Neil Payne

Article Summary:

How to work efficiently and effectively through an interpreter.

Working Through an Intrepreter

English has rapidly become the major language of international politics, trade and commerce. However, this does not mean it is the world language. It still competes with other major languages such as Spanish, French and Arabic.

In the business world, using interpreters to overcome the language barrier is a necessity. Even if there are common languages between business people, interpreters are still preferred for a number of reasons.

Interpreters offer the following advantages:

  • Interpreters are trained professionals in specific languages, meaning they can ensure communication between sides is as clear as possible.
  • Having an interpreter allows you to speak in your native language, ensuring you express yourself succinctly.
  • Using an interpreter helps minimise possible costly misunderstandings.
  • For tactical reasons in negotiations an interpreter can help you bide time to formulate responses.
  • If properly briefed, an astute interpreter can help you with presentations and negotiations by working with you to achieve goals.
  • Interpreters assist in overcoming cross cultural differences and can act as guides in cross cultural matters.

If you are planning to use an interpreter, the following guidelines should be considered prior to any business taking place:

  • Fully brief your interpreter - inform them of who you will be meeting, the issues that will be discussed, any technical language that will be used and any potential uncomfortable situations that may arise.
  • Discuss your aims and objectives for any meeting or negotiations with the interpreter and your strategy.
  • If you are using an interpreter for a meeting then provide them with an agenda and talk them through it.
  • If you are giving a speech, provide a copy of the speech and ensure they understand any complicated language.
  • Speak slowly and clearly as this gives the interpreter time to digest your words.
  • Take breaks in your speech regularly, for example at the end of each sentence or statement.
  • Avoid long and complex sentences.
  • If you plan on making a joke, check it is culturally transferable with the interpreter.
  • Avoid slang, metaphors and colloquial expressions.
  • Try to let the interpreter finish before commencing the next point.
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience or group and not the interpreter. However, periodically check your interpreter is keeping up and is comfortable.

Interpreters should not be viewed solely as language assistants. In addition to helping you overcome the language barrier they can also assist in many other areas such as organisation, formulating strategies and advising on cross cultural differences. It is critical to see interpreters as not working for you but with you.

Neil Payne has travelled, worked and studied extensively in the Middle East. Based in London, UK, he has successfully completed an MA in Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS University. Drawing on his experience as a language teacher, translator and cultural consultant, he has established Kwintessential Ltd., a cross cultural communications consultancy that provides cultural awareness training, language tuition, translation and interpretation. For more information, visit our "Cross Cultural Communication section" at

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