8 Myths about Interpreting Services Explained

Not long ago we wrote a blog about 10 Translation Myths Explained. Today we’ll debunk some myths we often hear about interpreters. Remember translation is written and interpretation is spoken, they’re not interchangeable.

knowledge-4171793_1920Myth #1 – Any Bilingual Person Can Interpret

This is a very common belief, and while it may be true a bilingual person can speak both languages, a random bilingual person is not the best choice to provide interpretation. There is a risk when you don’t hire a professional interpreter in certain circumstances, like in medical and legal settings. Professional interpreters go through extensive training to specialize in subject matters, ethics, responsibilities, how to handle difficult situations, when to ask for clarification, etc. Professional interpreters know the terminology of the field they specialize in and how to relay difficult information so you can be confident the communication is accurate and complete. If you choose to use a bilingual staff member, family member or anyone else, you run the risk of inaccurate communications, or worse.

Myth #2 – Everyone Should Speak Directly to the Interpreter

Consecutive interpreters repeat a person’s comments in the other language to facilitate conversation. They should act like a conduit for communication, like a telephone. They are not a party of the conversation; they are a background facilitator. It may seem rude to not look at them when you speak your part of the conversation, but the proper method is to look directly at the person to whom you are speaking. The interpreter should take up a place slightly outside of the conversation, next-to and a bit behind one party. The parties should speak to each other in first person and the interpreter relays the information exactly.

For example:

  • RIGHT – Doctor looks at patient and says: “Ms. Gonzales, it’s nice to see you today”.
  • WRONG –Doctor looks at interpreter and says: “tell Mrs. Gonzales it’s nice to see her today”.

The right way uses “first person” as the doctor directly addresses the patient.

The wrong way uses “third person” since it indirectly addresses the patient through a third party.

It may take some getting used, but this configuration is proper and professional interpreters will use these techniques when providing services.

Myth #3 – Interpreters are Interchangeable

Many interpreters have industries they specialize in such as medical, legal, scientific, business, etc. They either have experience in that industry or they received specialized training to understand and interpret the industry terminology of that field. When requesting an interpreter, make sure the agency understands the subject matter for the meeting/appointment so they can assign an interpreter who specializes in your field.

question marksMyth #4 – Interpreters Never Need Preparation

While it’s true that if you use an interpreter who has experience in your industry they need an understanding of what will be covered in the meeting/appointment, it’s always good practice to take the time to prepare the interpreter for what to expect. If you are doing a presentation, share the presentation slides or notes, or if it’s a business meeting, provide notes or discussion points ahead of time. Professional interpreters want to do a good job so they will take the time to familiarize themselves with the topics and terminology you will be covering when you provide materials ahead of time.

Myth #5 – You Can Start the Meeting Immediately

Rather than walking into your meeting/appointment and just getting straight down to business, it’s always good to take a moment to do introductions with the interpreter and go over some guidelines for the meeting. If there are any specific requests, questions, topics, or anticipated difficulties, explain them to the interpreter so they can anticipate your needs. Also, hear what the interpreter has to say about how to make the meeting run smoothly for everyone involved. For example, they may have pointers or tips for speaking in shorter sentences and taking pauses to allow them time to convey the message. Setting these frameworks is a good practice for the start of any meeting that includes an interpreter.

Myth #6 – Interpreters Don’t Need Feedback

The best interpreters are the ones who continually develop their skills through continued education or feedback from their clients. Languages and culture are fluid and are continually changing and evolving, plus new situations arise all the time. The most successful interpreters are the ones who keep up with these changes and incorporate them into their skillset. Also, by giving feedback to the agency about your experience with an interpreter, they can relay your suggestions and comments so that you get better and better services in the future.

question-63916_1920Myth #7 – Interpreters are Easy to Schedule Anytime

Good interpreters are in high demand so call your agency in advance to schedule your appointment/meeting. If you have a good experience with an interpreter, you can always request that interpreter. To get a specific interpreter or one who specializes in your subject matter, schedule ahead. You may be able to find an interpreter with less notice, but the best ones get booked-up quickly.

Myth #8 – Telephone/Video Interpreting is an Equal Substitute for In-Person Interpreting

In-person, video and telephone interpreting all have a place in communicating. In-person is best for sensitive subjects, long meetings, important interactions, and clear communication. Telephone is best for last minute needs, short communications, exchange of factual information, or scheduling. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is good in on-demand situations where you need a quick, confidential call with a visual component, like with hard-of-hearing patients/clients. Video “Zoom” interpreters facilitate online and remote meetings.


If you still have questions about interpretation services and what is fact vs. fiction, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate.  We use the right voice, correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. And with our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right.  Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote

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Categories: Project Planning & Management, Spoken Communications


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