Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Blog: How to Request an Interpreter

(The guest blog below was written by Linda Golden, Interpreting Project Manager.)

Over the last year, I have answered many, many calls and emails from clients (or potential clients) requesting interpreters. Regulars know exactly what they want: Arabic on Friday at 3:00 PM for a two-hour diabetes consult.  Others need a little more guidance. Here are a few things to keep in mind – and on hand – that will make requesting an interpreter a smoother process.

“Arabic on Friday at 3:00” is useful information, and we’ll need that eventually. But first, what’s your name? Are you calling from a doctor’s office?  A hospital? On behalf of a lawyer? And has your company worked with us before? If you’re a new client, we’ll need extra information from you – be prepared to let us know how you found out about us and where we should send a bill. If we’re already working together, we’ll be able to fill your request more quickly.

Know Your Needs
A language service provider can’t provide service unless you provide the language your client speaks. Try to be as specific as possible – is it Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese? Spanish from Mexico or Cuba? Like American English and United Kingdom English, the same language spoken in different countries has differences. That’s not to say that an Arabic interpreter from the Sudan can’t interpret for an Iraqi, but knowing ahead of time what to expect will help her prepare.

If you’re not sure what language your client speaks, there are a couple of tools that can help. “I Speak Cards” present the phrase “I speak ______________” in a number of languages, with the English name of the language next to the phrase. Ideally, the limited-English speaker will find his or her language on the list, point to it and solve your mystery; however, this only works if the client can read in their language. In Every
Language has these cards – just request them.

If you know where your client is from, another resource is Ethnologue. Ethnologue lists languages both by country and language name. It also gives alternate names for languages and can help you figure out if there are variants of the language.

Details, details
In addition to language, you’ll also need to provide details like where and when you’d like the interpreter to provide services. Is there a suite number? Is there more than one wing to the building in which your office is
located? What will the subject of the appointment be? A deposition requires different vocabulary than a parent-teacher conference, and a parent-teacher conference requires different vocabulary than a laparoscopic
cholecystectomy. If the meeting will include written materials like handouts, discharge instructions or Power Point presentations, consider sending us a copy of those materials, or even having them translated.  Providing this information will allow the interpreter to better prepare for the appointment.

When calling to request an interpreter, keep in mind that interpreting takes time, so an appointment or meeting that usually takes 30 minutes may take an hour. Plan and schedule accordingly. Finally, if you’re calling more than one company, keep some notes so you know who you’ve called and who will be providing an interpreter. Double-booking interpreters only costs you money, and if you need to give feedback about the interpreter, you don’t want to waste time calling the wrong company.