The speaker and the interpreter: independent players or teammates?

In the post English or my mother tongue at a multilingual conference? we saw why it’s in your best interests to speak in your mother tongue at a multilingual event, provided that you’re given this possibility thanks to an interpreting service.

interpreting booth

Once you’ve decided to do so, there is another issue you should consider: are interpreters independent players (you deliver your speech and they will be busy converting it into another language with some magic tricks you should not care about) or are you a team? Regrettably, when part of the audience understands your language it’s very likely that you completely forget about your interpreters in the booth and this mysteriously even happens when you totally have to rely on them to convey your message to a 100% foreign audience. This is a very common and dangerous mistake!

Let’s say you’re about to deliver a very important speech. Are you not going to prepare it very well beforehand for it to go smoothly? Then how are interpreters supposed to do it perfectly, dealing with a topic in which they don’t have the same expertise you have, and without any previous specific preparation (because you didn’t think they might need to know what your speech would be about)?

speaking fastLet’s say you’ve been kind enough to provide them with that information. Well done! Now, what happens if you miscalculated the time at your disposal and try to fit a 1-hour-long speech in 20 minutes by speaking at an inhuman speed? One possible consequence is that an ambulance will soon come and rescue one of the interpreters. Yet a more likely one is that, despite the outstanding job the interpreters may have done, the message you wanted to convey will be compromised due to the circumstances and it won’t be their fault.

These are only few examples of the negative consequences there will be if you don’t see interpreters as your teammates. You win if they win, if you want to look at it as a win-win situation. In order for them to win, you need to help them do their job by following these tips:

  • win win situationprovide them with as much information as possible on your speech and situational context they might need;
  • if you’re going to use a PPT, send it to them;
  • if you’re going to show a video, send it to them (or they won’t have to interpret the message cointained in it);
  • if you’re going to add or change something, let them know;
  • if you’re going to use complex terminology, neologisms or particular concepts, let them know;
  • if you’re going to read a speech, send them a copy in advance;
  • speak at a human pace, especially if you read. This will give the audience time to understand your message. Otherwise it will get lost in translation, as I like to say!

If you want to read more on the topic, I highly recommend Tips for an Interpreter-Friendly Presentation (article from The ATA Chronicle by Ewandro Magalhães) and Esther Moreno’s article (in Spanish), Estimado ponente…

Bear in mind these tips the next time you will work with interpreters and it will be indeed a win-win situation!

Have a nice week!


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