Insist That the Interpreter:
- Speak in the first person.
- Remain in close proximity when you are speaking.
- Carry a notepad and take notes, as needed.
- Ask questions when not sure of a term, phrase, concept,
- Project clearly and mirror both your vocal stresses and
- Refrain from becoming engaged in a tangent dialogue with your
audience/interlocutor(s), nor becoming an advocate or mediator in
the dialogue; ideally, the interpreter should remain
As the Speaker, You Should:
- Try to spend a little time with the interpreter before the
event begins. The speaker and interpreter should not work
together “cold.” The interpreter(s) will do a better job for
you if there is already some rapport. For example, he/she
will then feel more free to ask you about anything he/she does not
- Always prepare the interpreter (in person) on the subject
matter to be presented/discussed, and when possible, provide
written text and/or supporting documents in advance of the
interpreting session (this will further allow the interpreter to
become familiar with your manner of speech and allow you to assess
the interpreter’s overall competence).
- Ascertain the interpreter’s frame of reference and remain
cognizant of his/her ability to deal with military concepts and
terminology. Interpreters cannot know all terminology in all
fields. Even the best of interpreters may be wholly ignorant
of all things military, and the use of simple terms such as
platoon, company, or battalion may leave him/her at a loss.
The same applies for your audience/ interlocutor(s).
- Always advise the interpreter, in advance, of your audience/
interlocutor(s) by name and title/status.
- Maintain eye contact with your audience/interlocutor(s) at all
times - not the interpreter! That is, talk to your
audience/interlocutor, not to your interpreter.
- Speak in the first person.
- Try to speak in short thought groups, and pause for your
interpreter to catch up. If you do not, you may force the
interpreter to omit some of your words, but you won’t know which
ones! Be concise and deliberate in your speech pattern,
enunciate clearly, and agree in advance with the interpreter on
the pace and pause intervals you will use. On the other
hand, there is no need to use “Me Tarzan, You Jane” style
sentences. Just be aware and allow time for the interpreting
- Refrain from using pedantic vocabulary, acronyms, idioms,
slang, and jargon - keep it simple! See the next item.
- Especially avoid acronyms and insider jargon. Most
likely, neither your interpreter nor your audience will understand
them. While an acronym saves time for those who know it, in the
foreign language it must be fully explained and translated.
Often a “short” acronym stands for an entire concept that
must be explained. Avoid acronyms.
- Be attuned to the flexibility an interpreter must be permitted
to use in getting your meaning across to the
audience/interlocutor(s), a flexibility that increases when the
languages in use are from disparate families (e.g. English and
Hungarian); this impacts greatly on the speed with which the
interpreter can operate - don’t rush him/her.
- Be constantly attuned to your audience/interlocutor(s)’s
comprehension level - slow down, repeat, or elaborate as needed.
Test them and the interpreter.
- Be attuned to the varieties, dialects, and/or multi-cultural
sensitivities of certain languages and your interpreter’s ability,
or disability, to effectively reach your target audience (e.g. a
Croatian national can certainly communicate with a Serbian
audience, and a Palestinian can likewise speak with a Saudi, but
neither would be the wisest choice of interpreters). Gender and
generational differences are also a major consideration in some
- Plan on 10 minute breaks for every hour of interpretation to
give both the interpreter and audience/interlocutor(s) time to
rest, as well provide an opportunity for the interpreter to go
over questions of vocabulary. During breaks, do not make the
interpreter interpret – allow him or her to rest, get a drink, go
to the bathroom. Also, be aware that in the evenings, when
you are just relaxing over a drink or supper, your interpreter may
still be working for you full time. Decide when you really
need an interpreter and when you can let him/her rest. See
the next item.
- Don’t burn-out a good interpreter by over-dependence on just
him/her - use other interpreters as available. If they are
not as good, then help them to develop; if that fails - replace
them. If possible, rotate interpreters a minimum of every
two hours, or every 15-20 minutes when using simultaneous
- Be aware that mealtime can be the most difficult time for an
interpreter(s). Plan for seating arrangements that make the
best use of your interpreter(s), and ensure your interpreter(s) is
rotated out or given some free time - if not, he/she will not have
the chance to eat.
- Don’t distract the interpreter by passing notes, whispering,
or carrying on side conversations.
- Visual aids - a picture is worth a thousand words - but
rehearse and/or translate with the interpreter in advance.
- Beware of telling jokes. Unless you’ve rehearsed a joke
or humorous comment with the interpreter ahead of time, don’t use
it - jokes rarely survive interpretation! The same applies
for prayers and puns!
- Don’t ever assume that your audience/interlocutor(s) is wholly
ignorant of English and so refrain from unofficial comments to the
interpreter along the lines of “Now don’t interpret this,
- Always take the time to provide your interpreter with feedback
after the presentation/dialogue/meeting. Native English
speakers are notorious for not correcting non-native speakers - be
discrete in making corrections, but do make them.
- Interpreting provides an immediate understanding of the spoken
word in another language - don’t confuse it with translating,
which deals with written texts. These are complementary skills,
but quite different in their requisite techniques - translators
rarely make for good interpreters and vice-versa.
- Being bilingual does not necessarily equate to being an
effective interpreter. Both interpreting and translating
require formal training (which is rare - few institutions teach
these skills, and there are no national nor international
standards of accreditation) and/or years of experience.
- Interpreting may be simultaneous or consecutive.
Simultaneous interpretation is the oral, concurrent
translation of a speaker’s words from one language into another -
usually via an audio/headphone system - as most commonly used in
conferences. Consecutive interpretation, on the other hand,
is most commonly used in meetings and dialogues, whereby the
speaker(s) pauses between complete thoughts, sentences, or
paragraphs for the interpreter to interpret (Consecutive
interpretation is the preferred method of the U.S. State
Department and is the method for which these guidelines are most
- Cultural awareness and sensitivity - both you and the
interpreter must stay attuned to this, but don’t fall prey to
- If consecutive interpreting is to be used, then you will need
to double the amount of time you would need if speaking only in
English — plan accordingly.
- Finally, if your interpreter doesn’t look good, you don’t look
good. While it is his/her responsibility to do an excellent job
for you, be aware of ways in which you can assist him/her in doing