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Top ten tips when working with an interpreter

Ftranslationilming in a county where there is no common language can often be a challenge, and inevitably requires the services of an interpreter. They can be crucial to the success or failure of a shoot, the precision of an interview or can help the navigation through potential cultural minefields. 

With the help of translation agency Kwintessential, we’ve compiled ten tips on how to get the best out of an interpreter and consequently your shoot when working abroad.

1. Find the right interpreter

Have a clear idea of where you are going to film, who the inhabitants of that area are and what languages or dialects are spoken. Ensure you hire an interpreter who knows the region(s) or use a fixer who can source one for you. An interpreter with the right local knowledge is worth their weight in gold.

2. Establish and agree ground rules 

An interpreter works for the production and should be part of the team. You should explain to them how you expect them to behave; what you need from them; how you want them to run an interview or go about translating; jargon or idioms before they are translated; when breaks will be taken, and even seemingly trivial matters, like where they will position themselves during the shoot.

3. Brief your interpreter properly

Try to brief your interpreter prior to any face to face encounters such as meetings or interviews. Familiarise them with the whos, whats and whys of your shoot. If there is any specific terminology to be used, make sure they understand it. If you foresee any tricky issues or possible controversial topics, forewarn them. You should also explain to them how they should interact with the interviewee, and how they should act if they are seen on camera.

4. Go through scripts beforehand

If you plan to ask certain questions as part of an interview, it makes the interpreter’s job a lot easier if they can see scripts beforehand. Even if your script isn’t a final draft, it gives them an idea of the goals, the questions and the language, and offers them a chance to ask you any questions in advance.

5. Don’t speak through the interpreter

When using an interpreter to speak to someone, always engage with your counterpart directly. Even though you cannot understand what is being said, show interest, keep eye contact and remain focused. If you start to converse wholly through an interpreter you lose any chance of building trust, rapport or confidence.

6. Try to avoid humour

Most interpreters will tell you that jokes are the hardest things to translate. If you are planning on flexing your sense of humour muscle, be careful as it may not always have the desired effect. It is advisable to ask the interpreter first to see if they think it will be understood.

7. Plan your time

Speaking through an interpreter essentially doubles the length of any conversation, so make allowances for this. If you are pushed for time, compensate by either cutting down your questions, speaking in shorter, sharper sentences or simply allocate more time.

8. Do not rush the interpreter

Interpreting is a tough job; it is mentally exhausting having to flit between languages all day. To take the pressure off your interpreter as much as possible, speak slowly and clearly and give them lots of breaks during filming. If you rush them they are more likely to become stressed and the quality of the translation may deteriorate.

9. Keep it impersonal

Speaking and working with people ultimately involves emotions, and an interpreter should never translate these. If an interviewee is annoyed for example, this will be obvious in their body language and tone. Never involve the interpreter at a personal level in any discussions and if you see an interpreter translating emotions, ask them to stop. The interpreter is there to purely translate what is being said.

10. Translate only

An interpreter should only ever translate what is being sad between parties; never adding their own thoughts. Make sure your interpreter is clear that they should never answer questions on your behalf. If an interpreter starts to speak on your behalf, this can undermine your position.

Special thanks to Kwintessential for compiling this guide.

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