Bone-Chilling Nightmares that Will Make Any Remote Interpreter Tremble with Fear

A few interpreter with lying awake in her bed from a nightmare. The covers are pulled up over her nose.

Plus get the tools to survive them in one piece!

Interpreter lore has it that, from time to time, professional interpreters encounter situations that can be downright nightmarish.

At any moment, these horror-filled situations can creep their way into a call and create a scene so horrifying, so grotesque that even the most seasoned interpreters are left aghast. . .  

OK OK, I kid (mostly).

But if you stick with interpreting long enough, you will run into some pretty spooky situations. Don’t be afraid, though — I’ve put together a quick spell …err… guide to help you spot these common but hair-raising interpreter nightmares along with the tools to survive them.

Interpreter nightmare #1: The Jokester

Definition: an English speaker or limited English proficient (LEP) individual who insists on making jokes during the call.

In my years of interpreting, I’ve encountered a few jokesters along the way. Those who have crossed my path have often caught me off guard. They pop up when you least expect it, but it’s important to be ready to avoid an awkward situation.

Humor is a tool that we’ve all used to establish rapport when we meet someone new. Cracking a joke or using a pun in the middle of an interpreting session requires an expert interpreter who can convey the intended meaning (and, most importantly, the humor) behind the jokester’s words. An interpreter should possess quick wit and confidence to take on a joke during an interpreting call.

Survival tool: Spell it out

So, what do you do if you go blank and don’t know how to deliver the punch line?

Pretty simple: explain the joke’s punch line. It’s OK to step away from the interpreter role to explain that the other party has made a joke and why it was funny.

Offering brief cultural context in your explanation can satisfy the need for both parties to feel a connection and will keep the call flowing without putting anyone in an uncomfortable position.

Related: Celebrating Death: From Día De Los Muertos to the Hungry Ghost Festival

Interpreter nightmare #2: The Phantom Whisperer

Definition: a soft, barely audible voice that suddenly appears in the LEP individual’s background furnishing information on behalf of the LEP individual during an interpreting session.

These situations can be problematic during a verification process when confidential information is being confirmed with the LEP individual.

Survival tool: Transparency is your (ghoul)friend

If you hear this sneaky voice start to provide responses in the background, you should treat it like any other side conversation and let the English-speaking party know.

Interpretation requires a lot of transparency and call flow management. Instances when another voice is within earshot of the interpreter should be communicated to the client as soon as possible.

Interpreter nightmare #3: Ghost Caller

Definition: a speaker who goes in and out of a call, causing you to miss large portions of their message.

Technical issues like these can jeopardize the accuracy of the conversation because you can’t hear the information to begin with. Ghost callers (as we like to call them during the month of October) tend to weave in and out of hearing range, like a ghost; they are present, and then they’re gone. Scary if you’re assisting with a matter of life and death.

Survival tool: Don’t let the call haunt you

If you find yourself in this predicament, the solution is to address the lapse in audio immediately. This lets everyone involved know that there are audio difficulties present. Once you’ve addressed the situation, try to troubleshoot it to the best of your abilities. You may not be able to solve the problem, but giving it your best attempt is always a sign of good service.

Interpreter nightmare #4: The Dreadful Disruptor

Definition: one who constantly interrupts the interpreter, keeping the communication from flowing smoothly.

Interpreters may encounter a loquacious caller (or two) occasionally. Encountering this in a call can quickly escalate from a minor nuisance to a major situation that can impact the accuracy of the message delivered to each party.

Survival tool: Stop the hocus pocus

The trick is to address it early. To do this, communicate any instance when you’ve been unable to render a complete message because of an interruption. For example, you may say:

 “Interpreter speaking, I was unable to complete the last rendition due to an interruption. May I please request that I be allowed a moment to interpret the complete message?”

Promptly addressing this helps a ton with disorganized communication, and it puts the call back on track. Make sure to use this as much as needed during a call.

Always carry your silver bullet

For most interpreters, there may be a “silver bullet” to keep interactions from spiraling out of control in challenging situations; this is the interpreter toolbox with all of its protocols.

Learning the tools that are available to professional interpreters will enhance the service you provide and ultimately provide the LEP individual with the professional healthcare they need. The toolbox is extensive but thorough — offering interpreters everything they need to survive most interpreting nightmares.

Here are a few resources to enhance the service you provide as a professional interpreter:

  • Interpreter Quality Assurance Report shared by CLI’s QA Department outlining our observations during a routine review of a randomly selected call
  • Email us with any interpreter protocol-related questions, and our team will be happy to help!

In the meantime…

Creep It Real

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