Working with Interpreters
By Patricia Pringle
The Japanese promote foreign language education to meet the needs of their global businesses. Nowadays, Japanese multinational companies recruit for English ability, and many meetings between Japanese and Americans take place entirely in English. However, interpreting is still needed for critical meetings when language is an issue. Interpreting can break through the language barrier and enable the Japanese and Americans to concentrate on the substance of the discussion. Each side can express itself and be confident that the message is conveyed accurately.
I am a consultant based in the United States, helping Japanese and Americans work together effectively in global teams. Because I speak, read and write Japanese fluently, clients will sometimes ask me to interpret at business meetings. I also refer professional interpreters to my clients. Sometimes the request for an interpreter is made only after attempts to communicate in English have not worked out. When this happens, clients often expect that bringing in an interpreter will be the “silver bullet” that solves all communication problems. I’m glad that they have such confidence in interpreters! However, using an interpreter but conducting the meeting the same as always may not be the most effective way to communicate. Working with the Japanese requires effective communication skills that go beyond simply language. Based on my own experience and the comments I hear from other interpreters, here are some tips for effective use of interpreters when you want the best possible outcome.
Preparation Before the Meeting
Determine your need for an interpreter as early as possible. This will enable you to contact several interpreters and find the one best suited to the work. Find an interpreter who has knowledge of your industry/technical area. Ask the interpreter sign a confidentiality agreement, such as a Non- Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
Provide the interpreter with information/materials. Advance preparation should consist of more than, “I’m glad you are here. Here’s the conference room. Let’s get started.” The interpreter is left to figure out the subject of the meeting and who is participating! The more background information you can provide, the better the quality of the interpreting. The following information is very helpful:
•A list of the participants from allã€€groups participating, includingã€€company names, the full namesã€€of the individuals, and theirã€€titles
•The meeting agenda
•Materials to be used at the meetingã€€(a draft version, if the finalã€€ver sion is not available in advance)
Arrange a short meeting with the interpreter in advance of the meeting to go over the agenda and the materials. Even a five-minute briefing can give the interpreter enough context to grasp the overall picture. If the purpose of the meeting is to solve a particular issue, it is helpful to share the background of this issue in advance.
The majority of interpreters provide consecutive interpretation at business meetings. For consecutive interpretation, the speaker says a sentence, pauses, and the interpreter relays the message in the target language. Then the speaker says the next sentence, and the process is repeated. Each speaker must pause after every thought or idea to ensure the quality of interpretation and the rhythm of discussion. It is not a good idea to try to speed up the pace by speaking in paragraphs, or even worse, one very long sentence! This may cause the interpreter to leave something out. Also, this will make it much harder for the Japanese who are listening to your English follow the thread. You may think that consecutive interpreting wastes time because everything has to be repeated twice. In fact, this aids in clear communication. The breaks during the Japanese interpretation will give you time to mentally simplify and clarify what you are going to say next. You may find that the Japanese can understand your English quite well!
Talk to the Japanese
Always look at the person you are speaking to, not at the interpreter. Remember, you are communicating with your business partner, not the interpreter.