On the Job: What Is that Word?

Part of being a good interpreter is the continual expansion of your glossary and your knowledge in interpreting. Whether it’s through listening to industry talks, reading industry blogs, networking with other interpreters and learning from them,  as long as you’re learning and building on your skills, you’re doing your part on this front.

Here’s a quick tip for expanding your glossary:
When on an assignment, keep track of the words you stumbled upon or had to take a moment to remember, and add them to your glossary when you get home so you will remember them for the next time.

xdxs, micho, say what,

Say what? Photo courtesy: xdxs.tumblr.com

You might ask, “What do you mean ‘if you don’t know a word’?” Despite our title as interpreters and translators, we still aren’t all-knowing and may still encounter unfamiliar terms. This is a fact, and it’s alright. So what should we do when we get stuck on a phrase? Well, I have three tips here:

1. Remain calm. Don’t freak out! It’s going to be okay.

2. Remember your role. The default role of an interpreter is a conduit, which means that you are to keep the flow of communication without adding to, omitting from, or distorting the message.  With this in mind, do not try to omit the word by avoiding what you don’t know.

3. Just ask. If you don’t know a word, ask. Your clients need you there because they need your help in getting their intended message across. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t make you a failure. Instead of guessing the equivalent to the target language, ask the speaker for clarification of what she meant by the specific word: “The interpreter is unfamiliar with the phrase ‘xx,’ could you please define it or clarify what you mean by it?” Sometimes, you’ll know the translation after you hear the definition, and would be able to go back to interpreting the complete utterance. If you still don’t know the equivalent to the target language, interpret the definition instead. This will allow you to keep the flow of communication without construing the message.

At the end of the appointment, if the parties were able to successfully communicate and get what they need from the conversation, you will have fulfilled your purpose. Congrats!

It’s okay that we don’t know everything. The important thing is to learn from our experiences and to maintain the mentality of lifelong learning.

Just keep learning and happy interpreting!

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