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?