Hiring an Interpreter? 9 Dos and Don’ts to Get the Most Out of Your Partnership

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From Marie Kondo to the tiny house movement, the concept of “less is more” is undergoing a resurgence of sorts. Yet, in one area at least, the practice of “more is more” still rings true. If your upcoming meeting, conference, keynote speech, or business transaction requires a communication expert, such as an interpreter, you may think it’s as easy as having someone show up and translate a language either verbally or with sign language. However, overlooking the proper preparation and briefing that go into effectively hiring an interpreter can cost you a lot of time, money, and headaches down the line.

There is no shortage of ridiculously translated menus or embarrassing government mistakes, such as when the UK published a German version of its Brexit white paper that was widely ridiculed for its “archaic” and obtuse style of writing. The same can happen with interpreters. It’s due in part to the nature of language itself; its complexities, nuances, and myriad possibilities don’t allow for even the best interpreter to be a “walking dictionary.” It’s also due to the fact that communication is always an exchange of ideas in a given context.

Preparation is vital to ensure the communication experts you hire add value. If you treat your interpreters like members of your team, they can focus on their expertise: language. Take a look at these dos and don’ts to ensure your next partnership with a language expert translates to a success:

Do Consider Your Interpreter’s Field of Expertise

Before selecting an interpreter, ask about their expertise in your specific setting or field, not just their years of experience. A court interpreter might be a great fit for a deposition on a patent dispute, for example, but only if they have experience in that setting and are given pertinent technical information ahead of time. Poorly trained interpreters have been shown to make 2-3 times more mistakes than trained ones.

Don’t Hold Back for the Sake of Confidentiality

Don’t be afraid to brief your interpreters fully in advance. Qualified, credentialed interpreters are required to abide by a strict code of ethics and are normally happy to sign your confidentiality agreement. Keep in mind that words themselves don’t communicate full meaning, and interpreters need to know about relevant background contributions to what is unfolding in the conversation or transaction in order to convey the full picture.

Do Provide Names and Titles Ahead of Time

Let the interpreter know who will be present at your conference, negotiation, facility tour, etc., and what their roles are in the discussion. Names are helpful, and not just of participants. Knowing division, unit, and project names ahead of time will speed things up during the actual conversation.

Do Share Meeting Details and Goals

Your team and your Spanish-speaking counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external contractor won’t. The purpose of the meeting will greatly inform the interpreter’s work. What are everyone’s goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of interpreters as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.

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Don’t Expect the Interpreter to Show Up and Do a Perfect Job Without Any Contextual Knowledge

Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge, so provide as much background information as possible. Let’s say you hire an interpreter to help you sort out an HR problem with an employee who is more comfortable in another language. Inform the interpreter about any previous meetings, the main issues to be discussed, the type of work the employee does, and anything else you think is relevant.

Do Explain Specific Jargon and Acronyms

In many cases, you don’t have to go as far as to provide a glossary; experienced interpreters will do some research on their own. But be sure to discuss with your interpreter any internal jargon or acronyms that might be hard for outsiders to decipher. If your family members’ eyes glaze over when you start talking about the “BPO merger” and the “quarterly up-queue,” you’ll likely need to brief the interpreter about what these terms mean, too.

Do Make Sure All Parties Can Be Heard and Seen

Let your interpreter know what the physical space where you’ll be working looks like. Will you be sitting, standing, or touring a facility? How many people need to hear the interpreter? Will you play a video? Will participants join via Skype or speakerphone? Knowing this information will allow your interpreter to better prepare for the situation or even suggest things you haven’t thought about, such as using simultaneous interpreting equipment.

Do Hire More Than One Interpreter When Necessary

Interpreters do an incredible amount of cognitive work as they relay messages from one language into another, and quality suffers after about 30 minutes of continuous interpreting time. Talk with your interpreters and ask them what they need. If you are planning a presentation or a lengthy talk, they may suggest a team of interpreters to trade off and take breaks. If the meeting is more conversational and will include natural or scheduled breaks, you can likely get away with one interpreter for a few hours.

Do Send Files Ahead of Time

Always send any documentation that will be discussed a few days in advance. Agendas, contracts, previous meeting minutes, presentation slides — anything that provides context and terminology will greatly enhance the interpreter’s work process and save time during the actual meeting or event.

While simplicity and minimalism may work wonders for closet organization, the opposite applies when it comes to getting the most out of working with an interpreter. Share your goals, purpose, audience, and insider knowledge with interpreters in advance to save time and money in the long run. Generally speaking, if you follow the rule of “more is more,” everyone will be on the same page and you will reap the rewards.

Elena Langdon is a Brazilian Portuguese translator and interpreter and a director of the American Translators Association. Connect with Elena on Twitter: @acolalang.

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Elena Langdon is a bicultural and bilingual professional with nearly two decades of experience as a Brazilian Portuguese translator and interpreter. She is also a director of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents nearly 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries.