Monday, November 21, 2011

The Dark Power of the Interpreter

Imagine that you are walking through a labyrinth. You are trying to reach a room at the end of this labyrinth; however the way is rather difficult. Now imagine that your difficulty has been compounded by a rather thick blindfold wrapped tightly around your head. It may not have been very bright of you to go stumbling into this labyrinth blindfolded; however you did make one good decision before heading in: you hired a guide to lead you to your destination.

Of course, you didn’t hire just any guide, you hired an expert. This guide can not only deftly explain the terrain that lies ahead of you, but is also a master at navigating the long and complex labyrinth. With the help of this guide, your success is most certainly assured. Or is it?

OK, clunky allegories aside, this is the sort of power that interpreters hold over their clients. If you are not at all versed in the customs and language of the people with which you do business, your interpreter becomes your sole life-line and best hope of landing a deal.

Given just the importance of the interpreter’s role it would behoove anyone to pick only the most skilled or highly qualified individuals to act as their linguistic sherpa. Of course, they’re not likely to come cheap.

In this case however, it may be wise to pony up the dough for a professional rather than take your chances with a less expensive option (amateurs/friends/relatives/that foreigner that lives in apartment 3B). Let’s take a look at some of the most basic mistakes made by amateur interpreters.
Omission: this is simply when an interpreter leaves something out. Why they would do this is anyone’s guess, however rather than chalk it up to ill will, we can surmise that it more likely stems from a lack of experience or limited expertise. Obviously, you want an interpreter who can not only understand everything being said, but can also communicate everything precisely to both sides.

Addition: as you could guess, this is very near to the opposite of omission, and is when the interpreter adds information that was not expressed by the original speaker. You can imagine the sort of trouble that this would cause, and why you would want to avoid it. (“I don’t remember offering a 15% discount…”) 

Condensation: this is when an interpreter summarizes, or even resorts to explaining, what the speaker has said. In a best case scenario the listener only gets the gist of what was expressed, and in a worse case scenario the listener misses critical information.

These are just a sampling of the basic errors made by inexperienced interpreters; however the havoc that they could wreak on a business meeting, as well as the aftereffects they could have on your own job, should be clear enough. 
What one can do to avoid running into these problems is simple: always hire qualified, experienced interpreters. The best way to ensure that the person you are hiring is truly qualified is to thoroughly check with their qualifications and references, or to ask your own associates to recommend an interpreter with whom they have had success in the past. This may seem jaded or untrusting (or even like too much work), but in the end it is you who needs to navigate the labyrinth –so you had better bring someone who knows their way around!