Let me introduce myself – the interpreter’s introduction

Vector handshake

Vector handshake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When you arrive at a meeting where you will interpret, you will have to introduce yourself. Well, maybe not if you’re part of the staff at an international institution, then you’ll just slip into your booth and do your job. But in all other contexts you will have to tell somebody who you are and what you’re doing there. So how do you go about it?

 

When I arrive at a more conference-like meeting I will just see the person responsible for the interpreters and a short: “I’m Elisabet Tiselius, Swedish booth”, will do. The only thing they’re interested in is that we are there and ready to start working. If there’s a particular tricky terminology or concept you may go and see your delegate and ask for clarification or explanation, but otherwise you sit tight and wait for the meeting to start.

 

In public service meetings though, it’s very important that you give a clear introduction in both your languages. You cannot assume that the participants have worked with interpreters before, and even if they have worked with an interpreter before, you cannot assume they are familiar with the ethical guidelines for interpreters. Shenyun Wu gives very good advice on his blog Their Words, Your Voice.

 

On our first interpreting exercise class the students are asked to create a written cheat sheet for their interpreting presentation. I ask them to put the following there:

 

1) The interpreter’s impartiality, 2) everything expressed in the room will be interpreted, 3) the participants are responsible for the conversation and must address each other not the interpreter, 4) the interpreter uses the first person, 5) the interpreter observes absolute confidentiality, and 6) the interpreter will ask questions if anything is unclear.

 

The cheat sheet should be written in both their languages and they must start using it immediately at exercises so that it become their second nature. It’s important to keep it short and simple, just as Shenyun Wu writes, many case officers will not see the importance of taking an extra minute to clear those things out. Yet, it is important for the interpreter to stress these points, too often it is obvious that the client or the case officer/doctor/lawyer is not aware of the interpreter’s role or responsibilities.

 

And what about interrupting? Shenyun Wu includes a note on interruption in the introduction. I think it may be a good idea. To interrupt smoothly is an art and something budding interpreters need to practice a lot as well. I will come back to that in another post.

 

My students notice, when they do their compulsory interpreting observations that there are still many both professional interpreter users and professional interpreters who do not know of, or use, the interpreter’s introduction. This is unfortunate as it strengthens and clarifies the role of the interpreter. So, what do you do? Do you introduce yourself? How do you do it? And do you find it helpful?

 

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14 thoughts on “Let me introduce myself – the interpreter’s introduction

  1. Thank you for this post and happy New Year to all.

    Introductions are indeed extremely important, so I would like to add a couple of ideas. Anybody’s first introduction, whether we like it or not, is the way we look. This is probably the most basic element of nonverbal communication or, as I prefer to call it, multimodal communication. Collados Ais pointed this out very neatly in some of her work. So, definitely, dress the part. Your posture and facial expression is also extremely important. An open, corteous, willing-to-communicate posture will definitely enable you to receive at least some of the attention you want to start and complete your introduction or to discuss some of the difficult terminology with your client, delegate, etc. Remember that context is the key and we are active parts of that context, as we help build it as much, or more, as any other participant in an event.
    Don’t forget to introduce yourself also to other booths’ colleagues. They are just as important as the one who is sitting with you in the booth.
    I certainly agree that in community interpreting introductions are even more important, as there is a much more direct contact among participants. Here the interpreter’s body is more exposed, so use it as an ally, not as an enemy. Remember that all of your body is communicating, so the issue of impartiality is much more than neutral words (is that truly possible?) and intonation.
    Thanks for letting me share these thoughts and have a great year.

  2. I recently had a German-French assignment in Switzerland. Nothing particular to consider, I thought, after almost thirty years of practice on this market (you know, like Japanese do not shake hands, etc.) Well, I was mistaken. I had been in contact with my client, Mr X, per email prior to the conference – everything normal so far. When I arrived on the location and met him face-to-face for the first time, I spontaneously held out my hand for the first introductory handshake (in my world, I treat everybody equally). His sudden and visible withdrawal of his whole body so as not to touch me in any way was a shock. Mr X was in fact an imam and I was a mere woman. This occurrence reminded me that inter-cultural differences are not always linked with languages or a change of country.

    • A whole life in this career and you have never anicipated this?
      Interpreting for a high level govt delegation from the Arab countries visiting the US, I witnessed a woman refusing to shake hands with a US college president. The tragedy is that she is a graduate of an American university! Live and learn and spread the word about cultural differences 🙂
      ed salama
      Arabic conference interpreter
      B

  3. Did we ever consider introducing ourselves from the booth? (“Good morning, my name is… and today I will be interpreting the conference into language X for you”, instead of the usual “Can you hear the channel X?” or “English is on channel 1, German on channel 2, etc..” I would be interested in knowing if anybody does it. And do we want to loose the quite cosy booth anonymity?

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  5. My name is Ilir, and I have been a conference interpreter based in Tirana, Albania, for ten years. Thank you for this very interesting post. Sometimes, in the heat of the debate on technical issues, we forget to talk about such simple but equally important things.
    I would also add another type of situation where introduction is also very important: when we accompany such technical delegations as IMF, the World Bank and the like, to working meetings with various officials and people. I always go in last (unless I know that the head of the party will definitely need interpretation with the host, in which case I stand next to him) and with clear voice I introduce myself by giving my name and my function, usually when I shake hands (We are a hand-shaking culture) with the host. I never take it for granted that the head of the party employing me will remember to introduce me and, more importantly, my function.
    Good luck with the blog, and a Happy 2014!
    Ilir Baci

    • Thank you Ilir, and welcome! You’re right, those delegations are very similar to the type of liaison or business interpreting that for instance Lionel Dersot does. In many of those situations the interpreter takes some kind of cultural mediator role too.

      • My name is Ingeborg Skaten and I am a Sign Language interpreter, and teacher at the bachelor interpreter-program in Bergen, Norway. I find it so interesting to read what you Elisabet post here! – and although the Sign Language interpreters world in some ways differ from yours – we have so much in common, I think. How to introduce yourself as an interpreter, is absolutely something our students have to learn. When they sit for their exam – the practical one, that is – they are evaluated not only when they performe as interpreters but also when presenting themselves to the hearing and deaf partners initially. In my experience, that is “the moment of truth” in a way. There they establish (or not) the trust which is crusial for the interpreter – and the interaction, taking place.

        Interesting, also to read the comments here on cultural differences. That is relevant to us, as well. My own strategy is to let the other person take the initiative to a handshake if I have reason to think that could be an issue, me beeing a woman meeting a man.

        Thank you, again, Elisabet for your blog and all the inspriation I get from following you!

  6. Pingback: Around the web – January 2014 | A Smart Translator's Reunion

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