On the Job: How to Introduce Yourself as an Interpreter

At any interpreting job, it’s safe to assume the possibility that your clients have not worked with interpreters. Even if they have, the interpreters they’ve worked with may not have explained to them how it works. This is why it’s helpful when you introduce yourself, to also ask if they’ve worked with an interpreter, and if they haven’t, slip in your 20-second spiel to explain your role and how the session will go.

The introduction should be short, brief, and to the point. Your goal is to convey your role and to let the clients know how to communicate through an interpreter. Sometimes you’ll find it hard to explain your role because the service provider (doctor, lawyer, etc.) may be impatient, but try your best to get through it.

Your self-introduction should include four elements.
1. Confidentiality- Everything said will be kept confidential. This applies especially to legal and medical interpreting cases.

2. First person- Everything will be interpreted in first person. If the patient says, “my head hurts,” the interpreter will relay, “my head hurts,” for the provider.

3. Flow of Communication- To ensure the flow of communication, interpreters should ask all parties to speak directly to each other and keep sentences short to ensure accuracy of the message. Interpreters should also assign a hand motion to signal pauses (in case the speaker goes on too long) to allow time to complete the interpretation.

4. Everything- Everything that is said will be interpreted, even if it was not directed to the other party. For example: If the doctor has side conversations with the nurse and you and the patient can both hear it, interpret it. The patient has the right to hear everything spoken in the room.

Here’s an example of what you can say.
My name is [Name], hired by [Agency], and I will be interpreting for you and the patient/client today. I will repeat everything that is said today, and everything will be interpreted in first person. To ensure accuracy, please keep your sentences short. If i raise my hand like this [stop signal], please pause so I can catch up. Finally, I will keep everything said here confidential.

Note: When speaking to the provider, you’ll use your source language, and when speaking to the client, you’ll repeat the same information in the target language.

What if the Provider Says He’s Worked with Interpreters?
If the provider has worked with interpreters, they may not want to or need to spend the extra 20 seconds with you to learn about something they already know how to do. Don’t force it. But during the session, if you notice that the provider is speaking to you and not to the client, you can make gentle nudges to help them speak directly to the client. This is not just about following the “rules” of interpreting, it’s also about showing respect to the client. Even though our clients have limited fluency in English, some of them still understand a little bit of English, and hearing the provider say, “tell him this, tell him that,” would not feel good to them at all.

Our role as interpreters is to act as conduits and help make  communication possible between people who speak different languages. We care about our clients and want to make sure that everyone involved is kept in the loop, that’s why we should insist on interpreting everything and monitoring the flow of communication.

Interpreters care about helping their clients communicate. {photo courtesy of xdxs}

How do you introduce yourself at interpreting jobs? What are the challenges you find? I’d love to hear from you!

Good luck and happy interpreting.

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6 comments

  1. Hi there
    Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Kate and I am an interpreter based in the UK who works in the same language pair as you. I have just found your blog and I must say I enjoy it tremendously. I am originally from Taiwan and have been freelancing since 2005. I love what I do and I respect this title very much, so keeping us on our toes at all times is crucial in terms of being professional and I found your blog is doing just that.
    I was nodding a lot when reading your posts and I agree on most of the things you mentioned. I can tell that you have a passion for languages and your job, and I believe we have much in common.
    I just wanted to thank you for the reminder. This blog is wonderfully done.
    In the UK, the introduction before sessions is pretty much the same as what you have covered, although I normally throw in the “impartiality” bit as well.
    Keep up the good work! xx

  2. […] “first line of defense” is your introduction. When you introduce yourself as an interpreter, you’re letting the client know that you are his voice and that he should trust that you are […]

  3. […] for in-person interpretation; however, because an interpreter is usually unable  to conduct the interpreters introduction as they would for in-person appointments, speakers aren’t always aware that they should give […]

  4. […] for in-person interpretation; however, because an interpreter is usually unable  to conduct the interpreters introduction as they would for in-person appointments, speakers aren’t always aware that they should give […]

  5. I agree above about the introduction. That’s key. Makes all the difference.

  6. Luna Asim · · Reply

    Hello, I am Luna Dari Interpreter for XXXX .I will interpret everything said today as accurately and faithfully as possible. Please speak directly to each other, using in short and clear sentences. I will keep everything I hear confidential unless required by law. I will remain impartial. I may take notes to aid my memory, but I will destroy them at the end of the session unless required by law. If needed, I may interrupt you to ask for clarification. Can I be your interpreter today?
    I will now introduce myself in Dari language

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