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Facilitating Language Access: Working with Interpreters (Part II)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

hands paperwork Latinx Latin@Written by: Patricia Celis González, Bilingual Content Coordinator for The National Latin@ Network, a project of Casa de Esperanza.

Last week we published Part I of this blog, which focused on explaining different types of interpretation.  To access last week’s blog please click here­­­­­­­­­­­­.  This week we are releasing Part II, which focuses on tips for working with bilingual staff who may at times find themselves having to interpret, as well as it contains different tips for working with interpreters.

Tips for working with bilingual staff

Many organizations hire bilingual staff with knowledge of the language spoken by the populations they primarily serve.  Having bilingual staff is truly an asset to any organization; however, it is important to note that bilingual staff might not necessarily possess enough language proficiency to always be able to provide accurate interpretations for every situation. The following are tips we hope are helpful in working with bilingual staff.

  • Encourage your bilingual staff to reach out for help when presented with words they may not be familiar with. Create an organizational culture committed to high accuracy around language provision.
  • Develop systems within the organization that allow you to assess the real proficiency and interpreting skills of bilingual staff. Don’t just rely on staff saying they are bilingual or on seeing them hold conversations in the target language. Being able to hold basic every day conversations does not guarantee staff possesses enough vocabulary or knowledge of the language to accurately interpret or translate.
  • Carefully assess if and when to use bilingual staff who are not professional interpreters in fields and/or situations where their involvement could have sensitive implications. For example, the legal and the medical fields use very specific and often complex terminology, and a seemingly minor error or inaccuracy could be the cause of serious and detrimental consequences for survivors.

Tips for working with interpreters

If your organization hires professional interpreters to satisfy different needs related to language access provision, here are some tips on finding the right fit:

  • Reach out to other organizations that may have used interpreters and ask them to recommend professional interpreters whose reputation has been established through their collaborations.
  • If possible, prioritize interpreters that have worked in the field and are familiar with field specific terminology.
  • It is better to work with experienced interpreters who may not be familiar with the field and familiarize them around key terminology and culturally/field sensitive approaches than to hire interpreters considered to be familiar with the field but who have poor interpretation skills.
  • In the case referrals from other organizations to reputable interpreters in the field may be lacking, the safest is to contract with certified interpreters. A good resource to identify skilled certified interpreters in your area can be your local court websites which often list the contact information for court certified interpreters.

While working with interpreters during events or conferences, the following tips can be useful to help make the interpretation process easier and the experience of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) participants successful:

  • From the onset of the event and as part of your shared housekeeping items, inform everyone present that interpretation is being provided for LEP participants. Ask the audience to to please keep in mind during the event the following suggestions:
    • To speak slowly. Some languages require a larger number of words than used in English in order to convey the same idea (this is called ‘expansion’). Spanish, for example, requires an average of 20% to 25% more words to express the same concept. This means that normally a Spanish interpreter’s output is around ¼ more words spoken using the same amount of time as the person speaking.
    • Speak clearly and loudly to facilitate proper understanding.
    • Avoid slang and terms specific to particular geographic areas. No matter how knowledgeable interpreters may be, it is impossible for anyone to know every term used in every corner of the world.
    • Pay attention to cues. When you speak, pay attention to cues from the interpreter that could indicate he/she didn’t hear or understand something you said and may need you to clarify.
    • Use the microphone. Encourage everyone to use the microphone even if saying something short. Interpreters talk at the same time they listen and if the person who is speaking is using a low voice, is facing the opposite direction or is not using the microphone, the interpreter could hear his/her own voice louder than the voice of the person speaking and he/she won’t be able to hear him/her. When interpreters have difficulty hearing they might need to resort to either interrupting the speaker to ask clarification or to request for the speaker to use a louder voice or might need to walk closer to the speaker in order to hear clearer, both situations in which interpreters could become an unnecessary distraction to participants.

Some other useful tips

Interpretation work requires rigorous concentration levels and thus requires de use of at least two interpreters when services are needed for longer periods of time such as events and trainings. The human brain will only render accuracy and sharpness in translation for short periods of time. For this reason interpreters who work together will typically switch every 15 to 30 minutes.

If your organization owns interpretation equipment, make sure to test it prior to the event. If you are able to, bring with you extra equipment – transmitter/microphone, receivers/earphones- in case of any unforeseeable malfunction. Always carry extra batteries. Organizations that don’t possess their own equipment can always look into the option of renting it.

Because interpreters have to talk for long periods of time, it’s always helpful to provide drinking water at their table as well as notepads and pens for notes taking. Encourage interpreters to feel comfortable to ask if at any point there is anything they do not hear or understand. A good interpreter will always make sure to ask if this was to happen, but coordinating some type of system on how to this communication is to take place, makes everyone’s job easier and helps the quality of the event. Two systems commonly used to communicate with speakers while providing interpretation are hand gestures or paper signs that are raised to call the speakers attention whenever necessary.

We hope this blog is helpful to the work that you do. If you have any questions or would like us to recommend resources, interpreters, interpretation equipment, possible Language Lines you can work with or anything else that may be of use for your organization to provide better language access, please feel free to reach out to Patricia Celis, Bilingual Content Coordinator at pcelis@casadeesperanza.org. Thanks to Pierre Berastain for his useful edits in the process of finalizing this blog.

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