Every job carries its prospective dangers and interpreters are well aware of theirs. Like anyone, they can exaggerate potential problems and be prone to worry. Here are several suggestions for how you can help your interpreter relax and do a great job.
1. Help the interpreter prepare ahead. As with anyone attending an important meeting, interpreters need to conduct research ahead of time to clearly understand the topic at hand. That includes having relevant keywords and idioms on the tip of their tongue ready to use spontaneously to keep the conversation alive.
2. Keep your instructions as key and minimal as possible. Too many instructions can overwhelm and discourage an interpreter, or make them feel too restricted. They have to mentally see themselves as free to do and say whatever is needed to get the message across.
3. Help your interpreter be invisible. Interpreters work best when they don’t stand out. Choose one whose height or voice quality matches the person they’ll be interpreting most often. Give them an idea of what to expect, including how others will dress.
4. Let the interpreter know who understands their language and who doesn’t. Interpreters sometimes pick participants to watch who they know understand both languages. It helps them catch it when they’ve mistranslated or missed something important.
5. Make sure you give them enough time to refresh themselves. Especially in high-level political or business meetings, interpreters are alternated regularly because, according to one simultaneous interpreter, “After an hour your brain explodes.” They also need regular meals and sleep.
6. Encourage speakers to keep to the point as much as possible. When an interpreter has to translate long, convoluted, or ambiguous speech it’s too easy to miss important points.
7. Praise the interpreter who identifies well with a speaker. Interpreters have a fear of being disliked, especially when working with someone unpopular (e.g. Iran’s Ahmadinejad). Yet a good interpreter must find a way to identify with their speaker, so the interpretation can come across as authentic.
Many experienced interpreters, like those at Dialog One, can tell you what their particular needs are. (Needs are often the antidotes to fears, so fulfilling an interpreter’s needs has the effect of relieving fears.) We appreciate any assistance you can give to help them do well.