I first started working with interpreters my first year after law school. My work focused on civil rights for people with disabilities, and I first learned about the laws ensuring equal access as well as proper etiquette when working with someone whose first language was not English or who had Limited English Proficiency (LEP). I won’t cover all the laws here, but suffice it to say, there are a number reasons it’s beneficial for us all to learn to work with interpreters and to know when it’s appropriate to do so.
Below are my top 7 tips:
1. Speak with the interpreter(s) prior to the start of mediation!
- Introduce yourself to the interpreter(s) and speak briefly with the interpreter prior to the start of mediation.
- Give the interpreter(s) a little background information about the matter, including the names of the parties and a brief description of the case.
- Ask interpreters if they prefer to introduce themselves and clarify their role or if they would prefer you do so in your opening statement.
- Ask the interpreters to verify the parties understand them at the beginning of the session.
- If you have a copy of document(s) you intend to use, provide one to the interpreter either before the mediation or as soon as you can at the beginning of the mediation.
2. Speak to and look directly at the LEP party, not the interpreter.
- Speak directly with the LEP person, not the interpreter.
- Keep in the mind that the interpreter is not a party to the mediation. The interpreter’s role is more of a communication tool – and your focus should be on the mediation recipients.
3. Take frequent pauses.
- Pause after a couple of sentences or once the concept is complete. This may seem unnatural; however, as you continue to work with interpreters, you will begin to find a natural rhythm.
- Clarify points as you go.
- Pauses help to minimize interruptions.
4. EVERYTHING you say will be interpreted, including sidebars.
5. Avoid slang and acronyms when possible.
- Sometimes slang cannot be easily interpreted into another language.
- Speak clearly and in general terms.
6. Speak slower, not louder.
- I don’t know if this is true for all cultures, but I have noticed that sometimes people start to speak louder to someone who is LEP. This will not help the person understand, and may lead to frustration on both parts.
7. Allow extra time for the mediation.
- Interpretation may increase the time you normally allot for mediation.
- Generally, I increase my mediation time by 20 minutes for each hour.