How To Communicate Effectively Through Interpreters A Guide for Leaders (Previously published by S3-XO.NET)

Insist That the Interpreter:

  • Speak in the first person.
  • Remain in close proximity when you are speaking.
  • Carry a notepad and take notes, as needed.
  • Ask questions when not sure of a term, phrase, concept, acronym, etc.
  • Project clearly and mirror both your vocal stresses and overall tone.
  • Refrain from becoming engaged in a tangent dialogue with your audience/interlocutor(s), nor becoming an advocate or mediator in the dialogue; ideally, the interpreter should remain invisible.

As the Speaker, You Should:

  • Try to spend a little time with the interpreter before the event begins.  The speaker and interpreter should not work together “cold.”  The interpreter(s) will do a better job for you if there is already some rapport.  For example, he/she will then feel more free to ask you about anything he/she does not understand.
  • Always prepare the interpreter (in person) on the subject matter to be  presented/discussed, and when possible, provide written text and/or supporting documents in advance of the interpreting session (this will further allow the interpreter to become familiar with your manner of speech and allow you to assess the interpreter’s overall competence).
  • Ascertain the interpreter’s frame of reference and remain cognizant of his/her ability to deal with military concepts and terminology.  Interpreters cannot know all terminology in all fields.  Even the best of interpreters may be wholly ignorant of all things military, and the use of simple terms such as platoon, company, or battalion may leave him/her at a loss.  The same applies for your audience/ interlocutor(s).
  • Always advise the interpreter, in advance, of your audience/ interlocutor(s) by name and title/status.
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience/interlocutor(s) at all times – not the interpreter!  That is, talk to your audience/interlocutor, not to your interpreter.
  • Speak in the first person.
  • Try to speak in short thought groups, and pause for your interpreter to catch up.  If you do not, you may force the interpreter to omit some of your words, but you won’t know which ones!  Be concise and deliberate in your speech pattern, enunciate clearly, and agree in advance with the interpreter on the pace and pause intervals you will use.  On the other hand, there is no need to use “Me Tarzan, You Jane” style sentences.  Just be aware and allow time for the interpreting process.
  • Refrain from using pedantic vocabulary, acronyms, idioms, slang, and jargon – keep it simple!  See the next item.
  • Especially avoid acronyms and insider jargon.  Most likely, neither your interpreter nor your audience will understand them. While an acronym saves time for those who know it, in the foreign language it must be fully explained and translated.  Often a “short” acronym stands for an entire concept that must be explained.  Avoid acronyms.
  • Be attuned to the flexibility an interpreter must be permitted to use in getting your meaning across to the audience/interlocutor(s), a flexibility that increases when the languages in use are from disparate families (e.g. English and Hungarian); this impacts greatly on the speed with which the interpreter can operate – don’t rush him/her.
  • Be constantly attuned to your audience/interlocutor(s)’s comprehension level – slow down, repeat, or elaborate as needed. Test them and the interpreter.
  • Be attuned to the varieties, dialects, and/or multi-cultural sensitivities of certain languages and your interpreter’s ability, or disability, to effectively reach your target audience (e.g. a Croatian national can certainly communicate with a Serbian audience, and a Palestinian can likewise speak with a Saudi, but neither would be the wisest choice of interpreters). Gender and generational differences are also a major consideration in some cultures.
  • Plan on 10 minute breaks for every hour of interpretation to give both the interpreter and audience/interlocutor(s) time to rest, as well provide an opportunity for the interpreter to go over questions of vocabulary. During breaks, do not make the interpreter interpret – allow him or her to rest, get a drink, go to the bathroom.  Also, be aware that in the evenings, when you are just relaxing over a drink or supper, your interpreter may still be working for you full time.  Decide when you really need an interpreter and when you can let him/her rest.  See the next item.
  • Don’t burn-out a good interpreter by over-dependence on just him/her – use other interpreters as available.  If they are not as good, then help them to develop; if that fails – replace them.  If possible, rotate interpreters a minimum of every two hours, or every 15-20 minutes when using simultaneous interpretation.
  • Be aware that mealtime can be the most difficult time for an interpreter(s).  Plan for seating arrangements that make the best use of your interpreter(s), and ensure your interpreter(s) is rotated out or given some free time – if not, he/she will not have the chance to eat.
  • Don’t distract the interpreter by passing notes, whispering, or carrying on side conversations.
  • Visual aids – a picture is worth a thousand words – but rehearse and/or translate with the interpreter in advance.
  • Beware of telling jokes.  Unless you’ve rehearsed a joke or humorous comment with the interpreter ahead of time, don’t use it – jokes rarely survive interpretation!  The same applies for prayers and puns!
  • Don’t ever assume that your audience/interlocutor(s) is wholly ignorant of English and so refrain from unofficial comments to the interpreter along the lines of “Now don’t interpret this, but….”
  • Always take the time to provide your interpreter with feedback after the presentation/dialogue/meeting.  Native English speakers are notorious for not correcting non-native speakers – be discrete in making corrections, but do make them.

Cautionary Notes:

  • Interpreting provides an immediate understanding of the spoken word in another language – don’t confuse it with translating, which deals with written texts. These are complementary skills, but quite different in their requisite techniques – translators rarely make for good interpreters and vice-versa.
  • Being bilingual does not necessarily equate to being an effective interpreter.  Both interpreting and translating require formal training (which is rare – few institutions teach these skills, and there are no national nor international standards of accreditation) and/or years of experience.
  • Interpreting may be simultaneous or consecutive.  Simultaneous interpretation is the oral, concurrent translation of a speaker’s words from one language into another – usually via an audio/headphone system – as most commonly used in conferences.  Consecutive interpretation, on the other hand, is most commonly used in meetings and dialogues, whereby the speaker(s) pauses between complete thoughts, sentences, or paragraphs for the interpreter to interpret (Consecutive interpretation is the preferred method of the U.S. State Department and is the method for which these guidelines are most applicable).
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity – both you and the interpreter must stay attuned to this, but don’t fall prey to condescension.
  • If consecutive interpreting is to be used, then you will need to double the amount of time you would need if speaking only in English —  plan accordingly.
  • Finally, if your interpreter doesn’t look good, you don’t look good. While it is his/her responsibility to do an excellent job for you, be aware of ways in which you can assist him/her in doing so.
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新加坡国际水源周 之 市长论坛“裸翻”



事情是这样的…早上到达会议酒店,从楼上的电梯下来,看到了一个小房子矗立在会议厅外面,我的早餐差点儿喷了出来,不会吧…让我们在外面做同传?走近一看,Bingo!进去会议室看了一下,比去年的会议室小了将近一半啊(还是利兹卡尔顿好啊啊啊啊),而今年代表更多了,圆桌会议一圈都不够坐,后面又加了两排。AV Control被挤到了屋子的一角,我们就更没地位了,只能在门外了。幸好同传箱内配置了LCD可以观看幻灯和现场情况,要不我真的想打人了。进去坐定后,发现我们同传箱前面正对Foyer,大家都在那里走动加享用茶点,而且再外面就是大门,对着马路车水马龙啊。这下热闹了,我们真的成了“门外汉”了,后来还有一众媒体朋友进不去会议厅,挤在我们箱子周围撇看箱内的视频加听我们的翻译(这都可以啊)。

这些不算什么,说实话,这不是我遇到的最遭的现场情况了,“裸翻”也不是第一次了。所谓“裸翻”,通常是客户在开会前不给任何资料,不过这么高端的会议,不给资料很正常,裸就裸了,哈。当会议开始时,精彩的事情发生了。我们的耳机中传出了比演讲者声音高一倍的电流噪音!这下惨了,听不清楚啊。把音量开到最大,噪声也跟着被放大。值班的Technician也是无能为力,一直在调整他们的设备,终于在和同伴坚持了20分钟后他们告知,有根线被人踩断了可能,只有等中场休息时候才能换。好了,希望破灭了,只能尽力将就挺过去了。这下10年前在国内大学里用小收音机偷听VOA时练就的一身功夫用上场了,全身贯注,排除噪音,同时再跟各种听起来根本不像英语的英语斗争着。说到这里,今年的市长们更精彩,东南亚的市长们都觉得自己可以讲英语,不用翻译,结果我们哭了,听着老挝还有柬埔寨的英语,才知道听马来西亚,新加坡英语是多么的幸福啊…哭泣的脸下半场噪声消失,一下子轻松了很多,只剩下各种奇怪英语口音是种折磨。好在这个论坛只有半天,所以很快就过去了。不过这次真是锻炼了译员的各方面素质,裸翻,噪声,视觉干扰,看不到现场,口音…不过至少有个箱子有设备,比4年之前在老国会充满了回声的房间中坐在最后面用裸耳收音,用tour guide system单人进行whisper interpretation整整3天的经历要好多了(真不知道当初怎么挺过来的转动眼睛)。



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第一个就是上面提到的世界城市市长论坛(World City Mayors Forum),会议采取圆桌形式。中国这次可是主要参与者,来了海南省副省长,山东日照市市长,河北唐山市市长,天津滨海新区区长,江苏工业园园长等地方级大员,超过了主办方新加坡的4名参会大员,远远领先于其他国家。会场采取圆桌式讨论,大部分市长语速如飞地念稿子,官腔十足,且提前不给稿子,可是累惨了我们做翻译的。不过这些都比不上横滨市长的日本口音和联合国主管人居署的副秘书长的无敌非洲口音。横滨市长明明带了随身翻译(一个我很熟悉的日本同传同事),却只在间断问答时候用了她一下,到了正式发言,则应要自己用英文宣读稿子,无奈虽然速度不快但是口音难辨,只能努力竖起耳朵边猜边译。更痛苦的是这位来自非洲的联合国副秘书长,持着一口非洲英语,却讲的飞快,幸亏在她之前已有以为非洲市长上来讲话,姑且能稍微适应一些,一路译下来倒也顺畅。最后给大家上一张自己的现场工作照。

忙了一个上午,市长论坛一完就马上赶场跑去新达城为世界城市交通领袖峰会(World Urban Transport Leaders Summit)做同传,这边人数众多,占满了新达城的小礼堂,不过内容不难,大部分都是幻灯片讲解,所以逻辑清楚,一天半的时间很快就过去了。这里留张同传箱内拍的前台及自己的工作照。
总的感觉,越是高层的会议,有如去年的亚太经合组织工商领导人峰会(APEC CEO Summit)那样,越是没有稿子,因为全是highly confidential的东西,提前不会交给译员,只能做些背景调查大概了解一下,然后全凭个人的基本功和背景知识的积累来完成。尤其给中国官员的翻译,个人感觉如果没有在中国长期生活的背景,又没有提前准备,本地译员很难跟上官员的讲解发言。只有不断的积累了解各地的风土人情,才能让译员遇到各种异国情况时应付自如。

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题目名为巴厘岛同传之行,其实只在巴厘岛停留了一天,记忆并不多,主要是工作。不过还是要上几张照片给大家看看,满足下眼睛的欲望,哈哈。我们住的是Laguna Hotel,里面小桥流水,很是巴厘,最美的是它的海滩…



会议下午4点多就完了,我们晚上8点的飞机,所以大家抓紧时间跑去巴厘岛市中心“血拼”一番啊,巴厘岛的手工艺品和丝绸等很便宜,且充满了民族特色,用来装饰非常物美价廉。这次巴厘岛之行还是5月之初,非常匆忙,前后都有其他项目相连,所以回去马上又投身到刚刚开放preview的Marina Bay Sands。前段时间去了趟美国,照片到现在还没有整理,所以先上这篇,后面陆续上美国东部游记,敬请期待:D。

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2月初去的越南河内(Hanoi),做了一周的同传,是给美国一家生物医药公司的销售年会而做。翻译的内容大部分涉及销售的部分比较容易,有的个别session由医生主讲,拉丁语医学词汇满堂灌,还是很具有折磨力的。不过生活环境不错,我们住在河内风景秀丽的西湖上的InterContinetal Hotel,每天吃的住的如人间仙境,自然工作的痛苦少了一大半。

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上个周末带病做了Traditioanl Medicine Expo 2009的同传,说来奇妙,给医药博览会做同传,自己却那两天病病怏怏的。坐骨神经痛这毛病有些时日了,一直没有当回事儿,结果最近严重起来,走路迈大步都疼,所以只能等着预约专科门诊看看了。而且这两天我肠胃不好,吃东西不消化,估计是吃了很多的止痛片伤到肠胃了吧,所以两天真是难熬。前面的内容倒还中规中矩,都是各个国家传统医药的介绍,管理法规等等,虽说是医药,但涉及到的技术细节不多。最后一个下午的内容就是真有挑战性了,真刀真枪的医学教授在那里讲药理和用药,而且很多医学的拉丁名词,别说翻译,读都读不出来。幸亏提前做了很多准备工作,光是纯医学的生单词就背了10页!磕磕绊绊总算和同事一起完成了最后一个下午的同传,回到家肠胃炎就犯了,只能吃了块蛋糕喝点儿粥,外加吗叮啉熬过了一夜。虽然痛苦折磨,这次医学翻译还是蛮有益处的,学到了基本上所有常见病的名称,为以后再做医学方面的会议也打下了基础了。还有个好处,就是可以在展览上买了促销的膏药回来用在我的坐骨神经痛上,效果还不错呢,也收集了中医诊所的信息,后面准备去看看。
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