Tips for working with an interpreter

Interpreter heads
I recently posted an article on our blog about how interpreters’ minds work.  But how do their clients feel?  If you’re looking for an interpreter, or preparing for a conversation where one is involved, “Overwhelmed” might be your reply.  After all, an interpreter is conveying your thoughts, as well as your “image” or “brand” to foreign audiences — you don’t want to mess that up.  Luckily, there’s a lot of helpful advice out there.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

You can find the right interpreter for the job.  Look for one who has experience interpreting for the field you’re in, and who has specific awards and other qualifications that are important to you.

– Tell them what you want.  The author of this piece suggests communicating or even having an in-person meeting with your interpreter before you head into the situation where their skills will be needed.  You can brief them on things like what you’re going to be talking about (including clarifying any jargon or specific terms), as well as any possible issues you or the person/people in front of you might have.

– Give them a sneak peek.  Public speaking expert John Zimmer also suggests giving your interpreter any relevant documents or resources in advance, so that they’ll have time to get familiar with terms or jargon that might be unusual or tough to translate on the spot.

-Slow down and pronounce.  The easier you are to understand, the easier it is for the interpreter to get your message across, and for you to be sure they heard the right message.

– Think about how to use humor across cultures.  If you want to connect with someone, humor can be an excellent tool.  Then again, as I shared in that post about interpreters’ minds, not all of it translates from one culture to the next.  Puns, political incorrectness, and references that may not be understood outside your culture should be avoided.  And even if you choose to say them, your interpreter might just ignore them, since they would probably just cause confusion.  On the other hand, Zimmer recommends sharing a relevant, funny anecdote.

– Thank your interpreter. It’s common courtesy! Plus, if you ever need an interpreter again, they’ll be more willing to work with you.

These are good general rules, but what about specific situations? Many of our clients are looking for medical interpreters.  This site offers some great tips on things to bear in mind when hiring or working with one.  For example:

– Look at the patient, not the interpreter.  This actually goes for general interpreter situations, as well. You’re not there to have a conversation with the interpreter; they’re facilitating communication between you and the person or people you’re addressing.  In medical situations, appearing listen to a patient conveys empathy, which can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to a patient’s well-being – and even their physical health.

– Try to avoid medical jargon.  As we’ve said before on this blog, most people have trouble understanding medical terminology even in their native language!

– Use your interpreter’s knowledge.  This is the one case where the do-not-look-at-the-interpreter rule doesn’t apply.  If a patient’s self-described symptoms seem unclear, or unfamiliar medical jargon is being used, don’t be afraid to ask your interpreter for help.  A qualified medical interpreter should know the usage and exact translation of these words, as well as any contextual nuances.

by Alysa Salzberg

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