could alter the talk and give the wrong information to your public. 

7.  Make Room in the Program

If your speech is five minutes long, plan at least 10 minutes for the presentation. While you don’t have to make a pause after three words, you need to leave time for the interpreter to translate between sentences. 

So, make sure you calculate the time necessary for language professionals to transmit your message to your international public. As some languages need more words to express the same concept than others, ask the interpreters how much extra time you should allocate for each language when you brief them on the event. 

8. Make Sure Only One Person Speaks at a Time

When working with an interpreter, make sure that only one person is speaking at a time. This discipline allows the interpreter to follow the conversation and provide accurate translations to all parties involved. 

Also, try not to speak over the interpreters or interrupt them while translating. This could mean that concepts have to be re-explained or just create overall confusion among the participants.

9. The Interpreter’s Only Job Is to Translate

An interpreter is a neutral presence, a professional whose only job is to translate what you and your guests say to each other. 

Interpreters don’t make assumptions and definitely shouldn’t speak in your name. Even for the simplest question that pops up, the interpreter will ask you for the right answer. 

Don’t expect any language professional to make your words easier to understand for you. If your message isn’t clean enough, it’s not the interpreter’s job to change it. 

This is a standard procedure that guarantees no conversation is altered by the intervention of a third party. 

Final Thoughts

Interpreters are only meant to translate, so you shouldn’t expect them to fix communication errors or you, nor to explain the meaning behind your words to your guests. 

Working with an interpreter for the first time might be a challenge, but it’s doable once you understand the exact role of the language expert in the process. Keep these guidelines in mind and the whole process will be much more pleasant for everyone involved.

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