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How to Effectively Work With a Business Interpreter

Sean Hopwood
Sean Hopwood

If your business requires the work of an interpreter, you should take several steps to ensure accurate translations.

It's not uncommon for clients of language service providers (LSPs) to expect a lot from their interpreters. After all, they are paying for the services they get. Interpreters should be competent and prepared for the task, and not the cause of any miscommunication that ruins business deals or proposals. However, there are things you can do to help ensure that the resulting interpretations are accurate and precise.

If you want to ensure efficient interpreting, here are several steps to take.

1. Make sure you hire the best interpreter.

Before anything else, you need to ascertain that you are getting only the best interpreting services available. Adopt a stringent vetting process so you can be confident in the competence and track record of your interpreter. Once you start the session, there can't be any room for doubts or second thoughts in the capabilities of your interpreter. You can't work effectively with your business interpreter if you are not fully assured of their dependability.

By the way, if you are going to conduct lengthy meetings or conferences, it is recommended to have more than one interpreter. Interpreting is a mentally exhausting task, so someone should be on standby to take over the task if the first interpreter becomes mentally or physically depleted.

2. Brief your interpreter properly.

What most people tend to think is that interpreters produce perfect verbal translations on the fly, that they are experts capable of churning out translations whenever or wherever. The reality is that interpreters also need to prepare for the sessions they do, especially if unfamiliar terms and concepts are set to be discussed.

The following points must be included in the briefing:

  • The kind of interpreting needed (simultaneous or consecutive)
  • The topics that will be discussed
  • The venue of the meeting

Before the session starts, the interpreter should already be aware if they have to interpret immediately while a speaker is talking (simultaneous) or wait for the speaker to pause so they can utter the translations (consecutive). It will be awkward if the interpreter still needs to ask people in the room about the type of interpreting to use.

It will be helpful for interpreters to know the topics so they can read about them and be familiar with the terms that will be used. This background knowledge of the topic is also useful for interpreters to understand the context of discussions so they can convey messages in the most efficient manner. When interpreters don't understand the ideas they need to interpret, they tend to use a lot of words as they try to explain a message. This convolutes the exchange of messages and delays the rate of interpreting, which is unacceptable for clients.

Moreover, interpreters must clearly know the location of the meeting so they can be there on time and prepare for the required logistics. Experienced interpreters can offer suggestions on how the participants of a meeting are to be seated in the venue and the technology that may be needed (microphones, earphones, etc.).

3. Provide documents or written materials if possible.

This tip is in relation to the briefing process. It would certainly help if interpreters have access to documents or presentations that will be used in the meeting. Just make sure these are not confidential or sensitive documents. You can also provide written notes and annotations on documents.

Make sure, though, that you emphasize the confidentiality of all information the interpreter will be exposed to in the process. Your service contract should include absolute confidentiality clauses.

4. Don't address the interpreter in a meeting, conversation or discussion.

Treat the interpreter as a vital communication tool, not a participant in the conversation or discussions. This may sound rude, but it's how it works. You should make eye contact with your audience or the people you are talking to, not with the interpreter. The interpreter serves as the voice so the parties in a conversation or discussion can use their body language and other nonverbal faculties to enhance the communication process.

5. Speak to communicate.

The goal of interpreting services is to facilitate communication between people who speak different languages. You hire an interpreter for you to understand what someone is saying and for you to be understood. As such, don't make things difficult for your interpreter. Remember the following:

  • Don't speak too fast, but don't speak too slowly either.
  • Enunciate your words well.
  • Don't use words or jargon the interpreter would have difficulty translating.
  • Avoid confusing terms or expressions.
  • Minimize the use of metaphors, hyperbole, slang and idioms.
  • If you crack jokes, make sure they are familiar ones. Avoid uttering inside jokes.
  • Avoid cutting your thoughts every so often and hopping into another topic.
  • Don't use complex sentence structures.
  • Consider pausing every once in a while if you notice the interpreter struggling with the pace.

It's not wrong to expect the utmost competence when working with an interpreter. However, don't try to test the skills of the person doing the interpreting for you. The interpreter is there to help you, so why should you make things difficult for them? It does not make sense to try to impress anyone by speaking fast and using highfalutin words.

You are not leaving the impression of being knowledgeable or educated when you make things difficult for your interpreter in the process. On the contrary, you could be ruining the conversation or discussion. If you want to project the image of someone with technical expertise, you may need to rehearse the things you want to say with your interpreter.

6. Mind your manners.

If you are planning to use the language barrier to drop a curse or an offensive side comment about the person you are talking to, don't. Never put your interpreter on the spot. Don't presume that the interpreter can quickly filter your thoughts and words.

There are some instances when you become extremely frustrated with the person you are talking to and may want to mock them. You may be tempted to cuss at them or be sarcastic. Most professional interpreters would try to filter out abrasive statements. However, they may eventually slip or be unable to keep up in providing sanitized interpretations. Don't make them suffer for your frustrations.

7. Think of your interpreter as a partner.

Work hand in hand with your interpreter. If you notice that the interpreter fails to properly hear what you said, consider repeating your words voluntarily. It helps to agree on some cues to support each other. You can come up with gestures to signal a request to slow down (the talking), repeat a line or say something louder.

You can also help your interpreter by subtly controlling a conversation that is going off track. Interpreters generally cannot control how a discussion moves along, especially when it morphs into a heated argument. They have no choice but to deal with what is served to them. For instance, when you and the person you are talking to are interrupting each other, try to calm things down. Stop talking and let the other party finish everything they need to say before you respond.

Interpreters can't serve their purpose properly if they are confused about whose words to interpret (since the speakers are talking at the same time). When the interpreter fails to interpret, it's useless to talk, as both parties are unlikely to understand what they are saying to each other.

When the tension builds up, be the bigger person and hold your emotions back. Don't try to out-talk or out-interrupt the person you are talking to, or your interpreter will have difficulty providing the corresponding translations.

The key to effectively working with a business interpreter is a partnership mindset. You should treat your interpreter as an important factor in enabling communication. Don't see an interpreter as a faceless service you spent your money on. Rather, get acquainted with each other by doing a proper briefing, being sensitive to each other's communication needs, and focusing on making sure that your words are understood and that you understand the person you are talking to.

Image Credit: Yasemin Sucek/Getty Images
Sean Hopwood
Sean Hopwood Member
I am a polyglot, the President of Day Translations, Inc. and its sister companies, World Interpreting, Inc. and Your Spanish Translation. As a child I was already fascinated with languages and different cultures, which later developed into a much stronger passion, something I nurtured and worked hard for. Eventually, I found success when I established Day Translations, Inc.