Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A few thoughts about speaking to someone using an interpreter...

I just got back from a GREAT weekend interpreting in Chicago for some Cuban people. As I was interpreting (from Spanish into English and then English into Spanish) I realized that there are some common mistakes people make when using interpreters that should be avoided. I also was surprised to see a fellow interpreter make some mistakes that were bothersome to me. So, in the interest of making the world a better place to interpret and be interpreted, allow me a few moments to stand on my interpreting soap box.

First and foremost, remember that the purpose of interpreting is to help communicate thoughts from one language into another language. Sounds simple enough, but it can be tricky. The interpreter's role is simple, to facilitate communication.

Some thoughts and stories that might make this clearer.

For those using an interpreter:
1. Talk directly to the person who is using an interpreter, not to the interpreter. Avoid talking to the interpreter and saying "tell him I said x." Simply look the person in the eye and tell him or her what you want to say.
RIGHT: I really enjoyed your sermon! Thank you so much for everything!
WRONG: Tell him I really enjoyed his sermon and that I am thankful.

2. Avoid making comments to the interpreter that you don't want repeated or interpreted. It causes a feeling of isolation or exclusion.

3. If you are concerned that your message is not getting across, speak to the person directly and ask him or her if he understood. Avoid making comments to the interpreter such as "Did he understand me?"

4. If you are a third party listener where an interpreter is being used, do not correct or interrupt the interpreter. If an interpreter is pausing to find the correct word or if he or she asks for clarification, don't "butt in" and "help." It's rude and also distracting.

5. Don't shout! Just because a person doesn't speak English, it doesn't mean that he or she can't hear. Speak in a normal tone and pace.

As an interpreter. (I can't believe I have to type these things. I'm crabby.)
1. Interpret what people say to the best of your ability! If you don't like it, tough! Your job is not to judge or "soften" what is being said.

2. Don't answer questions that aren't being asked of you! You are the interpreter! It's not about you! (sorry, lots of exclamation points.) For example if someone asks the person you are interpreting for, "What color is the sky?" your job is to turn to the person you are interpreting for and to say "What color is the sky?" Your job is not to say "blue" to the person who asked the question. Duh.

3. Say what the person said! If he says "I'm tired" say "I'm tired." Don't say "He says he wants to go home and take a nap." I'm serious. This is based on experience, people.

4. Watch your body language and gestures. I say this because it's something I personally need to work on. When I am interpreting I tend to get squirmy and play with rings or bracelets or whathaveyou. It's annoying and distracting. I need to do my job.

5. Don't let pride get in the way. If you didn't understand what was said, ask for clarification. It will make you a better interpreter.


Suzanne said...

Couldn't agree with you more! These are all things that we who interpret and those who find themselves using an interpreter need to keep in mind. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

this is very helpful! we do mission trips in the dom rep and i'm not remotely even close to being fluent in spanish [though i'm learning a little] and we use interpreters for sermons and all the interaction with the dominicans. great!