Phone Interpretation: Could You Repeat that Again?

In the perfect world, an interpreter will relay every single message perfectly without interruption. However, sometimes even when everything is perfect–you have the perfect phone connection, you’re in a quiet environment, you’re following all protocols for phone interpreting–there are times when a new word comes up or when you didn’t get all the information the first time around. The first thing to do when this happens is remain calm. After that, you can take the steps below to remain professional and still complete the task of relaying the correct information.

What if I don’t know how to interpret a word?
If an unfamiliar term comes up and you’re unable to interpret it, the ideal solution should be to quickly look it up. One benefit of interpreting on the phone is that you can have your internet or glossary handy. If that doesn’t work, and you happen to know the meaning of the word, interpret that. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the word and what it means, it’s okay to ask the speaker for clarification or for an alternative word. Of course we all wish we could interpret everything without any mistakes or lapses, but when you’re on the call, it’s important to be on your toes and think fast.

When to ask for Repetition, Verification, and Clarification? 
When information received is unclear, the interpreter can ask for repetition, verification, or clarification of the information. It’s important to ensure accurate information before interpreting so the callers receive the intended information. Of course the ideal would be that the information is jogged down correctly on the first try, but we are human. When asking for such information, make sure to use third person, “This is the interpreter. May you please repeat what you said after ‘London’?” Or, “The interpreter would like to verify the phone number. Is it 543-210-3429?” Or “The interpreter would like you to clarify what you mean by ‘vital signs.'”

Repetition. Asking for repetition means you’re asking the person to repeat what was said.

Verification. Asking for verification  means you will read back what you think you heard and wait for affirmation that you got the correct information.

Clarification is used when you are asking for the definition of a word. An interpreter is sometimes confronted with words for which the equivalent to the target language is not off the tip of his tongue. The first way to deal with this is to figure out from the context what the word is. Once you’ve figured that out, you can verify with the speaker if that is the correct word. However, if you still can’t  interpret or describe the term, ask the speaker for further explanation or a definition so you can interpret their response instead.

One more tip about asking for clarification: always be specific about the information you need again. If you missed the zip code, ask for the zip code.

What if the speaker talks too much and I’m unable to retain the information?
In this case, gently interrupt the speaker and ask them to break the information into smaller segments, so details are not missed. “Ma’am, this is the interpreter, may you please break down the information into smaller segments so I can ensure accuracy of my interpretation? Thank you.” You’d be surprised, but people can be accommodating–they want the same thing you want, which is to pass on necessary information to the person on the other end of the phone.

Hope this is helpful. Happy interpreting!

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