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Working with interpreters and translators

Do I Need an Interpreter?

Although more and more people around the world are learning English and becoming more proficient communicators, serious business meetings and negotiations are still often conducted with the assistance of interpreters and translators.



Never assume that people do not speak English (or any other language), just because they do not say anything.  Making this assumption can lead to embarrassing situations.  In Japan, for example, there is often a spokesperson for meetings.   

On the other hand, do not assume that everyone speaks English (or any other language), even if you find people nodding and acknowledging your comments.  This may just be their way of being polite.

Many people confuse "interpreter and translator". The first is verbal, the second is written.

Many people, even though they may be quite fluent in a foreign language, still prefer to use an interpreter for several reasons:

1. Even a few mistakes can be costly or embarrassing.  
In Asian cultures, there is always the risk of loosing face!
2, Using an interpreter is a way of buying time, giving  you the opportunity to formulate a response or evaluate  what is being said.
3. There is a distinct advantage to communicating in  your own language, unless you are totally bilingual.
4. Advanced briefings are very important, particularly when discussions involve technical, legal, or sensitive subjects. Preparing an agenda of topics to be discussed, or submitting advanced information is helpful.


Types of Interpreting

Simultaneous – interpreter is in a soundproof booth, participants use earphones

Consecutive – back and forth interpretation. 

Whispering – the interpreter sits close and whispers as people speak.  This is similar to simultaneous interpreting without the booth and earphones. It can be very distracting.



Tips for Effectively Using Interpreters  

Be sure your interpreter is well versed in your business and understands the goals and objectives of the meeting or presentation.  AND, always hire the best--your business depends on it.
If you are making a speech or presentation, be sure your interpreter has copy of the text in advance.  Explain important and/or difficult concepts and points.
Maintain eye contact with your audience and counterparts, NOT the interpreter.  Address remarks to your audience or counterparts, NOT the interpreter.
Use your own interpreter whenever possible.  Using your counterpart's interpreters is a distinct disadvantage.
Depending on the language, interpretations may take much longer than the original.  For example, most people find that when translating from English to Japanese, the Japanese translation is about twice as long.
Speak clearly and slowly. Avoid long, complex sentences, and do not use slang, jargon, or colloquial expressions. Avoid jokes and humorous stories.  Humor does not travel well.
Avoid excessive gestures and body language.  Very few gestures and signs are universally understood. Even the "universal" smile, can mean something different in some cultures!
Pause after about 60 seconds, after a thought is complete (if not too long), or after major points have been made. Advise your group that only one person should speak at a time. Try not to interrupt the interpreter unless it is necessary.
It is not unheard of for an interpreter to consult a dictionary, particularly when difficult or technical terms are included.  However, frequent use would be a concern not only regarding the competence of the interpreter but would also be embarrassing for your group.
If you have a good understanding of the other language, you may be able to follow along and spot any errors in the translation.  Be cautious of embarrassing your interpreter.
Should you find that something was incorrectly communicated, it could be brought up again after a break and restated.  You can also rephrase or summarize points so that the interpreter will have another chance to communicate your message.
Plan for breaks for both the interpreter and your counterparts and colleagues—usually after 1-2 hours.
Long numbers can be confusing.   Be sure the interpreter has the right number of zero's!

The Impact of Culture
Understanding the cultures in which you do business is ESSENTIAL and a definite plus when working with interpreters.
Good interpreters are helpful with cultural communication.  For example, Americans are much more direct and casual than the Japanese.  Your interpreter will be able to put a cultural filter on the communication. 
However, be specific with your interpreter if you wish to have something communicated in a blunt, direct or exact way.  This is one of the reasons to spend adequate time briefing your interpreters.  
Be familiar with the language used in the country your are visiting.  For example, Chinese is spoken in many areas of Asia.  However, there are many different dialects.  

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