Friday, July 25, 2014

Tip of the Day: How to Use Interpreters and Translators

Not everyone who travels, works, or lives abroad will need interpreters or translators. 

That being said, knowing when you need an interpreter and/or a translator is a bit of an art.

Even knowing the difference between an "interpreter" and a "translator" speaks volumes in terms of "knowing when you're in over your head."

Those that generally need either a "translator" and/or an "interpreter" often include businesspeople, government officials, academicians, journalists, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), foreign assistance groups, diplomatic missions, international organizations and those conducting any "investigation, inquiry or in cases where accuracy is a must."

Please know that a bilingual person doesn't fill the bill as both an "interpreter" and a "translator." The skills and experience are very distinct. Comparing one to the other is tantamount to saying that an accountant can fill in as an epidemiologist.

Professional interpreters and translators have years of training and experience in their very similar, but very different disciplines.

Using a bilingual person, for instance, for important meetings or projects can produce very inaccurate or incomplete results.

An "interpreter" is a professional who simultaneously interprets verbally in two languages. 

In contrast, a "translator" is a professional who is trained to translate written documentation only from one language to another and certify that the end products of both language versions is accurate to the point of standing up in court.

Both are normally certified by a recognized association in the field of interpreting OR translations, but generally not both, unless they are certified in both.

Below are some useful tips from lessons learned:

1. If possible, interview at least two or three interpreters or translators before hiring one. Interpersonal chemistry is important. During the interview, review a list of projects the individual has worked on and corroborate his or her work;

2. After you select a person, review acronyms, slang, or technical terms with him or her. Many words in one language do not have an equivalent word in another language. The interpreter or translator many want to clarify will a glossary of unfamiliar terms that may not be in his or her native language;

3. If possible, determine the interpreter’s or translator’s political biases. If you work with the opposition, this could cloud his or her objectivity;

4.  If sensitive or proprietary issues are going to be discussed, consider asking the interpreter or translator to sign a nondisclosure statement;

5.  In the case of simultaneous interpretation, speak slowly. This will produce a more accurate product;

6.  If possible, give your interpreter periodic breaks during a day of meetings or consider hiring a backup interpreter, depending on the skills that are required;

7.  Simultaneous interpretation is physically and mentally challenging, so be honest with a simultaneous interpreter in terms of how much people-power is needed. Don't scrimp, as you'll pay for it in quality;

8. A good gesture is to give the interpreter(s) a gift to express gratitude for making your meetings, speeches, or discussions successful. An appropriate gift would be something from where you live, music compact discs, or an appropriate gift affixed with your organization’s logo. The interpreter or translator will appreciate your thoughtfulness, which will solidify a continuing professional relationship and leave a great impression; and

9. Contact the American Translators Association at the below link which allows you to search for reputable translators or interpreters from the online directory:

10. Other useful resources include local chambers of commerce, trade associations, interpreters or translators you've used in the past that performed well, etc; and

11.  To impress a foreign counterpart or associate who does not speak your language well, do not call him or her and say, “Do you speak...?” Rather, show your sensitivity and call LLE Language Services (, 866-998-0334, fax 520-745-9022 and email:

LLE's service helps you set up an account (prices are very reasonable) and interprets for you during your conversation while you are speaking your language and your party is speaking his/her language. It is that easy! LLE has 1,000 certified interpreters, representing more than 100 languages, who can interpret a phone conversation for you on a 24-7 basis.