Lost In Translation: Translator Etiquette

Pretty much all the IT hardware I see at work comes from outside the UK, and while some of it is designed in the US, a good deal comes from Taiwan. Despite the fact that I’ve met plenty of Taiwanese through work, and the fact that my Chinese doesn’t really go beyond ‘ni hao’ (and the international language of pointing and smiling), I’ve never talked to anyone via a translator. This changed last week, when I got to interview Fujistu’s head of design and several senior members of their design team last week. Direct from Japan, they also had a translator with them.

I was sitting next to the translator, and across from the Fujitsu team; at first I tried directly addressing the translator as well as the Fujitsu guys – something that confused everyone there and gave me neck ache. The best approach seemed to be to basically ignore the translator and address questions directly to the Fujitsu team. This does however, leave big pauses where the translator asks your question and listens to the response, and so there is the question of where to look and what to do while you’re waiting for the translation. While this big pause is a little uncomfortable, it does force you to rely on other aspects of the interview to judge how things are going, and how to follow up questions – body language, vocal tone – different and more challenging to an interview where you know the content and context of the answers.

I was really happy with how the interview turned out; it’s always good to get to talk to senior and influential company stuff. It’ll be a while before the article comes together though – still got quite a few different people to track down….

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