Tips for Working with a Simultaneous Interpreter

A professional simultaneous interpreter typically keeps up with the speaker, lagging only one or two seconds behind.  However, the ability to follow the speaker closely is affected by several factors, including the difference in conciseness and structure between the two languages being used, cultural differences and amount of shared subject-specific knowledge between the speaker and his or her audience.

Most importantly, speak slowly, or at least not faster than normal. This is especially important when reading, a context in which speakers are prone to speed up.  Also, pause frequently to help the interpreter catch up, if needed.  Here are some of the reasons why the interpreter might need to catch up:

-The other language might require more words to express the same idea. 

Spanish typically uses about 15-20% more words than English to say the same thing. 

When you say an acronym, the interpreter will usually say each of the words that make up the acronym (unless there is an equivalent acronym in the target language or the English acronym is widely used), which will take longer.

You will help your interpreters if you give them a list of all the acronyms in your presentations, following the acronym with its full English form, plus any other key terms with their definitions.

- The difference in grammar between the two languages might require the interpreter to wait until the end of the sentence to start speaking in the other language. (For example, when going from Japanese into English, the interpreter might have to wait till the end of the sentence to hear the verb before starting the English sentence, which usually has the verb very close to the beginning.) 

-Cultural references might require some additional explanation.  As you plan your speech, see if you are referring to any organizations or part of social life in the US, and ask yourself if this is something your target audience is familiar with.

-Lack of exact equivalent in the target language might require paraphrasing or circumlocution.


You will help the interpretation go smoothly if you apply the following:


 1.  Slow down your speech and pause frequently, at least after every few sentences.  A professional simultaneous interpreter usually keeps up with the speaker’s pace, but there may be a one or two second lag.


2.  Finish your sentences and try to avoid false starts.


3.  When introducing an acronym, make sure you follow it by its full form, saying all the words that make up the acronym, even if it was mentioned in a prior talk at the conference.


4.  Build repetition into your presentation by outlining the topic and summarizing at the end. This allows capture of any information that might not have been clear when interpreted the first time.


5. Plan on using two interpreters for events that are more than one hour long, especially if highly technical.  Interpreters normally work in pairs, in a booth, where both are constantly listening to the speakers and to each other. They help one another, giving each other notes and switching every 20-30 minutes.  If working with only one interpreter for a shorter event, plan on scheduling some 10 minute breaks, and make sure you take them.


6.  Avoid using puns, whether in anecdotes or jokes, since the same word might not have the same two meanings in the other language.


Once, a speaker said:  “Why is the turkey fat?  Because it gobbles.”  When asked to interpret this, the interpreter said:  “Because in English the word for the sound the turkey makes is the same for eating a lot in a hurry.  Laugh!”


A similar problem was encountered by another interpreter when asked to interpret the following anecdote:  “The sheik asked me what he could give me as a gift.  I said “a golf club”.  Two months later I received a box with a note saying it was the gift I had asked for.  I remembered asking for the golf club and thought it might be a little toy one.  When I opened the box, it was the deed to an actual club!”  In Spanish, the word for golf club would be “stick” and would not be confused with “club,” so once the punch line came, the interpreter had to either let it go or spend time trying to explain the confusion to her audience, which would have then put her behind the next part of the speech.


7.  Finally, relax and focus on keeping your own train of thought. We will take care of the rest.


We hope you will have a very rewarding experience communicating with speakers of other languages through our interpreters.


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