Thursday, June 9, 2011

So you want to be an Interpreter

As I have worked as a professional translator and interpreter on and off for a number of years, I thought I would share some of the common tips and tricks of the trade as shared within the groups of translators and interpreters I have dealt with over the years.  This will be a kind of point form list but I'll expand on each.  Some of these may seem obvious but the number of clients and executive staff that don't know or comprehend some of this is a bit concerning.

* Translators and Interpreters are usually noticeably better going from language A->B than the other way around.  True fluency in two languages is very rare (to the point of understanding all the nuances/subtleties of both languages as a native speaker would)

* Interpretation in particular is very mentally exhausting.  Ideally, for every hour of interpretation, you should take a 10 minute break to clear your mind, though also ideally, no one meeting should be more than an hour despite them sometimes being significantly longer.

* Take a memo pad and jot down key words/points as they are said so you don't get everything jumbled or lost in your mind

* Make sure you stop the speaker every couple sentences or so.  The longer you wait between each translation/interpretation the harder it gets to keep it all straight and remember the details.

* Ask the speakers to speak up if you are having trouble hearing.  You need to be able to hear what is going on.

* In a first meeting, it is common for specific company/industry only terminology to pop up.  Odds are one side of the meeting will ask for clarification but you should pipe up and ask for clarification as soon as possible if nobody else asks for clarification first.

* On that note, make sure you clear up any ambiguous or hard to understand terminology or contents before you try to interpret them (and ask as soon as possible).  Never try to BS your way through something, as it will come back to bite you sooner or later.

* Jokes and humor don't translate well and it usually isn't worth your time or trouble to try and convey it to the other party.

* Do not try to add personal interpretation to something.  Keep things deadpan and have the other side clarify what they imply.

* However, if you belong to one side of the meeting (same company), feel free to subtly note to your side (perhaps during a break) anything that seems odd or out of place.  Don't try to make it an issue in the meeting in front of everyone since your job is just to interpret, not make management, financial or business decisions.

* Do not participate in insults if things go awry, keep things neutral or tone down the insult to the basic point behind the insult if you are being forced to interpret

* People make mistakes and nobody is perfect, don't sweat any minor mistakes and don't take criticism from one side or the other to heart, especially if it is the case where you are the only one there capable of decent interpretation between two languages.

* Have a drink of water with you.  Your throat will start to go dry, especially if it turns into a lengthy meeting.  Losing your voice after several long meetings in a week is not unheard of.

(and on translation)

* As a side note, an average translator can handle about 8 to 10 pages of translation a day of decent quality assuming 250 words a page.  If someone claims more than that, like 25, he/she is using machine translation aids and/or rushing the quality to the point of an error-filled inconsistent translation.  Also, consider the fact you will need to go back and proofread your work.  Don't let management schedule an impossible workload in a very short time, and remind them the translation will suffer the more the deadline is rushed.