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Lost in translation? My tips to help you work effectively with translators in meetings!

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I grew up in a valley town close to the Himalayan foothills in the north of India. My mother was from the south and we visited her hometown and other places once a year during summer break. I have a memory from when I was four years old where we’d arrived at a crowded train station and I did not understand a single word that was spoken. My mom was the first translator I “worked” with and she was great.


Fast forward several years, I remember being on a call with a client from Japan where only two people including me spoke English. This was a four-hour-long call where we reviewed the user interface of a large enterprise application and discussed enhancements and new features – very taxing. I could sense that everyone’s patience was waning thin and appreciated how my translator was helping keep the mood light by being patient with both sides and translating the message minus the emotions. I think I’ve learned a lot since then having worked with clients from all over Europe and Asia.


Here are a few tips to help you succeed in meetings where you are completely dependent on a translator:


Translators are professionals -

Think of them as colleagues whose sole objective is to help you and all attendees succeed in a meeting. Partner with them early, do not fight them or lose patience, be polite and respectful.

 

Prepare for the meeting in advance -

Always write to them a day before the meeting with a single line summary of each slide highlighting key points that you want to stress on. This helps them prepare and nothing comes as a surprise to them when you do your presentation. Send them a list of technical words you intend to use - abbreviations, jargon, product language, etc – review their translations of these so there is no miscommunication.

Be culturally sensitive and understand how meetings are conducted and how business communication happens in that country.

 

Make sure your annunciation is clear -

Call your translator before the meeting for them to familiarize themselves with your voice. Walk them through a few slides and take note of how long you can speak before you have to pause for them to translate. Develop a rhythm and practice speaking with them for five minutes on this call. You’ll know if the meeting is going to go well if your translator sounds relaxed and if there are no interruptions when you speak. It's best to be slow and precise than fast and confusing. 

 

Make use of meeting chat -

Start a private chat with your translator during the meeting. This has saved me countless times, especially if the client asks a lot of questions. Also helps you set the tone if you are unfamiliar with the translator as they will appreciate this channel of communication and you reaching out to them with a friendly greeting and introduction via chat. 

 

Avoid jokes (if possible) -

While wit is good, not all jokes translate well, and your entire pitch might fall flat.

 

Be an active listener, observe body language, empathy is good -

Translators oftentimes sanitise messages before transmitting them. An agitated client might say several things that are intentionally ignored by the translator so be an active listener and pick up on audio or visual cues. You can even request the translator to ping you “honest replies” on chat. Remember that a translator in some cultures will always be polite. If there is an argument during a meeting, keep the translator out of it. It’s not their fight.

 

Reach out to me if these tips have helped in some way, please share your own.

If you are a translator reading this – Thank You, have an excellent day!


Further Reading -

  1. https://www.languagenetworkusa.com/blog/6-best-practices-for-video-remote-interpreters
  2. https://interstartranslations.com/guidelines-for-organizers-participants-and-chairs-of-bilingual-and-multilingual-meetings/
  3. https://www.accelingo.com/technical-translation-best-practices/
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Technologist | Heads Digital Workplace APAC | Learner
Hello! I love playing the guitar, photography, gaming, food, talking to people.
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