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How to Communicate Through an Interpreter

As a world traveler, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the challenges of communicating through an interpreter.

Here are some guidelines to facilitate your encounters and ensure a much more rewarding interaction.

Please do…

If you’re seated, arrange the chairs in a circle or triangle, with the interpreter to the side and just behind you.

Introduce yourself and the interpreter. Suggested introduction: “I’m Fulana de Tal and this is Maria. She will interpret what I say to Spanish.”

Face and address the correspondent, not the interpreter.

Incorrect (to interpreter): Please ask Teresa when this cathedral was built.

Correct (to correspondent): When was this cathedral built?

Maintain primary eye contact with the correspondent, not the interpreter.

Speak in the first person.

Speak at a comfortable pace, and pause after one or two sentences to allow for interpretation.

Use simple language and short sentences.


Stop speaking when the interpreter signals by raising a hand or starts to interpret.

Ask the interpreter about any cultural context or factors that may affect the interaction.

Be patient, especially when your interpreter is not a professional.

Please don’t…

Try to save time by asking the interpreter to summarize.

Expect the interpreter to clarify if the correspondent does not understand.

Engage in long discussions with the interpreter. If you must speak with the interpreter directly, the interpreter should explain to the correspondent about the nature of the conversation.


Ask an interpreter for his or her opinion.

Ask interpreters NOT to interpret something. If there is information you don’t want to share, it is best not to say it in front of the correspondent.

Expect or allow the interpreter to take over the conversation.

Use the interaction to practice a foreign language. Speak only in English. Do not insert foreign words or phrases. This is confusing and hinders communication.


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