It comes as a shock to many to learn there are over 350 languages spoken in the United States.
Many don’t even claim English as their dominant language. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, about 67 million people speak a language other than English at home.
As a business, current language and diversity trends like these make it evident that speaking English isn’t enough. In fact, research has shown that requiring LEP (Limited English Proficient) clients to speak English does more harm than good.
So, if you’ve decided to work with an interpreter to provide better workers’ compensation services and better connect with clients, you’re on the right track – but implementing change can be intimidating.
How do you ensure that an interpreter will provide accurate translations?
What does working with an interpreter look like?
How does using an interpreter change the dynamics of client conversations?
Fortunately, experienced interpreters can address any concerns you may have. As long as you keep to the following tips, you can rest assured that your experience with an interpreter will benefit you and your clients.
1. Set Expectations
When working with an interpreter, one of the best ways to prepare is to set expectations in advance.
Start by getting to know a bit about your interpreter so that you feel comfortable working with them.
Then, be sure to hash out any concerns and rules regarding the interpretation process. Discuss how long you expect the interpreter to work and agree on whether the interpreter will need breaks during long meetings. Don’t leave any expectations unsaid or questions unasked.
It’s also a good idea to review key differences between your language and your client’s, from sentence length to typical mannerisms, to help prevent culture shock and confusion.
2. Brief the Interpreter
Before the engagement, brief the interpreter on any important information about the client or meeting they will be interpreting for. Knowing the topic or context ahead of time allows the interpreter to prepare.
In workers’ compensation, getting details right is critical – which might be why you’re using an interpreter in the first place. If the interpreter needs to be familiar with specific medical or business terminology, it’s best to tell them in advance.
You can also work with certified interpreters who work in the workers’ comp field, so you can trust they know how to translate industry processes, concepts, and terminology.
Briefing the interpreter may not be necessary for more casual conversations or transportation services.
3. Recognize the Interpreter as a Neutral Party
It’s worth noting that interpreters don’t persuade people for you. The interpreter’s sole purpose is to serve as a non-participatory middleman between you and who you’re speaking with.
Interpreters will refrain from participating in the conversation outside of translating and won’t have side conversations during a meeting. If they do, it’s only to understand better what you or your client is saying, and they will interpret this part of the conversation.
4. Speak Directly to Your Clients
Once the meeting begins, you should do your best to speak to your clients instead of the interpreter.
You want to talk to your LEP client the same way you would if no one else was present. Talking this way helps the conversation feel natural and keeps the interaction personal to foster client relationships.
Speaking to your client means you don’t want to adjust your words for the interpreter. Don’t say “tell her this” or “ask him this.”
It also means looking at them when you speak. Looking at each other will allow you to pick up on each other’s tone, expressions, and body language – even if you’re speaking two different languages.
5. Never Interrupt
In the same way that it’s rude to talk over others in everyday life, you never want to interrupt the interpreter or your client when they’re speaking.
Interrupting can confuse the client and the interpreter by disrupting the natural flow of conversation and making the interpreter forget what they were saying. Critical information may get left unsaid, and the client may lose trust.
Always wait until you’re sure the interpreter has finished interpreting what you or the client said, and remember that it can take more time to convey a topic in another language.
6. Speak Slowly and Pause
When working with an interpreter, slow down your speaking rate, and leave a decent pause every couple of sentences.
Speaking slowly ensures that the interpreter catches everything you say, and leaving a pause gives them time to relay that information.
Pausing often provides less content for the interpreter to convey at a time, making it easier to remember every word you say. It also keeps the conversation natural and your client engaged. Otherwise, they may get bored waiting for you to finish everything you’re saying before the interpreter can share it with them.
While this practice ensures an accurate, meaningful translation, it can result in longer meeting times. Try to keep this in mind when scheduling times with LEP clients.
7. Stick to Simple Language
Another best practice for working with interpreters is using simple language. You’ll want to reduce complicated words and high-level vocabulary where you can. Doing this will make your comments easier to translate and improve comprehension for the client.
Using simpler language may be difficult, but you only need to do so to the best of your ability and never at the expense of accuracy.
Be sure to avoid metaphors, slang, idioms, and other phrases that may be difficult to translate in another culture.
8. Educate Everyone Involved
Teach everyone who will be involved in an engagement with the interpreter how to speak during the conversation. Doing so, whether they’re in a meeting with you or working with interpreters separately, will ensure that the process goes smoothly.
It’s also a good idea to educate your LEP client on the best way to communicate throughout the rest of the conversation at the beginning. Letting them know in advance will also help them understand what to expect if it’s their first time working with an interpreter.
Get the Most Out of Your Interpretation Services
If you’re looking for or have hired an interpreter to better communicate with your LEP clients, you’ve taken a massive step towards inclusivity, accessibility, and creating a better company.
But hiring an interpreter is only one piece of the puzzle. You also want to make sure that you’re prepared to work with an interpreter and have hired the right interpreter for the job.
When working in workers’ compensation, look for industry-specific interpreters, like those at iLingo2, who will be able to handle the level of detail and complexity in your field.