What to Expect from an On-Site Interpreter

If your business or organization works with non-English speaking or Limited English Proficient (LEP) customers or employees, you likely have a need for an interpreter. Interpretation involves the “rendering of spoken or signed information from a source language to a target language in oral or signed form, conveying both the register and meaning of the source language content,” according to the International Standards Organization (ISO). It is also important to note that interpretation is different from “translation,” which involves the conversion of written text from one language to another.

Interpretation itself is usually broken down into two main categories: “Consecutive” and “Simultaneous.” The former involves the speaker pausing briefly after every few sentences to allow the interpreter to interpret what is being said, while the latter involves speaking nearly simultaneous with the speaker, such as one might see during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

In today’s increasingly diverse society, where more than 25.1 million people in the United States are considered non-English speaking or have limited English proficiency as of 2015, there is an ever greater need for interpretation services and qualified interpreters, not to mention if your organization deals with international audiences and organizations. The need for interpretation services touches almost every industry imaginable and a multitude of situations, from court proceedings and legal depositions to healthcare appointments, business negotiations, international conferences in virtually every field, and even communicating with non-English speaking or LEP employees within your organization, just to name a few.

Over-the-phone (telephonic) interpretation and video remote interpretation (VRI) have become increasingly popular options to fulfill the need for an interpreter. However, while these options can help clients to keep costs down or to fulfill a request for a low-density language interpreter in an area without any professional interpreters available for an in-person assignment, there are still many situations where an on-site interpreter is preferable, and it may not even be as expensive as you think!

In order to set your assignment up for success, you should verify with your prospective language service provider (LSP) that their interpreters are qualified, what type of certification(s) they may have based on their particular language pair, have experience in your subject area, and have signed a professional code of ethics as it pertains to professional standards and confidentiality.

When you have determined your need, selected an LSP with which to work and scheduled your session with an on-site interpreter, there are a few important things that you can expect at your upcoming appointment:

  • The job of your professional interpreter is to facilitate understanding in the communication between two or more parties. Their responsibility is to interpret exactly what is being said without editorializing, providing additional context, or commenting on the nature of the topic;
  • The client and LEP individual(s) should sit facing each other so that they can make direct eye contact, with the interpreter positioned at a 45-degree angle to the side of the LEP individual. The conversation should be between the client and LEP individual(s) speaking directly to each other, and the interpreter is not a part of the conversation, but rather simply a facilitator for communication;
  • The interpreter should brief all parties (in both languages) before beginning the meeting about how to communicate through the interpreter, what to expect and to clarify the interpreter’s role, so there are no misunderstandings or confusion;
  • The professional interpreter should speak in the first-person, repeating exactly what the speaker has said. For example, the interpreter should avoid saying things like, “He said that …” or “She wants you to know that …” Likewise, the client and LEP individual(s) should avoid saying “Please ask him/her …” or “Please tell him/her …”;
  • The client and LEP individual(s) should speak clearly and in short segments for accurate interpretation, avoiding excessive jargon or slang, and explaining any acronyms;
  • The interpreter is likely to take notes during your assignment to assist with the interpreting process and is entirely normal. If there are confidentiality concerns, you may request that the interpreter hands over their notes when the assignment has concluded.

Finally, in order to ensure that your interpreting assignment will be as successful as possible, you should provide the interpreter (or language service provider) with as much background information or reference material as possible so that the professional interpreter can prepare in advance and research any specific terminology that is likely to come up during the course of the assignment. If you follow all of the above guidance, you are certain to have a positive, successful experience with your LEP customer and interpreter.