Six Frustrating Challenges When Using An Interpreter

There is nothing more beautiful to an interpreter than a smooth-running assignment. Often issues arise and complicate matters, and usually they can easily be resolved. This article is intended to address some common, frustrating problems for users of interpreting services and interpreters,  and their easy solutions.

1. Whispering and Mumbling

This is a very infuriating problem. Interpreters cannot interpret what they don’t hear. If someone is murmuring and speaking in an undertone, the interpreter will have no choice but to slow the process down by asking for clarification. So please, for everyone’s sake, when working with an interpreter, speak clearly and enunciate.

2. Incoherent Statements

This problem drives people crazy. Sometimes, the expressions that come out of my mouth are nonsense, although in my head they seemed perfectly fine. Interpreters cannot interpret what they don’t understand. If your statement is incoherent, the interpreter will either seek clarification or render an equally incoherent statement in the target language.

3. Disrespect

I have had doctors ignore me and treat me with contempt. My assumption is that he had a bad experience with an interpreter in the past. However, that is only a guess; I have no idea why I was treated that way. My wife has arrived home to share with me several horror stories of how court interpreters were treated with disrespect. The bottom line is that as professionals, we will pull our emotions together and perform out duties to the best of our ability. However, if you eliminate that unnecessary stress and respect the person’s dignity, interpreters should be able perform their duties proficiently.

4. Don’t Look at Me!

The interpreter should never be the center of attention.  In fact, he should be almost invisible. Looking at the interpreter and saying, “Ask him how he’s feeling today,” is so disrespectful to the patient. The interpreter serves as a conduit of communication, so please talk to the patient directly. This becomes an even bigger conundrum in court where proceedings are recorded. “Tell him” and “he said” can make no sense in the court transcript when declarations should be directed to the person.

5. Body Language

Although it might be fun to watch, interpreters do not point, nod, grunt, snicker, shake their heads, or gesture. Although one might think that those are universally understood, it is better to never jump to conclusions. What might be an okay sign with your hand in the US could be a vulgar expression somewhere else. It is always better speak your answers orally, thereby avoiding any confusion.  If you injured your left knee, say so instead of pointing to it.

6. Private Small Talk

A conspiracy theorist is convinced that the interpreter is colluding with the other side. The patient sees the interpreter speaking with others in the room and is certain they are speaking about him. The case manager hears the interpreter conversing with the patient and is convinced that inappropriate advice has been dispensed. For this reason, the interpreter must repeat everything being said. If the patient tells the interpreter about the family cookout, the interpreter needs to repeat it. If the nurse is talking about a recent party she went to, the interpreter must repeat it.  If you don’t want something repeated, don’t say it in front of the interpreter. Interpreters must be a transparent conduit of communication.

I would love to hear from you about other annoying issues interpreters and users of interpreting services face.  Please share in the comments section.

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2 thoughts on “Six Frustrating Challenges When Using An Interpreter”

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  2. When I worked as an interpreter (liaison interpreting), I always took the first minute to explain to both parties that they should address each other directly and ignore me (it worked most of the times), that I will interpret everything it is said, that they should try and speak clearly. When this doesn’t work, ask for clarification, just like you said.

    I really enjoyed your post.

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