6 Tips on becoming an interpreter-friendly speaker

With ever increasing business links and educational/cultural exchange between China and the UK more individuals find themselves needing to work with an interpreter for the first time. In order to cross seamlessly over the language barrier in these situations not only depends upon the skill of the interpreter but also how the speakers work with their interpreter rather than carrying on as usual. Now that I am working as an interpreter full time I have had the opportunity to work with a lot more speakers and have, consequently, begun to notice the differences between interpreter-friendly speakers and those not experienced or prepared to work in this way.

To help anyone who might work with an interpreter in the near future prevent and overcome the most common issues I have made a few tips below on how to best work with an interpreter.

1. Interpreters are not superhuman

They do not know your field as well, comprehensively, or in-depth as you do. And though they will do a lot of preparation work in advance to get themselves familiar with the area there may still be language, ideas or other ‘common knowledge’ you take for granted that they may not have come across. Therefore, to ensure your speech is interpreted most accurately it is very helpful to provide your interpreter with as much information on your talk in advance as, i.e. the slides you will be using, the topics, length of meeting, etc.

2. Your own pace is vital to the interpreter’s performance

Some speakers are very conscious of being interpreted, worrying that if they speak for too long periods interpreters will not remember all the speech. Whilst this logic works up to a point, however, the point can be reached where this is detrimental to accurate interpretation. Speakers trying to be considerate and only saying half a sentence at a time in fact make it impossible for the interpreter to interpret, where differences in syntax may require sentence or paragraph restructuring but only half is there to start with! Interpreters must then either guess what the speaker is going to overcome this or they have to repeat the interpretation again after the second half sentence is spoken as the audience have already forgot the first confusing interpretation. This makes the interpretation unnecessarily longer than it should be, and is a waste of time for all 3 parties: speaker, interpreter and audience.

Ideally the best time to pause is after you have finished a meaningful chunk. It could be just 2 / 3 sentences, or it could be 2 / 3 minutes. Don’t worry about it being too long– a qualified interpreter is able to take notes and render contents well for up to 8 – 10 minutes. Yet it is still important to pause between these chunks so that the interpreters themselves understand you better and can render the meaning in a more natural way into the target language.

3. Interpreters need rest, and so do you

I have worked with speakers who get tired themselves after 2 hours and don’t realize when they start making mistakes in their talk. Please bare in mind that when you are talking, interpreters are listening and taking notes, and thinking really hard how to put that into the target language. Additionally, when you stop talking and can quickly rest while the interpreter is talking remember that the interpreter has not has a chance to rest between listening and speaking. As interpreters are working non-stop the whole time it is very important to give them a break after an hour or so.

4. Introduce yourself to the interpreter before the meeting starts

This way, you get to meet each other, familiarize yourself with one another’s accents (if there are any – as you will need to understand them when an questions are raised), and establish the pace of the talk, i.e. when to pause, break and when to start again.

5. Tell the interpreter to let you know when he/she has finished interpreting each part

Good interpreters will look at you once he/she finishes interpreting, but some may not know the importance of giving you a signal to indicate “I am done, your turn to talk”, so the burden of judging when to start talking again is on you. If you find it hard to judge whether the interpreter has finished or not, just tell him/her to give you a signal once they finish interpreting the part you have just spoken.

6. Help us help you!

Don’t forget to ask for the interpreter’s business/name card if you think they have done a good job and would like to work with them again or recommend them to colleagues/friends. There are lots of unqualified interpreters out there and the best way to good interpreters can find more work over these is by word of mouth an personal recommendation – allowing good work to help companies that need it and preventing time and money being wasted on bad interpretation.

This is especially important if you are working with a freelance interpreter, they love getting new clients!

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)


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      Hey Maria, thanks for stopping by and I will definitely visit yours more often 🙂 Interpreting is a tough and enjoyable job and it is nice to know in another corner of the world, someone else is “torturing” herself too 🙂

  1. avatar

    Just would like to add another tip for powerpoint users. Many speakers don’t realize that when using powerpoint, it works the best if you could explain each slide first before expand from that slide. You don’t need to do so when you speak to English audience, as they can see and understand what’s written on the slides. But if you are speaking to an audience that can’t read or understand the slide, not explaining what’s on the slide can sometimes lead to confusion, or harms the understanding of the logic of your speech.

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  3. avatar

    Interpretation is really not an easy job, it’s so different from written translation, mostly, the written translator could just work by themselves, working hard to keep the quality.

    In the case of interpretation, it will be so different, a succesful case is not from only hard work from interpreter, it’s more counting on great cooperation between client and interpreter. The tips from you are just so helpful that difinitely worth reading.



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