Interpreting at Company Meetings

As globalization and immigration change the way business is done, many corporations find that if a meeting is truly company-wide, it requires communicating in more than one language. Specifically, this often means gathering both English-speaking employees and those who have Limited English Proficiency (referred to as LEP’s) together at their worksite.

In this article we’ll cover the benefits of ensuring these meetings include the best possible language interpretation, and the methods for achieving it.

Benefits of Interpreting

Obviously, the top benefit is that there is better understanding, and therefore fewer errors regarding the subject of the meeting. For example, SWITS has interpreted employee benefits meetings that would be practically impenetrable for an LEP. Covering these subjects in the employees’ own languages may be the difference between zero understanding and complete understanding, or the difference between a few costly errors and many!

In addition, clients have seen the following benefits:

  • Inclusion efforts raise morale—Putting the right language services in place is a very visible sign you value these employees, which is good for morale and building rapport.
  • Reduced reticence—Being able to speak to and through a neutral party tends to make employees less hesitant about asking questions, leading to fuller understanding and fewer errors.
  • Increased buy-in—LEP’s who hear presentations in their own language will be more likely to embrace the programs described, because they will have greater understanding and a higher level of comfort.

Best Practices

Once you’ve decided to provide interpreting services at your company-wide meeting, a few simple steps can ensure it’s a complete success.

Begin by assessing your situation and deciding on simultaneous or consecutive interpreting. Simultaneous interpreting is the mode we see in places like the United Nations, where an interpretation is provided as the speaker is talking. Consecutive interpreting is when the speaker pauses frequently so the interpreter can then interpret the message.

Each has pros and cons. Simultaneous interpreting may require additional equipment (such as the headphones famously seen at the UN) and/or may be distracting. Consecutive interpreting avoids those problems, but will increase the length of the meeting. Discuss this with your language services agency and decide which will be best for your audience and goals.

Other best practices include:

  • Asking your language services agency to provide translations of all written material, visual aids, Powerpoint slides, handouts, etc., so you are completely understood.
  • Providing all the materials to the interpreter as far in advance of the meeting as possible. This allows them to familiarize themselves with the content and flow of the meeting as well as any specialized terminology. This will also help them advise you on the next practice.
  • Properly dividing and/or staffing the meeting. Take the time to determine the optimal interpreting setup. This doesn’t just mean your audio setup and sightlines, though these are important. Interpreters should work for 30 to 45 minutes non-stop for the best results. The easiest way to achieve this is to divide your meeting into sessions of that length with breaks in between. If that’s impossible or unwieldy, two interpreters can be present, trading off every 30 to 45 minutes.

Conclusion

Once companies begin using interpreting and translation services, they often realize it was a necessary operational cost and profit booster all along. Understanding and being understood is priceless, and builds an invaluable rapport with your company’s most valuable asset, your labor force.