Working with an interpreter is a common task for many people, while for others, it is a completely new experience. No matter which group you belong to, it is necessary to know how to work with an interpreter and which are the most common mistakes that you should avoid. 


Calling an interpreter a translator

One of the most common mistakes is failing to make a difference between translation and interpretation. Quite often people are not aware that to be an interpreter and to be a translator are two different professions. Being good in one of them does not automatically mean that you are good in the other. 

The main difference is that translators work with written text, while interpreters work with the spoken word. So, if you have a business meeting or you are organizing a conference, you need an interpreter to help you with interpreting the different language/s you will speak. Many interpreters work with more than one language and interpret in both directions – from their mother tongue to the target language and vice versa.  


Confusing types of interpretation  

Another common mistake is not differentiating between the different types of interpretation services and, thus, not looking for the right specialist for your event. There are several types of interpretation modes, and the main ones are: 

  • Consecutive interpreting. It is usually used for business meetings, in courts, or for medical consultations. One of the speakers speaks for a short time, and then the interpreter renders their words in the other language. Then, the conversation continues in this mode – speech, interpretation. 
  • Simultaneous interpreting. This is mainly used for large events such as conferences or workshops. The interpreter renders the conversation in the target language simultaneously with the speaker. The interpreter is located in a special booth, wears a headset, and uses a mic in order to do their job. 
  • Chuchotage. The interpreter is rendering the speech in the target language together with the speaker but is sitting next to the client and whispering in their year. This method is used when only 1 or two people need interpretation for a given event.  
  • Over-the-phone interpreting. This resembles consecutive interpreting, but the interpreter is on the other side of the phone line and not present in the room. OPI is often used in call centers or for urgent cases in medical institutions.  
  • Video remote interpreting. This form is similar to OPI but here there is a video connection between the parties. The interpreter is located on a different side than the clients but they are able to see each other. This service can be used for both spoken and sign language interpretation services.  

Not hiring a professional 

Using a bilingual friend or a colleague as an interpreter for your business meeting is not a clever idea. The fact that a person speaks a foreign language doesn’t make them an interpreter. You need to hire a professional with proper training and experience in order to receive a high-quality service. 

Using a non-professional to interpret for you may cause serious problems and lead to misunderstanding and serious mistakes. It can cost you much more than simply paying the fare of a professional interpreter.  


Failing to provide information in advance 

While interpreters are highly trained and experienced professionals, they always appreciate having information about the subject of the meeting in advance. It is a good idea to send any presentations or materials related to your event so that the interpreter can get familiar with the topic and the specific terminology.  

You can also arrange a face-to-face meeting with the interpreter in order to brief them about the future meeting or give them details about any specific requirements you may have.  


Not speaking clearly  

Speaking clearly and making pauses are necessary for proper interpretation. Avoid using metaphors, idioms, or slang as they may not translate properly in the other language and cause confusion. Use the jargon that is typical for your industry but try to refrain from abbreviations or at least introduce the abbreviation first, in case you haven’t provided some terminology in advance for reference.  


Addressing the interpreter instead of the audience 

During consecutive interpretation, clients often address the interpreter instead of speaking directly to the other party. Keep in mind that the interpreter is there to render your words in a different language and is not an active part of the discussion.  

You need to address your audience directly, and the interpreter will render your words as if you are speaking. Do not use phrases like “tell them” or “ask them.” You should also not expect the interpreter to start their sentences with “they said” or “they answered that.” The first person is consistently used throughout the interpretation.  


Expecting the interpreter you hired to be on your side 

The interpreter is there to simply translate the words from one language into another without changing the meaning, idea, or emotions they carry. Quite often, interpreters are faced with the challenging task of translating an opinion that they do not support, but they do it professionally as this is part of the job ethics. 

Do not expect that the interpreter will support your thesis or take your part in a negotiation simply because you have hired them and you are paying the fee. Interpreters are impartial members of the conversation. They are simply facilitators who bridge the gap caused by the different languages the participants speak.  

You shall also not be offended if the interpreter is not responding to your attempts to befriend them. Interpreters would like to keep their neutrality and not cross the boundaries between professional engagement and more personal interaction. It is ok to ask them their name and have some small talk during the coffee break, but that is sufficient. Do not cross the boundaries by asking any personal questions. With time, you will realize that a professional attitude is a guarantee for the integrity of the service and that you can trust your interpreter to cope with the task you have given them. 

A simple thank you at the end of the meeting will be appreciated by the interpreters who facilitated it.  


These are some of the most common mistakes that people working with interprets make. Try to avoid them and you will see that soon you will get used to the service and your meetings and conversations will run as smooth as if you were all speaking one and the same language.  

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