Monday, June 7, 2010

The first time I spoke at an event with a language interpreter I was a bit thrown off. The interpreter sat in a glassed in room like a sound booth and the people she was speaking to wore earphones. Before we got started, I assured her I didn’t talk really fast and I didn’t think she would have any trouble keeping up with me.

About three minutes into speaking, the crowd laughed. Then 10 seconds after they were quiet, there was a second wave of delayed laugher. I smiled thinking someone in that section of the auditorium said something funny. The second time it happened, I honestly thought either all the slow reactors were sitting together or I had lettuce in my teeth that showed up on the big screen monitors when I smiled.

As it turned out, I was the one who was slow. I had forgotten those listening with the head phones were getting the message a few seconds delayed. I also know translation is generally not word for word, so there’s no telling what I said to that group. When I watch heads of state from foreign countries talking with the president I wonder if ever a war has been diverted because the interpreter softened the message between the two.

Maybe if an interpreter came with a marriage license the divorce rate would drop. Conversations between men and women are similar to two people trying to communicate in two different languages. Have you ever been in conversation when suddenly the person you are talking two says, “Oh, that’s what you mean!”

Even though you know what you’re talking about, assume the person you’re talking to is absolutely clueless. On the flip side make sure you understand what is being said to you without making assumptions. You might be able to divert a war or two without an interpreter.

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