5 Useful Tips to Work with Interpreters (and Translators) in a Multilingual Event

Photo via Débora Chobanian

Photo via Débora Chobanian

Here’s a useful guest post from Débora Chobanian, a professional interpreter who I worked with a few months ago on an international workshop. There are more tips in this post from a few years ago.

5 Useful Tips to Work with Interpreters (and Translators) in a Multilingual Event

In this day and age, with the advent of globalisation, events attended by international audiences are commonplace. In such situations, organisers may need to hire professionals who will provide translation services.

Sometimes it's easier to just say 'everybody speaks English these days'. However, this is not actually true. In Brazil, for instance, only 5% of the population speak English and, among those, only 3% are actually fluent. And the same applies to many other countries, such as China and France.

The next step is to decide how to provide this service, commonly known as translation. Its correct name is interpreting, which has many varieties. The most famous one is called simultaneous translation or conference interpreting.

This is, indeed, a rare skill. Conference interpreters, the professionals who provide this service, are highly trained and specialised. Recently, there's more awareness raised about the profession. It has been the central theme of the short comedy Chuchotage. This short film, launched in 2019, has won several awards and it's worth watching.

Here we bring you a few tips to help make your event a success. Sadly, English speakers tend to 'forget' about their international counterparts. As a result, they end up committing a series of public speaking crimes, which can be easily avoided.

Tip #1 They are interpreters, not translators

For those who haven't encountered these professionals before, they are called interpreters. Translators are professional who write documents from one language into another. Interpreters, on the other hand, speak different languages and translate orally.

The type of training required is also very different. Translators normally dedicate their attention to perfecting their style and writing skills. Interpreters need a high level of knowledge and mastery of the languages they work with. In addition to that, they learn technical terminology and other topics.

Tip #2 Share your notes or presentations with them in advance

As interpreters work in different assignments all the time, the key to their performance is preparation. In order to be prepared, they will need to know the general topic and read presentations to be delivered at the event.

Ideally, speakers and coaches should share notes, presentations and any other useful content with them. This needs to be done ahead of time. That way, they will have enough time to study the topic and learn any technical terms.

Tip #3 Pace yourself. Fast speakers are not cool!

Unfortunately many misconceptions have been disseminated about public speaking. The worst of them is the myth of the fast and engaging speaker. Fast speakers tend to believe that they are capturing the attention of everyone in the room. In fact, most people are not able to capture information delivered at a fast pace.

To make matters worse, English is a language with a concise grammatical structure. Most language have a longer structure, such as German and Spanish. This makes it impossible for the interpreters to fit all the content in.

A capable speaker engages its audience by making sure everyone can follow them and understand the content. This TED Talk on How to speak so that people want to listen is full of great tips.

Tip #4 Choose the right interpreters

Not everyone who speaks more than one language can be an interpreter. And there are several types of interpreters as well. There are community interpreters, court interpreters, medical interpreters, just to mention a few.

For your event to be successful, make sure you hire a consecutive or simultaneous interpreter with relevant experience. Usually, they hold a Masters Degree in Interpreting and will have prior experience in business or other professional areas.

Sometimes intermediaries, or language agencies, do not fully understand the needs of interpreters. If no questions are asked prior to the event, this should a serious reason for concern. A professional interpreter or language service provider will request details about the event in advance. With that information, they should tell you what is the best way to organise the interpreting service.

Tip #5 Don't get lost in translation

If anything changes on the day or your international delegation has confirmed at the last minute... Don't panic! A professional interpreter will handle it with your help. Make sure you brief the team and support them during the event.

There are usually two interpreters providing simultaneous translation. They will take the preparation into turns and will deliver a successful performance.

Finally... Where do you find a suitable professional?

Like many other professions, dedicated professional associations are the best starting point. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and the Association of International Conference Interpreters (AIIC) list their members per language and location. They have a rigorous selection process which guarantees the quality of the services offered by their members.

Finally, remember that the interpreters are part of your team. They will need breaks, food, coffee and will be happy with a simple 'Thank you' in the end.

Wish you all a happy event!

About the guest blogger

Débora Chobanian is an award winning professional interpreter, working in English and Brazilian Portuguese, specialising in business, finance, law, energy and other technical matters. She’s based in London, UK, working with global and local clients.