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02 June 2018

Working with Interpreters – Seven Essential Tips

Overcoming the language barrier is the first major obstacle to negotiate when conducting business in China. To solve this problem, companies need to employ a professional interpreter to facilitate smooth communication between both sides.

Working with Interpreters - Serica Consulting

Although the interpreter does the vast majority of the work, it is important to recognise that it is a collaborative process, so developing a strong working relationship is essential for success. Here are seven essential tips to help you effectively collaborate with your interpreter to achieve your business goals.

Choose a professional interpreter

This might sound obvious, but it is essential. The difference between professional interpreters and simply someone who can speak English is huge. Poor interpretation is a killer for your message in a business setting. You are strongly advised to speak directly with the interpreter over the phone before making a final decision, so you can be sure they are the right match. If all goes well, try to use the same person for multiple assignments so that you may establish a familiar working relationship.

Meet beforehand

Ideally, you should meet with your interpreter a few hours before the scheduled meeting or event to ensure they are well versed in your business and understand your goals and objectives. The more clarity and context they have, the better they can help represent you.

Send documentation well in advance

Send a glossary of the technical terms you will use, copies of materials that you will reference, slides that you will show, etc. A good interpreter will always want to be prepared and familiar with the materials. Non-disclosure agreements are standard when signing a contract, so providing materials should not be a problem. Finally, if you make any changes to the agenda or the materials, inform the interpreter as far in advance as possible.

Factor in additional time for your talk

Because you will be speaking slower than usual, and your presentation or material will effectively be spoken twice, you should budget your allotted time accordingly. Consecutive interpretation is the most common method for business, so you will have to cut your material in half. For example, if you have two hours of presentation time, you can’t prepare more than one hour of material because everything must be said and then repeated in the target language.

Address your audience

A professional interpreter is there to be your voice and will almost seamlessly integrate themselves into the room without standing out. So, maintain eye contact and speak to your audience directly. Vocal intonations, facial expressions and body language still convey a great deal of information, regardless of the language barrier.

Speak slowly and enunciate

Even professional interpreters need the time to mentally process the information, so speaking too quickly risks many of your ideas getting missed. The key is to take your time and pause regularly, giving your interpreter time to eloquently convey your message.

Avoid humour and colloquialisms

Use simple words and skip the colloquialisms and idioms. Avoid jokes as they rarely translate well. However, sometimes anecdotal humour, perhaps a funny experience that you have had, can be a wonderful way to build rapport with the audience.


By hiring a professional interpreter and following the tips above you can ensure your message will resonate with your target audience and not get lost in translation. Your interpreter is your partner and successful collaboration can often mean the difference between success and failure.