Effectively working through a translator is actually a skill. It may seem obvious, but translators are not robots. Just because they may speak both languages fluently does not mean they can always easily convey your meaning. As the least fluent member of our TEM lab team I have had to rely on the translators for bulk of the work that I’ve done here in China. Below are a few of the lessons I’ve picked up on how to maximize their effectiveness.
1. Make sure to include them in all your meetings (Check Video).
As mentioned earlier – its not your words you want translated, it’s your meaning. It is important therefore to make sure that the translators fully grasp the message you are trying to convey. Including them in your meetings will help them understand why you might be asking something. This is particularly important during interviews. I can give you a good example of this that occurred during an interview we had with Professor Tang, an expert of the Chinese Apple Industry. I kept asking questions about how HuaSheng – a major apple wholesaler – manages the quality that each farmer sells them. I was trying to compare it to the way that All Lemon has a standard quality manual and hires 3rd party inspectors that inspect each of the production lines. The questions I was asking were met largely with answers which didn’t get to the point of comparison I was trying to make. It wasn’t until I took a few minutes to explain the way that All Lemon system worked to my translator and tell her that I’m trying to see if its similar that the question could finally be worded correctly in Chinese and got the response I was looking for.
2. It takes TIME!
Our assignment covered an absolutely massive scope. We were to evaluate the attractiveness and price points for both processed and raw lemon products. Our report was to include information not just for China, but other target markets around the world as well. It was daunting and required every minute of our available 5 weeks. We needed as much time as possible. On top of that we had to build in time for our Translators to work their magic. As you can imagine, this was not easy. The perfectionist in me wanted to keep making tweaks to all the way up to my last minute to ensure that my message and my slides were exact the way I wanted. Doing this however would not give my translators the time they needed to convert all my work.
Changes, even minor made the process much more complex. To this point make sure you set clear deadlines with buffer built in both for your work and your translators. Discuss those times and let them know if there will be a big spike in work before a presentation or big meeting. I found it best to plan in a deadline an entire day ahead of the deliverable. Also try to break up work into sections which you can send on when they are finished to avoid a big document dump.
3. Remember they are human too.
It’s very important to make your translator feel like a member of the team. Use your management training skills here. Ask about their constraints, comfort levels, and what other projects they may be working on. Learn about their goals, both for the project and in their careers. It can be helpful to get to know some about their life beyond work as well. It’s good to be comfortable with each other – after all they are trying to be the voice of your thoughts.
Practice your presentations and questions many times. Don’t forget that you both are ‘on stage,’ often in front of important people. They may be nervous, maybe even more than you, so make sure you are prepared. Even the most rehearsed presenters make minor changes when they speak to an audience. If your translator is relaxed, and confident in the message you are trying to get across, they won’t stumble or get hung up on a word change. Ultimately, your meaning will be better understood.