There’s a song in the musical Evita called “Rainbow High.” It shows Evita’s transformation from the girlfriend of the Argentinian leader to a representative of the country. I’m going to draw on that today to discuss how important your appearance, manner, and attitude are when you go into a meeting to interpret.
First of all, be alert. Show your clients that you are listening to them.
As far as eye contact is concerned, there are many different theories on the subject. But your ultimate goal should be to get the listener to watch the face of the speaker while listening to your interpretation. In light of that, I find it easiest if I also keep my eyes on the speaker. I have found that the listener is less likely to watch me if I am watching the speaker. And when his attention is on the speaker, he is less likely to say “Tell him I said ….” because it feels unnatural. I know some people who look at the ground the entire time they are interpreting but I find that rather disconcerting.
If you are male, this is easy. Make sure your hair is well groomed. If you are female, it is best to keep your hair pulled back (or at least half back). It makes it easier to take notes and makes you look more professional in a Japanese business setting. (See Nikkei Woman article for reference.)
Focus on how you move your mouth. Remember that you are effectively giving a presentation every time you interpret, so be sure to enunciate each word clearly and not to slur your words. The listener will not be gathering as much from the speaker as you will so make sure that they are able to catch every word you say.
Ok, maybe this one doesn’t apply very much but I am going to make it fit! When you are sitting in a meeting, you must pay attention to your posture. Never slouch. If you are male and American, don’t cross your legs or put one ankle on the opposite knee. It is not appropriate in Japanese business. The same goes for women. Here is a brief guide from Nikkei Woman.
What you wear to interpret will be determined for the most part by what type of function you will be interpreting. If you already know you are going in for a high level meeting with executives, wear a suit, even if you will be in a booth. Don’t ignore your appearance just because you will be in the back of a room or in a booth. Make sure you are dressed as if you could lead the meeting. This will show your clients that you are serious and your translations are reliable.
However, make sure you know what environment you will be in before you go. Don’t wear heels if you will be out on a baseball field. Don’t wear a skirt if you will be giving a tour of a wind turbine factory. Dress slacks, a nice shirt, and comfortable, yet business appropriate, shoes is the best way to go. Also, remember that, depending on the circumstance, you may end up standing or walking for a long time. Come prepared!
Monitor your voice as you speak. If you are not using equipment and not doing whispering interpreting, your voice must be clear and loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. If you are doing whispering interpreting, be sure to speak loud enough for your client to hear but quiet enough so as not to disturb the speaker. You should never actually whisper. Also, take into account the age of your listeners. There may be some who have less ability to hear due to age and you should adjust your volume accordingly.
Follow the style of the original message while adapting to the audience as necessary. If you are greeting a group of prospective customers, address them as formally in the target language as they were addressed in the source language, providing that it is culturally appropriate.
Here is an example of what I mean by “culturally appropriate”: Sometimes equivalent formality of Keigo in English is too polite and puts customers at a distance. Since business relations in the US are often based on congenial but business-like friendships, it may be best to forgo the more formal types of English depending on the situation and the individuals involved. Major cultural differences that can affect your job are something you should talk about with your client beforehand.
At the same time, I believe you, as an interpreter, have the responsibility to adjust for your audience. I once interpreted for a older Japanese gentleman who was giving a talk to a group of blue-collar factory workers. When I interpreted the complex manufacturing terms he used into their English equivalents, the audience looked at me as if I might as well have been speaking Japanese. Even though I was using English terminology, they were words that this audience of native English speakers had never heard, rendering my interpretation meaningless. Though some would say that it is the responsibility of the speaker to adjust accordingly, the words he was using in Japanese would have been common knowledge for most factory workers in Japan. I believe the interpreter can and should use language that the audience will understand, even if that means changing the register of the dialogue.
This is another one that is hard to fit, but I can make it work. Let’s start with physical movement. Avoid shifting in your chair, swaying back and forth, and moving around as much as possible as these movements distract from the speaker. As far as metaphorical movement, or the flow of the conversation, be sure to keep track of what direction the conversation or presentation is moving in. Particularly when you are doing simultaneous interpreting, it can be easy for words to flow in one ear and out your mouth without ever really reaching your short term memory. But, if you can grasp the direction that the discourse is taking, it will be easier for you to anticipate the kind of questions that might be asked or the next information the presenter might talk about. Follow the movements.
I suppose I could go on to “hands, magic, rings, glamour, face, diamonds, excitement” but that seems a bit of a stretch. Still, keeping these simple things in mind will help you polish yourself as a professional interpreter.