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Five Pitfalls to Avoid When Working With An Over-the-Phone Interpreter

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Have you ever played the game Telephone? You whisper a message into one person’s ear and it’s shared between players until the last person says out loud what they’ve heard. The final message is often hilariously different from what you originally said. While Telephone can generate laughs, it also serves as an example of how our message can become distorted when passed from one person to the next. What was funny in one scenario can be disastrous in another.

Thankfully, interpretation services can bridge this gap when it comes to communicating with other people in different languages. Language service companies such as Language Link can connect you with a person fluent in the language you need in order to assist you. Difficult conversations can now comfortably be had with coworkers, clients, patients and everyone in between. Your circumstances will dictate which modality of interpretation is best for you, but here we’ll focus on the most commonly used, which is telephonic or over-the-phone interpretation.

For those who haven’t worked with a phone interpreter, also known as telephonic interpreter, the process entails calling into a language service provider and requesting to be connected with an interpreter. The representative will connect you and the person with limited English proficiency (LEP) in a conference call with the interpreter so that you are able to conduct your conversation. You can increase the accuracy of your message by avoiding five pitfalls while utilizing a phone interpreter. In this article we’ll talk about speaking in the first person, controlling the conversation, appropriate pausing, proper use of the interpreter, and how to prepare for difficult phrasing or terms. Here are the five pitfalls to avoid:

1. He Said, She Said

When using an interpreter, it can feel natural to speak to the interpreter directly and refer to the LEP speaker as he or she. Speaking in the first person, however, allows the interpreter to remain neutral and act as the conduit between parties and keep the conversation between you and the LEP speaker. This increases accuracy, ensures all parties will understand who is speaking and who is being referenced. For example, you would say, “Do you have a fever?” rather than “Ask her if she has a fever”. Remember, this is a conversation between you and the LEP speaker. The interpreter is there to keep your message from being distorted. Help reduce confusion and keep the conversation manageable by always speaking in the first person.

2. Losing Control

We know how easy it is to lose control of your message when passed person to person during the telephone game. You may wonder how telephonic Interpretation, a similar technique of communicating, can maintain your message and intent. Controlling the conversation and keeping it on point is essential for accuracy. Avoid side conversations or tangents between the interpreter and other parties. If the interpreter needs clarification from one party, they should inform the other party what they’re doing to ensure information isn’t being withheld. If you think you missed points, feel free to ask the interpreter for repetition or the LEP speaker for clarification. Always keep in mind this is your conversation and directing it will help the interpreter to facilitate it as well.

3. Long-Winded Dialogues

In the game Telephone, the longer your message, the more distorted it becomes. This is because our short-term memory can only retain a small amount of information. Marketing agencies, politicians and educators have long understood this and often apply the rule of three when conveying ideas. Similarly, we recommend pauses in between thoughts or after a couple sentences. This small act will ensure important details or points won’t be left out.  Likewise, you want to be conscientious about allowing the interpreter enough time to relay your message before beginning your next thought.

4. Too Many Hands in The Pot

If you are calling someone to speak with them, you clearly have a purpose for your call. You and your LEP speaker understand the purpose or drive behind the conversation, not the interpreter. Not knowing the interpreter’s background, expertise or preferences, you shouldn’t ask the interpreter for their opinions on subject matter. Instead, encourage the interpreter to make you aware of any cultural misunderstandings and clarify these with the LEP speaker.  Remember, losing control of your conversation only hinders the flow and intent of your message.

5. Gaps Between Languages

What would you call a quesadilla in English? Quesadilla! Some terminology and concepts may not have an equivalent in the language of the person you’re speaking with. Often, interpreters have to give explanations instead of individual words. For our previous example, you might say “cheese melted between two tortillas”. With this in mind, give time for your interpreter to reconstruct sentences and explain concepts. Also, speaking in English isn’t the same as thinking in English, and sometimes you may need to explain what a concept or term means so the interpreter can relay that to the LEP speaker. Being prepared and patient will prove helpful during these moments.

Your Role Matters

As our world becomes more connected culturally and linguistically, we find that communicating in different languages has become common. While interpreters are key, you add to the success of your conversation by speaking in the first person, directing the conversation, using appropriate pausing, proper use of the interpreter, and being prepared to explain some things in detail. To aid these conversations, reach out to Language Link and remember, you play an important role in ensuring your message is delivered accurately.

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