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Interpreters: How to avoid becoming lost in translation


Fans of the long-running sci-fi show Star Trek will need no introduction to the universal translator. The device instantly interprets almost any language, earthly or alien, into (US) English. Chinese must have been a doddle for the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

Alas, for everyday business purposes we are not yet at the universal translator stage. Millions of pounds have been poured into the development of automatic translation systems but human capabilities are still superior. Anyone who has used internet translations will vouch for that.

Communication is, of course, everything when you are doing business and it is vital that you find an interpretation service on which you can rely.

Teresa Tinsley, director of communications at CILT, the National Centre for Languages, says: “A business meeting with foreign language speakers may have far-reaching implications and you could find yourself in a negotiating or confrontational climate. In a situation like this, your representatives must have a near-native command of their counterparts’ language if they are to persuade effectively.”

So how do you guarantee that what you say will be properly communicated?

Ms Tinsley says: “Unlike translators, who normally work at home, interpreters have to work ‘in the field’, without time for reflection or references. Therefore, you need to look for somebody who is socially knowledgeable and resourceful as well as linguistically competent.”

She adds: “When looking for a business interpreter, you should try to find someone who understands the occupational context of your meeting and has the experience, if necessary, to operate under difficult conditions, such as in a noisy workshop. Interpreting is stressful work and it is normal for a client to engage two interpreters for a full day’s service. Also remember to engage your interpreters well in advance if you want to be sure of getting the best.”

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