7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters

It is almost too easy to find guides on how to work effectively with interpreters. You can choose from videos, articles and even blog posts. What you don’t often get, however, is a guide on how to annoy interpreters and make sure that no one understands each other. You can rely on LifeinLINCS to fill that gap! This week’s edition will only cover conference interpreting, since so many of our previous posts have demonstrated how to annoy Public Service Interpreters. So here is our list of 7 Ways to Annoy Conference Interpreters.

7. Give them as little info as possible

We all know that conference interpreting is an easy job really. It’s not as if you need training or anything to do it. So, with that in mind, how better to wind up interpreters than to tell them as little as possible about the job you expect them to do. Surely, they can interpret fine without knowing what the conference is about. Obviously, they don’t need to know about any of the speeches. Their knowledge of mechanical engineering terminology will be just as good as their knowledge of critical theory, won’t it? After all, conference interpreters are nothing but walking dictionaries, aren’t they?

6. Read from a manuscript

There is nothing interpreters like better than a speaker whose intonation, speed and attention are knocked off course by the supreme effort it takes to read word for word from a manuscript. In fact, it is even better if you mumble while you read. That shows just how intent you are on getting things right. The best thing about reading from a manuscript is that it scores two goals with one shot: not only do you annoy interpreters, you also get to bore your audience!

5. Make sure they can’t see a thing

This might seem strange. Interpreters work with language. Surely they don’t need to see you too. Well, leaving aside for the moment the fact that not all language is spoken (e.g. sign languages), it is surprising how many problems you can cause interpreters when you make sure they can’t see you. Life gets even more fun if you are using PowerPoint or any kind of visual aid.

4. Tell rambling stories

Ah stories, the speaker’s friend. What better way to liven up a speech on yearly accounts than with a story of how you first met your accountant? Of course, with stories, the longer, the better! You see, the longer your story takes, the greater the risk that the interpreter (and probably also your audience) will forget what on earth you are on about. Plus, with the propensity of interpreters to actually look for the ideas behind your words, you get a decent chance of confusing them thrown into the bargain!

3. Hire awful equipment

To be fair, this one is harder to pull off nowadays with the range of companies supplying equipment that actually does what it says on the tin. But, if you can find booths that aren’t soundproof, headphones that have spiky edges and poor sound quality and desks that wobble loudly then you have the perfect setup to make life difficult for your interpreters. Top all that off with poor (or very loud) air conditioning and you can even make them sweat too! Fantastic!

2. Blame them when it all goes wrong

Now, if you combine all of the strategies above, the likelihood is that quality will suddenly become poor and the interpreters will begin to look forlorn and frustrated. You can alleviate this completely by telling the interpreters that all the problems and all the misunderstandings are their fault. Threaten to never work with them again if they complain. Call them unprofessional. It works every time!

1.    Call them “translators!”

Of course, if reading from manuscripts, given no information, and hiring awful equipment doesn’t get the required result, make sure you call interpreters “translators.” It shows that you care enough to not care about the difference between the two professions.

Editor’s note: the opinions given in the article above are not the opinions of the editor, Heriot-Watt University or even the author. Readers ignore the irony in the above at their own risk.

Author: Jonathan Downie

31 thoughts on “7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters

  1. So true! And (hardly) comforting to see that our problems are universal!
    One item one might add to the list is the use of puns, untranslatable jokes, cricket terms, and bits of poetry, with the added comment “I wonder how the interpreters are coping with that…”

  2. Pingback: 7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters | lifeinlincs | On Interpreting | Scoop.it

  3. Pingback: 7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters « abletranslations

  4. All too true, but you missed one:

    Bang on the microphone to see if it’s working. If you want the interpreter to remember your mother, do this several times in rapid succession. After all, what’s the difference between someone speaking loudly and a loud banging noise in an interpreter’s headset. Right???

    • Speaking of microphones, there’s also the other extreme: Not switching it on, and starting talking. All of a sudden, everyone in the hall turns towards the booths, and there comes “Take two”, where the speaker stops, switches on the microphone (hopefully without banging on it!) and starts talking, often faster than when he started, to make up for the lost seconds!

  5. Brilliant! It made me laugh so hard, and once I finish the comment I’m going to read it again, I love it! I worked as an interpreter (and as a translator, that’s how I know they’re not the same!) for almost 15 years, and now, looking back, I’m trying really hard to find one conference whose organizers/participants were not guilty of one of the “crimes” listed. As far as No. 7 is concerned, not only was I (and my colleagues) given just the title of the conference more than once (“This way you can look for terminology on the Internet”!), but often, when asking the speakers for material, the would say, “It’s nothing difficult, I’ll just read my notes”! And some of the best moments were when the speakers would try to go from channel to channel on their devices before the conference started or whenever there was a break!

  6. Pingback: 7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters | lifeinlincs | Sign Language Interpreting | Scoop.it

  7. Hello, hallo, hola, aloha interpreters across the modality divide ,

    Microphone, what’ for?? Is the audience deaf and needs this auditory system? Your voices will reach them at the speed of sound! No sound barrier to overcome.

    This all in chest

    A sign language interpreter

  8. Pingback: 7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters | Addicted to languages | Scoop.it

  9. I am sure everyone will have heard the story about the person who wanted to take the headset home at the end of the conference in order to be able to listen to foreign radio stations…….

  10. Pingback: 7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters | Translation and interpreting news | Scoop.it

  11. I find it pretty straightforward – if I catch myself doing any of the above I speed up massively so it’s over for them more quickly. Just as long as they don’t miss any nuances that’s fine.

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