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Interpreting for poor speakers of English?
Thread poster: Lingua 5B

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 23:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
Aug 17, 2016

I was just wondering... in case you are a native speaker or proficient non-native speaker of English and there's an interpreting project. They say the client can speak English. You go to the interpreting site, meet the client, and realize the client's level of English is poor or average at best.

How do you adjust interpreting then? Do you use simple and/or slow English after you have estimated it's the only English the client would be able to follow? Have you ever had this happening?

Thanks!


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My interpretation (but it needs further work) Aug 17, 2016

I was just wondering: imagine that you are a native speaker or a proficient non-native speaker of English and you have an interpreting job. You have been told that the client can speak English. You go to the interpreting site, meet the client, and realise that the client's level of English is poor or, at best, average.

How do you adjust your interpreting? Do you use simple and/or slowly spoken English after you have come to the view that this would be the only English that the client would be able to follow? Has this ever happened to you?


[Edited at 2016-08-17 09:14 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 23:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Tom. Aug 17, 2016

Are you involved in interpreting? We are talking about spoken language here, so that's a totally different world. Some clients will be able to read an English text but it will be difficult for them to follow spoken English.

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Also this Aug 17, 2016

Lingua 5B wrote:

Are you involved in interpreting?


Yes. I've done it for many years. The important things are that when interpreting into English, my English must match exactly what is being said in the other language. If I am interpreting into another language (Italian in my case) my Italian must be at least credible to the Italians who are listening to me. There is nothing else to be said. I have never tried to simplify what people are saying. That would be *bad interpreting*. The interpreter must be 100% faithful to whatever the speaker is saying.

If anyone in the room even suspected that the interpreter was in any way manipulating or simplifying what any of the speakers was saying, that interpreter would very quickly find themselves unemployable.

[Edited at 2016-08-17 09:20 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 23:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
OK, then... Aug 17, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

Lingua 5B wrote:

Are you involved in interpreting?


Yes. I've done it for many years.


Then you should be aware that changing three dots into a colon will not help the client understand you if you need to pronounce something quickly or use wording difficult for them in order to be able to convey a message correctly. And it all happens in nanoseconds, while they can take the whole day to read your sentence (written language).

"Our client can speak English only". OK you get there and the client can't follow but simple sentences, while the other side wants to engage in a detailed conversation.

[Edited at 2016-08-17 09:20 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
See above Aug 17, 2016

See amended post above

 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 23:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That was not my question at all. Aug 17, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

Lingua 5B wrote:

Are you involved in interpreting?


Yes. I've done it for many years. The important things are that when interpreting into English, my English must match exactly what is being said in the other language. If I am interpreting into another language (Italian in my case) my Italian must be at least credible to the Italians who are listening to me. There is nothing else to be said. I have never tried to simplify what people are saying. That would be *bad interpreting*. The interpreter must be 100% faithful to whatever the speaker is saying.

If anyone in the room even suspected that the interpreter was in any way manipulating or simplifying what any of the speakers was saying, that interpreter would very quickly find themselves unemployable.

[Edited at 2016-08-17 09:20 GMT]


My question was: have you ever had the client who could not follow your interpretation because their English was not up to par?

Perhaps you have always interpreted for native Italians and native English respectively, I don't know. I often interpret in international environment. So, while what you are saying makes sense, I would say it's off-topic here.

When this happened to me, it slowed down the whole process for me, for the client, and for the other party probably by 50%. Because the client could only speak and follow slow English and also needed everything repeated many times.

[Edited at 2016-08-17 09:27 GMT]


 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:04
French to English
Interpreting into a language where the client has limited proficiency Aug 17, 2016

Tom, I think Linda is not wanting her English posts to be fine-tuned, but practical suggestions about what to do in the situation she is describing.

Lingua 5B, I have interpreted quite a bit on and off over the past 15 years. When interpreting (from French) into English, my native tongue, then it is quite possible that those who are non-native speakers of English will understand what I am saying less well than a native speaker of English would. A lot depends on context. In my experience, the following are some of the elements that come into play. I also interpret into French in interview question/answer situations. (I don't translate professionally into French).

Passive/active language ability.
An individual generally understands to a higher level than the level at which he can express himself. A non-native speaker may speak quite badly but in fact understand really well.

Specialist area.
With technical expertise and specialist knowledge, a person who is not a very proficient speaker, nor even a proficient "understander" of the language he is listening to, can often follow to a reasonable level.

Interpreter's responsibility.
This is the tough one! If you have been commissioned to translate into, say, English and those who depend on your English version do not have the level of English necessary, they are the ones who over-estimated their ability. Either that, or for economic reasons, the one seeking your services for that person, made a choice that is not tailored to that client, and/or the choices made available to the person in question did not include a language in which he is proficient. None of that is the interpreter's fault and it must be very uncomfortable for both parties.

In such cases, you can only do your best and make the best of a bad job. After all, your job is to provide as faithful a version of what is being said (simultaneously, consecutively, whatever). You have a certain number of choices but that should never include altering what the speaker is saying.



[Edited at 2016-08-17 10:39 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 23:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Nikki. Aug 17, 2016

In most cases, speaking and pronouncing very slowly worked well, in case the client overestimated their ability. But it was odd, yes.

Not altering the message, but construction/wording had to be simpler at times.

Of course that I always prefer interpreting for a native speaker, but that's not always the case, especially not for English. And yes, I was referring to someone whose general comprehension or speaking level is bad, regardless of a specific situation or subject-matter.


 

polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
As an interpreter of many years standing Aug 17, 2016

I have experienced this type of situation on several occasions.

If I am interpreting simultaneously, then it is unlikely that I will be working for one person, so I speak naturally - i.e. as slowly and clearly as I can (without getting left behind). Diction is vital.

If it is consecutive interpreting, it can be different. There may be several listeners or only one. If there is only one, I have on occasion spoken to the client and explained that my translations might have to be a bit lengthy to explain things in simple vocabulary. The client is usually quite happy because, if the interpreter doesn't help out in this way, then things may be misunderstood or there may be heaps of questions at the end clearly flagging up a lack of understanding. If I see the person looking dubious, I will even ask if he or she is OK or needs more explanations.

For me, an interpreter is there to help people of different mother tongues to communicate with each other, even through a third language.

We have to make decisions based on value judgments in particular situations. It is the end result that counts.

And @Tom : this doesn't mean that things are omitted from the translation - rather the reverse !

One last point : when working with two languages and in both directions, it is sometimes necessary even to pad in the return language when a delegate speaking pretty incomprehensibly makes an unclear statement. (He said.... I think he meant....)


 

EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:04
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
This was most often the case Aug 17, 2016

in English, and in some instances in French when I used to interpret. You say "for a client", do you mean for just one person? Consecutive? So if he/she doesn't understand, he/she can ask, cannot they? But most often, there was a roomful of people whose level was very heterogeneous. I just avoided too difficult words as far as possible, but in interpretation, you are in a hurry and cannot always think of a simpler manner to say things.
The main problem, though, was to UNDERSTAND people speaking the language poorly.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 03:34
English to Hindi
+ ...
Nothing much can be done... Aug 18, 2016

In such a situation, there is hardly anything that can be done. You can try to keep your English simple, but your success in this will depend on how complex a language the speaker of the source language is using.

If there is a common language between you and the people you are interpreting for, which is better understood than English, then using that language in place of the poorly understood English could be a possibility. But you will quickly have to check with your client if that this is ok, as if they happen to be listening in to what you are saying, and if they don't understand this language, they might object.

In all such cases, it is always a good idea to do a thorough preliminary investigation to assure yourself that the people you are interpreting for actually speak and understand the language which they are said to speak and understand.


 

Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 16:04
German to English
+ ...
several situations Aug 18, 2016

In the past I only interpreted occasionally. I decided a few years ago to drop interpretation entirely from what I do, because I'm too busy already with translation, and that is where my training lies.

The interpretation I did was not in contexts such as conferences and such, where there is a rigid protocol. Generally it involved interviews of a professional with a client. Often the client was semi-bilingual and I was there as a safety factor. We usually discussed how they wanted me to handle things before the session actually started.

The case that comes the closest was a man being interviewed by his lawyer on a refugee claim. No interpreter existed for his people's language. The language he was fluent in was the language of his oppressors which was scary. He spoke a fair bit of German, with a heavy accent. His wife was there, and when he was hunting for the German word, they'd discuss it in the other language, of which I had some knowledge, so sometimes I'd know what word they were hunting for.

In this case the lawyer's main purpose was to get the facts straight. I told him of the situation of languages, and when they had trouble coming up with a word, he allowed the discussion between them of finding the word they were looking for. Once the missing word was found, the actual interview with interpretation resumed.
-----------------
One type of interpretation that I did the most often was in the context of insurance claim investigations. A doctor would be hired to examine the claimant, and the session itself would be along the lines of "Lift your arms." "Does this hurt?" or if it was psychological, "Do you experience anxiety?" But these sessions were always preceded by a kind of legal disclaimer in complicated legal language, like an oral fine print. More than once the client was illiterate or semi-literate, poorly educated or similar. In all cases but one, the examiner wanted me to paraphrase into simpler language, because you had to be a lawyer to understand any of it. I would turn one long sentence into three, and leave out the "whereases" and "heretofores".

There was one exception. I was in the waiting room with the client, as we were kept waiting, and we conversed. It became apparent that I could only use simple words and simple sentence structure with her - comprehension was very limited. In the session we came to the legal preamble bit, which he read out from the sheet instead of me seeing a copy of it. It was especially complex and legalese. I asked his permission to paraphrase into simpler language, and was denied. As I went on, her face registered increasing incomprehension and anxiety. The examiner stood up, thanked me, dismissed us, and phoned the agency that had hired me saying I was incompetent since the client clearly didn't understand me. The agency had my back, especially after I explained the circumstance. Even if it had been read out to her in her own language, I don't think the client could have understood the content. Like, if you are an English speaker but unfamiliar with the law, a lot of the fine print we tend to get thrown at us is gobbledygook.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 20:04
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Each situation is unique, just try your best Aug 20, 2016

Once, in a company I worked for, I was in my office, and got an internal call from the technical trainer who, as far as I knew, was interpreting a presentation by a foreign visitor on some new product. He asked me, "You've gotta come down here to help me out." That trainer's story was quite complex; in a nutshell, he was from Macao, looked Chinese, had a Portuguese name, but spoke Portuguese fluently with a visibly American accent.

I went down there, was quickly introduced to the visiting speaker, and he went on, "Und heer der poomp konnekts too der valf, und vee get zee oel laufing, I mean, flauwing...", as I immediately interrupted him to explain that, in spite of my surname, I didn't understand any German at all, only English. He rebutted, "Bott I voss schpeeking Englisch!" I thought that was a matter of opinion, however we tried our best to convey the ideas to the engineers in the audience.


Decades later, as a sworn EN-PT interpreter, I was hired for an arbitration hearing. Upon my arrival, I learned that I would be interpreting for two expert witnesses from overseas. One was an Italian who lived in Spain; the other was a German who lived in his home country.

Later I realized why they hired an English interpreter: it was the only common language to both! They decided it would be half of the cost of hiring two interpreters. Considering the nine-digit figures mentioned in some documents there, and about two dozen visibly high-priced lawyers attending for both sides, that was a foolish decision.

I was chatting with the Italian in his own language before it all started, and he was quite happy to have an interpreter fluent in his language. However then I had to warn him (in Italian) that I could only interpret him officially in English, the foreign language I am licensed for (I am unable to translate properly into Italian - no point in trying to get sworn). He shuddered, but we moved on.

When his expert deposition began, it took that Italian too long to express his thoughts in English, and I was advised that he'd have to leave soon for the airport, on account of his return flight. For the record, most educated Brazilians can indeed understand Spanish. So the audience took a vote, and there was unanimous agreement to hear his testimony in Spanish. I'd ask him the questions in English, which he understood. If anyone had any questions, we'd sort that out using a mix of English and Italian to get a satisfactory answer.

After we got that finished, the German came up. He spoke English very properly, slowly, however in a low voice and with an extremely heavy "akzent". Whenever a German proper name came up, something sounding like, "Ludwigschöngrossschaftenwerken Eenschtitoot at Kronensteinkraftschaubmeisterstadt" (I made up these names), he'd shoot through it like a bolt. At first I halted him and asked the audience "Did you all get that?", to which everybody surprisingly nodded. So I got them to agree that I would translate any of these as "that name". Anyone who didn't "get it" should raise a hand, and he would repeat it. This didn't happen once!


So the solution is to take it on your stride. Every interpretee will be rooting for their assigned interpreter to do a great job, so they'll do their best to help you do your best.


 

Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:04
English to Japanese
+ ...
Watch "Lost in Translation" Aug 20, 2016

A perfect non-competent interpretor of Japanese and English.
If you watch this movie, you'll see all the incompetence of the interpretor not being able to speak English fluently but also omitting important words which should be conveyed to Bill Murray are always cut and short. You'll get an idea of what happens when a interepretor with low target language proficiency interprets for you,


 
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