The first time you hire an interpreter, you might not know what to expect. Nobody could fault you for that. Many people feel confused and uncertain about how to find, hire and interact with their first interpreter. But there’s no reason to make the same rookie mistakes that everyone else does.
If you’re properly informed, you can go into your interpretation experience with grace and assurance, confident in a productive outcome. Here are some of the things first timers often get wrong about finding, hiring and working with their first interpreter.
Mistake 1: The Bilingual Friend
Using a friend or family member instead of a professional interpreter is the single most common mistake people make. It’s also the most problematic. A bilingual friend or family member, or an otherwise amateur, might mean well. But they lack the acumen that makes a professional effective.
Interpreters aren’t just bilingual people--they’re language experts. They have a deeper understanding of the way language works even than native speakers. They also have training in professional conduct. It’s professionalism and expertise that make interpreters more than just people who know a couple of languages.
An amateur doesn’t have these qualities, and is likely to make mistakes. They’re more likely to engage in side conversations, for example. This muddies the water between you and the person with whom you’re communicating.
When you sacrifice clarity of communication, problems start to arise. This is especially hazardous if you’re in an urgent situation, like a medical emergency. Research by the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that using an amateur medical interpreter is actually more dangerous than having no medical interpreter at all! That’s why professionals exist.
Mistake 2: Last Minute Booking
A quality interpreter wants to be well informed on the topic of their interpretation assignment. Someone who interprets in journalism or political venues always keeps up with current events, for example.
A courtroom interpreter researches recent developments in local law. They’ll want to study up on anything specific to your interpretation project, and that studying takes time. It’s not uncommon for a professional to learn 300 to 400 new words for a single project.
We’re all learning new vocabulary all the time, even in our native languages. Ghent University estimates that the average American English speaker knows around 42,000 words. Some estimates put the total number of words in the English language at a million. That’s quite a difference, and a lot of room for continued learning!
Just imagine you were scheduled to interview a NASA expert on ballistics flight equations. You’d probably need to learn some new vocabulary, too! The same goes for your interpreter.
The best way to maximize your interpreter’s expertise is to hire them early and give them plenty of lead time. If there is any special technical language unique to your industry that they should be familiar with, just communicate that in advance. Rest assured, they know how to do the legwork of brushing up on technical vocabulary when necessary. All they need is the time to do so.
Mistake 3: Valuing Experience Over Training
Interpreters are like any other freelance professionals: they work hard, specialize in a niche set of skills, and their time and knowledge is valuable. Don’t lowball them. Just like when you hire a designer for your business cards, you get what you pay for.
So if you value the conversation, don’t skimp. Be sure to hire the best. A highly trained professional has many skills beyond bilingualism that contribute to excellent interpretation, such as objectivity, poise, and expert navigation of the subtle nuances of language.
Moreover, you may be surprised to know that finding a well trained interpreter is usually more important than finding a seasoned one. Training, in other words, is more important than experience.
Regarding medical interpreting, the American College of Emergency Physicians recommends hiring a medical interpreter with over 100 hours of training. These interpreters will make two thirds fewer mistakes than their colleagues who have fewer than 100 hours of training.
In medical interpretation, the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon can be critical. But small errors can have great consequences in any transaction, no matter whether it’s about business, law or personal matters. So be sure to hire a well trained interpreter, and you’ll know your conversation is in good hands.
Mistake 4: Misunderstanding the Types of Interpretation
When you first hire your interpreter, you need to specify the format you require. There are many types of interpreting and three of the main types of interpreting are: simultaneous, consecutive, or over the phone interpreting (OPI).
- Simultaneous interpretation means the speaker and the interpreter talk at the same time. The interpreter must listen and speak simultaneously. This is the method of interpretation used at the United Nations, and it’s common for public speaking engagements.
- Consecutive interpretation is when the speaker delivers a few sentences, and then pauses to give the interpreter a turn. This is the most common technique for one-on-one conversations, but sometimes works for public speaking as well.
- OPI is just what it sounds like: the interpreter joins you for a three-way call or a conference call, and then delivers consecutive interpretation over the phone.
Understanding the differences between these types of interpretation will make it easier to get started. If you know what kind of interpreting you need, they can start getting prepared more quickly, and you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Related Post: The Translators and Interpreters Who Keep The UN Running
Mistake 5: Addressing Your Dialogue to the Interpreter
Good interpreters are invisible. You talk through them, not to them. They know how to become transparent.
So ideally, you speak directly to your audience instead. There shouldn’t be any need to say “tell them I said this,” or “what are you saying to her?” The conversation should happen in a fluid and natural way, almost as if the interpreter wasn’t there.
This makes it easier for the interpreter to work, but it also means a clearer conversation for you, with a smaller margin for misinterpretation. Unlike a bilingual friend, a good professional interpreter will not engage in side conversations or explanations. They will speak in the first person, as if they were the orator.
Mistake 6: Crossing Boundaries
A good interpreter carries a professional poise, and is careful not to be overly friendly with any party in the conversation. If there’s a negotiation going on, or a disagreement, friendliness can compromise the neutrality of their work.
It’s best to respect this boundary. That means you should take care not invite them out of their professional demeanor. There’s nothing wrong with some light and friendly chit chat before or after the interpretation, but be careful not to make it seem like you’re trying to win the interpreter to your side.
If they seem reluctant to become buddies, it’s only because the integrity of their work depends upon it. You’ll appreciate this when you realize you can trust your interpreter, and you feel confident rehiring them for even more important projects in the future.
If you’re unsure of how to engage with your interpreter, just follow their lead. Here are a few key points you can keep in mind:
- As you start your conversation, it’s okay to ask your interpreter’s name, but avoid further personal questions. It’s also okay to not ask their name, if that’s what you prefer.
- Your interpreter will be familiar with your culture, but they may not be from it. Abide by your own culture’s standards of professional etiquette, but remember that to someone from a very friendly culture like the American midwest, a professional interpreter may appear stand-offish.
- A ‘thank you’ before signing off is never a bad idea!
By keeping a professional space, you allow your interpreter to do their job more effectively. That means you get a higher quality result for your dollar, and you help to protect the integrity of your conversation. Again, you’ll thank yourself later.
Related Post: How to Work With Your Over the Phone Interpreters
Now You’re Ready to Start With Your Interpreter
There’s no reason to request an interpreter like a newbie. Making mistakes with your interpreter can be embarrassing--or worse, even dangerous. Keeping these things in mind will ensure a smoother process of finding and hiring an interpreter, so that you can ensure clear communication.
By avoiding these six simple mistakes, you can search with assurance and and interact with intelligence. Once you’ve enlisted your professional interpreter, you’ll know just what to do, even if you’ve never used an interpreter before. Congratulations! You’re now primed for a successful experience with your interpreter!