Working with conference interpreters

siue babel

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on the blog, but now that the holidays are over, and the new year is well underway, I’ve decided it was high time to resume my ‘blogging duties’. And what better way to do so than by sharing some advice that I find can be useful for interpreters and those whom we interpret alike.

Let me start with a quote: “When you are invited to speak at an international gathering, chances are that you’ll be interacting with people who speak different languages.” Today this probably holds true for the vast majority of international meetings, no matter their level, topic, or location. You might be lucky enough to find a language in common with some of the people in the room – after all, many people now speak English either as their mother tongue, or as a foreign language, and depending on the region there might be quite a large number of people who also speak French, or Spanish, or maybe Chinese or Russian. It’s just a matter of geographical location. But in many cases in international gatherings (as opposed to regional ones) there might be a few extra languages involved. And that is precisely when the help of interpreters like yours truly would come in very handy.

If you are reading this blog, and you are not a professional interpreter or translator yourself, then probably (and hopefully) you’ve already come to realise the difference between the two professions, and have probably (and hopefully) grown to appreciate our work.

And believe me when I say this, we always appreciate a good speaker. And so does the audience. So here’s some advice to those on the other side of the glass, on how to prepare for a meeting when you know that at least some of your listeners will be listening through interpreters. Although most of this may come accross as general public speaking advice, it will also help you make sure that your message is heard nice and clear in all the languages in the room. So here goes.

Before you present

  • Make your presentation available to interpreters before the conference takes place
  • Share any support material that can help them to fully understand your presentation (e.g. glossaries, abbreviations, background information on yourself/the topic, …)
  • Make sure that they can reach you in case they have questions on the material (preferably via one contact person, or else you’ll find yourself answering questions 24/7)
  • Use big font so that during the presentation interpreters can read your slides from the back of the room
  • Check whether interpreters can hear you before you start, simply ask them to give you a thumbs up if they hear you, no need to check in every single booth
  • Feel free to liaise with your interpreters before you give your presentation, consider it as meeting your alter egos to explain what you’re going to say. They will appreciate the extra attention you give them.

During you presentation

  • Try to talk at a moderate pace. If you rush, interpreters won’t be able to process the information and translate it accurately, and if you speak too slowly, they will struggle to keep your presentation enticing.
  • Speak into the microphone. The easiest is to clip a microphone to your tie or vest, but don’t put it to close to your mouth, or interpreters may end up cringing at every sigh and plosive you produce. Also, if you cough or sneeze, cover the microphone or you may blow your interpreter’s eardrum.
  • Don’t fiddle with pens or shawls, or tick or rub anything against the microphone, or any goodwill that you’ve created by sharing information beforehand, will be lost for good.
  • During the question and answer session, make sure to leave a couple of seconds between the question and your answer. This will give interpreters the opportunity to process the question, and then correctly interpret your answer. If you rush, they may not hear either the end of the question or the beginning of your answer.
  • Avoid culture-specific jokes or puns, they usually don’t translate, and their effect may be lost on the participants listening to you through an interpreter

After the presentation

  • This may seem like a no-brainer, but interpreters will appreciate it if you thank them for helping you get your message across. Goodwill cannot be overestimated, and it contributes to your reputation as a good speaker.
  • Ask for feedback, both from interpreters with regards to your presentation, and from participants regarding the interpreters’ work. This will help everyone to do an even better job next time.

Personally, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making pauses, and sharing all the texts and presentations you have with the interpreters beforehand. But in the end, all of the above boils down to this: “you need the interpreters to bring your message across, and they need your help to do a good job, so you are all on the same team. If you do what you can to help one another, you are sure to achieve the best result.”

You really are.

(for more advice check out the original article

Babel tower courtesy of in  a manner of speaking)

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