Guidelines for working with interpreters
In my last blog, I explored the question of gender with regard to interpreting and this time I want to take a look at the art of working with an interpreter.
The benefits of using an interpreter are clear – qualified professionals are sought to mediate between people whose language is not shared and the communication gap is bridged.
To facilitate the triadic communication it is extremely beneficial for the client to adhere to guidelines of good practice when working with interpreters and ensuring the smooth running of such a session.
These guidelines can be summarised as follows:
• The client is the pivotal part of the triadic communication and should remain in charge of the session. The interpreter however will have not just the language competence, but also cultural knowledge with regard to the other language speaker and will therefore be in a position to bridge any possible cultural gaps. Getting even seemingly minor things right, such as the culturally acceptable manner in which to address that person, will help to avoid potentially unpleasant situations and will also facilitate the flow of the interpreting session. The discussion of such aspects should take place in a briefing prior to the interpreting session. This briefing session will also provide the opportunity for the interpreter to be informed of the case to be dealt with and allow him/her and the client to agree on the mode of interpreting.
• The client is the driver of the session. He/she and the other language speaker constitute the primary speakers. During the interpreting session therefore, the conversation should be carried out almost as though the interpreter were not present. The other language speaker should be addressed directly and not via the interpreter. The client should maintain eye contact with the other language speaker and directly address him/her in the second person. Maintaining this form of address will lessen the impact which the addition of a third party may have and moreover will ensure that the power balance remains with the client.
• In cases such as medical consultations, the client should reassure the other language speaker that the confidentiality and impartiality with which he/she is bound, applies to the interpreter also. The presence of the latter does therefore not change the confidential nature of the session.
• The client should make him-/herself understood easily and although he/she should not speak differently just because there is another professional person in the room, it will be beneficial if technical terminology is toned down. The interpreter is not likely to have exactly the same knowledge as the client and may be unfamiliar with very technical terms. If difficult terminology is unavoidable, time should be allowed for an explanation either by the client or even for the interpreter to consult reference material to aid his/her understanding before informing the other language speaker.
• A session involving an interpreter will doubtless take more time than one without, especially if the mode of Consecutive Interpreting is chosen. This fact should be taken into consideration and extra time should be allowed for the assignment.
• The client should take into consideration how the interpreter needs to work. Carrying out the session in a location which ensures that the interpreter is unhindered by distractions of noise will aid his/her concentration. Allowing the interpreter to take regular breaks, especially for longer sessions, is also advisable.
• Once the assignment has ended, the client may want to set aside time for a further briefing session with the interpreter. This will provide an opportunity for the interpreter to give feedback on any issues – culturally, linguistically or otherwise – which may have arisen during the interpreting session. Likewise, the client will be able to voice any issues during this time. The feedback contribution from both parties may help shed more light on any possible future sessions.
These guidelines for good practice, if implemented correctly, will enable a session involving an interpreter to run more smoothly.
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