Should I Use an Interpreter When Doing Business Overseas?

As featured in Dynamic Export eMagazine.

As much as English is a widely-spoken language in cross-border dealings, interpreters are key to ensuring your message is not only delivered, but well understood in the manner it is intended.

In this regard, interpreters are not only an important extension of your team but also representatives of your intentions, personal and negotiation style.

The job of an interpreter is highly technical and finding the right fit for your needs is a process which requires some of the following considerations:

  • Skill level – The context and purpose of the meeting will dictate the skill level and experience required from the interpreter. An introductory meeting, follow-up relationship building/social engagement or a negotiation?  A bi-lingual colleague may be appropriate in some contexts but not others.

  • Industry experience – ensuring the interpreter knows the relevant processes and industry terminology will make the interaction more streamlined.

  • Consecutive or Simultaneous interpreter – both styles have its advantages and it will depend on whether you want to establish a more flowing conversation (simultaneous) or deliberately pace and direct the conversation (consecutive).  Consecutive interpreting is more common in business but may not be the most suitable for group discussions.

Working effectively with interpreters requires commitment to ensuring they have all the necessary information to best convey your message.

In this regard, briefing interpreters is critical and providing them with the necessary documents well in advance will help them to properly prepare for the job.

The debrief is just as important as your interpreter will be more tuned into any subtle shifts in tone or signals from the other party that may not have been otherwise expressed verbally during the meeting.

Getting to know your interpreter and allowing the time for them to get to know your style, tone, mannerisms and speaking pace is also helpful.

Relationship building

With every cross-border interaction, even with interpreters in the mix, the relationship building aspect of that engagement is still taking place.

When using interpreters, remember to always speak directly to the other party and look directly at them when they reply, not at your interpreter.

Also, never assume the non-English speaking business person doesn’t have some grasp of the English language. Reserve any side comments for your interpreter to the debrief session.

Choosing an interpreter is not just a matter of making a booking.  Depending on the reasons why you might need one, look to work with the same professional to build a strong rapport for long-term cross-border business interactions.

As a final note, establish confidentiality terms. Interpreters may require access to information that is considered confidential but instrumental in their understanding of your objectives.