Avoid These Mistakes When Using an Interpreter

Mar 11, 2022 12:32:52 PM | interpreting Avoid These Mistakes When Using an Interpreter

Effective communication is important, here are 6 common mistakes when using interpreters and translators in a business setting.

Never before have Interpreters been so widely used.  You’ve seen them on TV, in classrooms, at concerts, in courts and in hospitals.  When I first became an Interpreter and people asked me what I did for a living, and I told them I was a Sign Language Interpreter, most of the time no one knew what that was or they thought it was a fun hobby.  Now, everyone seems to be aware of Interpreters.  I find people have many questions; how do you work with an Interpreter, why do they make those faces, how many languages are there?  I have talked about how to choose an agency and how to request an Interpreter and here is the link to those blogs.  I would like to discuss a different topic today.  How to work effectively with an Interpreter and some common mistakes when working with Sign Language Interpreters and Foreign Language Interpreters. (I’ll also answer a couple informative questions!)  

 Always speak directly to the Consumer, not to the Interpreter.  The Interpreter tries very hard to allow communication to flow as naturally as it can between you and the Consumer.  They will not interject their own opinion or add to the conversation unless it’s necessary for interpretation, so please do not ask them questions about the Consumer, ask the Consumer the question. 

 If you are recording the interaction, make sure everyone is on the recording and there is a good view of them.  Make sure the sound is adequate and clear, and that the lighting avoids any shadows.   If you are using a Sign Language Interpreter, the background is important. Do not put them in front of a window or blinds, this will impede the look of the signs on the recording. A contrasting background or wall would be best.  

 Interpreters will not interpret written material if you are not present.  If a person can read English, then they can read the material themselves.  If they cannot and they need you to explain it to them, an Interpreter will assist you in explaining paperwork to them (by interpreting while you read or explain the written material) but an Interpreter is not an Attorney or Medical professional.  If Miranda Rights are written on a piece of paper an Interpreter is not a Police Officer, they do not read the Miranda Rights to the Consumer.  It is important you, or another professional are there. 

 Lighting is important for Sign Language Interpreters and for any Consumer who may be hard of hearing and reading the lips of the Foreign Language Interpreter.  (Remember, hearing loss can happen to anyone). If there are shadows on the Consumer or the Interpreter then it may become difficult to understand what is being signed or said if the Consumer is reading lips.  If there is too much light behind the person it can be hard to look at them. (Standing or sitting in front of a window is a bad position).  

 Foreign Language Interpreters need to sit or stand next to the Consumer and Sign Language Interpreters need to stand or sit in front of the Consumer and next to you.  The idea is for the Consumer to see you and the Interpreter at the same time. When working with Sign Language and Foreign Language Interpreters, the idea is for the Interpreter to be able to give the interpretation without disrupting the entire room of people, but to still see you.  In all instances you need to make sure the Interpreter is able to hear all parties and is able to control the communication so that they can do their job. Why would they need to control communication? If they need to stop communication because the Consumer did not understand something then they need to be able to get your attention. If they are able to explain the vocabulary and continue with the Interpretation, they will do so, but if it is technical in nature or if they feel that doing so would violate their Code of Professional Conduct because they would step into providing medical or legal advice by explaining what the Consumer did not understand, then they need to be able to interrupt you. Additionally, in some instances, you need to be aware that the Consumer is not understanding the communication. 

 Interpreters will interpret everything they hear; what you say, what others say, environmental noises and what the Consumer says.  If we can hear it, we will interpret it.  Please do not ask an Interpreter to avoid interpret something.  It’s extremely rude and makes the Interpreter choose between making the Consumer distrust them by seeing communication is happening and that they are being left out and having to be rude to you.  If the Interpreter is a true Professional, they will be rude to you and tell the Consumer what you said.  They will not create distrust with the Consumer.  If you do not want the Consumer to know what you are saying you must go to a place where you cannot be heard.  

 If you are unsure if the Consumer is understanding what is being said, or if a behavior seems strange to you, this is when you should ask questions of the Interpreter.  Sometimes a cultural barrier presents itself and what you perceive as a behavior that is strange, is absolutely normal in the Consumers culture. An Interpreter routinely asks or checks for comprehension during their Interpretation and will gladly share that information with you. They will ask the Consumer if they are understanding what is being conveyed.  Never wonder what happened during an interaction after an assignment is completed. The goal of an Interpreter is to communicate, just please ask what is happening while the Consumer is there to prevent the appearance of impropriety.  It is unethical for the Interpreter to discuss the job once the Consumer has left.  

 A question I often get asked is, “why do the Interpreters always make those funny faces?”. People are referring to the Sign Language Interpreters on TV. It can appear that they are being very expressive, and they are…but they are supposed to be. It’s a part of Sign Language. Facial expression conveys a whole host of information such as emotion, tense, size and grammar. (And that’s just a start!) It may look silly to a person who doesn’t know Sign Language but to a person who knows Sign…it’s like a perfect melody.

 How many languages are there? There are 7,117 languages in the world according to Ethnologue in 2021. This number changes as languages actually do die and they are created. Countries have their own Sign Language. According to Berlitz, the top 5 languages in the world are: English (1.132 million speakers), Mandarin (1.117 million speakers), Spanish (534 million), French (280 million speakers) and Arabic (274 million). Russian (258 million speakers) and Portuguese (234 million speakers) are next in line.

 The world is a diverse place. Interpreters want to be a part of your team.  They want to see a successful interaction.  With a little thought and preparation, every time you work with an Interpreter will be a great experience.  Global Interpreting Services works hard to make sure our Interpreters are ready to service our clients and we make every effort to educate our clients when they ask questions. Together, we can make communication happen!


Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan