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10 Tips on How to Work with an Interpreter

10 Tips on How to Work with an Interpreter
on December, 27 2016

The time has arrived for you to present a speech to a foreign audience. In order to pull off a successful, problem-free presentation, you'll need to work with an interpreter. You may opt to deliver your speech in a consecutive or simultaneous interpretation format.

Consecutive interpretation consists of the speaker taking pauses during their speech to allow the interpreter to translate what s/he is saying in segments. Simultaneous interpretation usually refers to a situation where the interpreter hears the source language of the headline speaker through headphones and simultaneously translates what is heard through a microphone. This is then relayed through earpieces members of the audience have.

If you’re working with an interpreter at an upcoming event, here are 10 tips on how to work with an interpreter to make the process go as smoothly as possible:

Before the Event


1. Find good interpreters

Just like any profession, there are interpreters who are great at what they do and interpreters who frequently miss the mark. The difference between the two types is considerable and will be the determining factor as to whether your speech will resonate with your audience or not. Because you want your speech to be accurately communicated, spend ample time reviewing the references of interpreters to find the right fit for your needs. Lengthy presentations are usually covered by a pair of interpreters who take 15-20 minute turns simultaneously interpreting your presentation. When you have opted for a consecutive interpretation, only one interpreter is needed.

As you interview candidates about your presentation, the audience, and so on, find out if the interpreter possesses the following qualities:

  • A rich vocabulary in the relevant language pair
  • An in-depth knowledge of the two cultures knowledge of the subject matter, particularly if the subject is technical in nature
  • A high level of expertise

2. Select a good technician

A successful and well-interpreted presentation cannot happen unless the technician managing the event is reliable and trustworthy. In charge of setting up the interpretation booth, connecting the wiring, and monitoring the sound, the technician and interpreters can be hired as a joint package. Look for an established in-person interpretation service agency. Be certain to insist that the technician be present at the event in case a technical problem arises.

3. Inform your interpreters about your presentation

Send your interpreters an outline of your speech and a copy of your presentation materials. Any slides you'll present and a glossary of terms you will refer to will help. Good interpreters will revise the material and be up to the task of properly interpreting the information when the time comes. Professional interpretation agencies and freelance interpreters typically sign confidentiality agreements that will keep the material from being distributed elsewhere.

4. Be prepared for a longer-than-scheduled presentation

Your presentation will last longer than average in your home country because you will be speaking slower. In the event of a consecutive interpretation, you will have to adjust the length of your presentation to accommodate everything being said. Remember that the interpreter will need time to communicate your speech in the target language as well.

During the Event


5. Bring two sets of materials for the interpreters

Miscommunications and emergencies happen. Perhaps the documents you sent to the interpreters before the presentation were not received. Maybe a different interpreter will show up to do the job in the event of an emergency. Whatever the case, when you bring two sets of materials for the interpreters, you are making sure your bases are covered.

6. Speak slowly and enunciate

As the interpreter has to process a lot while interpreting, be sure to give them ample time to process the information being spoken. They have to first understand what you are saying and then simultaneously or consecutively convey the information with accuracy to the audience. Because of this, be sure to speak slowly so that your ideas are properly communicated. Also, do not forget to enunciate clearly so that every word is understood by the interpreter.

7. Skip the colloquialisms

Native English speakers are used to peppering their daily speech with colloquialisms. While you may be tempted to do the same during your presentation, it would be smart to use straight and simple English words and avoid the colloquialisms altogether. Even excellent interpreters can fail to pick up the nuances of the language, particularly if English is not their first language.

8. Use humor sparingly

Jokes should be avoided, because they do not tend to translate well to a foreign audience. However, telling a funny anecdote could lighten up the mood during your presentation. Adding touches of humor is a simple way to bridge the cultural gap while building rapport with the members of the audience.

9. Communicate with your interpreters during the event

Work out an understanding with your interpreters to have them signal to you during the presentation. The quick signals, agreed beforehand, will let you know if everything is fine. You might need to speak louder, slow down, enunciate better, or allow for a brief pause.

10. Thank the interpreters

When the presentation ends, it's customary to thank the interpreters to the broader public. Because interpreting is mentally exhausting and hard work, your thanks will go a long way to making them feel appreciated.

Understand that interpreters, no matter how good, cannot by themselves be expected to offer an unblemished service when they have not been guided by you, the presenter. When you follow the above tips, you will very likely pull off a successful presentation where all the information was communicated clearly to the target audience.

Coordinating with interpreters – your communication partners – may require an extra effort on your end, but the results are worth it. By preparing them for the presentation, you'll be ensuring your message won’t be lost in translation.

Image credit:

Denise Recalde

Denise Recalde is a Senior Content Writer at Day Translations. A seasoned writer and editor with eleven years of experience under her belt, she is a bonafide wordsmith who loves playing with the written word creatively and always takes care to lend a certain hue of snap and color to her drafts. Always one to rise up to challenges, she has traveled to 14 countries and has worked on a smorgasbord of writing projects that spanned several industries, from finance to health to beauty and fashion.

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