Photo by Brad Miller

Photo by Brad Miller

Five do’s and don’ts when using a translator abroad

By Brad Miller

If you are a traveler, and not a magical language genius, chances are you are going to be using an interpreter from time to time. Interpreters are wildly talented, utterly essential, and almost always misused by foreigners. Here are a few tips for the next time you find yourself blessed by a language mediator.

DO: Sit Opposite

If possible, arrange yourself (sitting or standing) so that you are facing the person you want to speak with and the interpreter is by your side. This is symbolic in that the conversation is between the two of you and the interpreter is the bridge. It’s also practical; if they are opposite the interpreter and you are on the side, you’ll find yourself having to look away from the person you are speaking with in order to listen to your interpreter.

DON’T: Talk at the Interpreter

A good interpreter translates directly and they speak in first person. When Ksusha says “Pryvit!” a good interpreter says “Hello!”, not “Ksusha says hello.”

So when you speak through an interpreter, speak though them, not at them. Don’t ever say, “ask Ksusha how she is doing.” Just say, “How are you doing, Ksusha?” and trust your interpreter to, well, interpret.

DO: Make Eye Contact

It’s easy for a translated conversation to feel impersonal, but it’s important to make the person you are speaking with feel engaged. The best way to do this is to make eye contact when you ask them a question, and keep eye contact when they respond. Even if you can’t understand the words until they are translated, you can still understand the emotion behind them. And they will understand that you are actively listening.

DON’T: Check Your Watch

Yes, translated conversations run twice as long as normal ones, but when you don’t share a spoken language, body language becomes essential. A quick, innocent glance at your watch or a check of the clock on the wall shouts in any language that you don’t want to be there. Unless you expect to leave right that minute, refrain from checking the time.

DO: Say Thanks

Be sure to thank everyone, especially your interpreter. It is very hard work, and translating conversations that you never participate in can feel alienating or thankless. Make sure they know how much you appreciate what they do!