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Posted on25 April 2019

9 Tips to getting the most out of your interpreter

These 9 tips to getting the most out of your interpreter will help you to plan and get the best results before and during the assignment.

Establish rules with the interpreter

1 – Establish and agree ground rules. For example, 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.

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Reference Material

2 –Provide reference material well in advance of the assignment. Familiarise them with the whos, whats and whys. If there is any specific terminology to be used, let them know useful websites and reference material sources. If you foresee any tricky issues or tense topics, prepare them.

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.

No Jokes

5 – Avoid humour. Most agree that jokes do not translate well. If you are giving a speech and plan to start it with a joke, 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.

Don’t rush

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 – 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 from feeling uncomfortable and nervous.

Handy checklists

You can find useful checklists for various types of interpreting in our Resources section here:

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