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How to work effectively with interpreters

Have you ever used the services of an interpreter to facilitate communication with a speaker of another language? If you did, we hope that everything went well, and you achieved the desired outcome. If you’re however thinking to hire an interpreter for the first time, you may find the following tips helpful.

Before hiring your interpreter or indeed an entire team, always ensure to…

…check their credentials. It is a common misconception that everyone who speaks a foreign language can act as a professional interpreter. In reality, becoming a skilled and versatile interpreter requires formal training and years of practice. Not only are trained interpreters able to listen, speak and analyse the spoken word in real time, take notes of your speech and reproduce it seamlessly to your audience, but they will also never knowingly alter the meaning of what has been said, jeopardise confidentiality or promise the impossible. Interpreting in real time, in front of a large audience or in sensitive meetings is an exhausting affair and calls for stamina and nerves of steel. A good interpreter will arrive prepared to be able to deal with the pressure. Therefore, it is important to…

…brief the interpreter. The more they know in advance, the better they will be able to convey your message to the target audience. Receiving your presentation, relevant documentation or at the very least a verbal briefing in advance will allow them to research terminology, find the appropriate tone of voice and make you look good in front of your target audience of foreign language speakers. Bilingual documents you already have are absolute gold dust because they are the key to unlocking the correct terminology in both the source and target language.

Providing detailed documentation may not always be possible, but at the very least your interpreter should know the essentials: who is speaking, what are they going to say, where the meeting is going to take place and what equipment has been organised and why the meeting is taking place, that is to say, what the purpose of the meeting is, and who is the intended target audience. Once the interpreter has been briefed, you are good to go, and everything should go smoothly. Now, remember to…

…speak clearly and at a normal pace. Speaking too slowly will make it harder to glean the context, whereas if you speak too fast, your interpreter will struggle to keep up the quality of their interpretation over time. It helps enormously if you can always finish your thoughts, pause occasionally, not to go off at a tangent or tell a story within a story. Needless to say, metaphors, acronyms, slang or idioms will challenge your interpreter and certainly make them work hard for their money! A skilled interpreter will more often than not be able to cope, but if you are communicating matters of life or death, just keep things simple. * After the event, please…

… provide feedback. One does not become a star interpreter overnight, so constructive feedback that helps to improve their performance is always welcome. Your interpreters will especially appreciate helpful pointers with regards to the correct use of terminology or acronyms. It is a profession where you never stop learning!

The team at the Business Language Boutique always strives to provide a high-quality service tailored to your needs. Please get in touch with us at if you need help with your next conference or meeting. We will be happy to advise you.


* At the height of the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev was interpreted as saying: “We will bury you” – with reference to the United States. What he however really said during his speech at the Polish Embassy in Moscow was: “We will outlast you.” A small but crucial difference!


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