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Achieving excellence in interpreting – Part 2: Creating a culture

Businesses today face many challenges, from universal commercial concerns such as managing costs and winning new clients, to considerations that are unique to certain industries.

One goal that many organisations share is to create a truly engaged, highly productive workforce, comprised of employees who are willing to go above and beyond to deliver the best possible results for their clients.

But what is the most effective way to go about this? At Language Connect, one of our priorities has been to build a positive, rewarding working culture, which we believe has a vital role to play in the delivery of a high-quality service, particularly in our interpreting business.

Strong working culture and how it supports good interpreting

Promoting a strong working culture is seen as an important part of how Language Connect operates, so there are various processes in place to support this goal.

Firstly, as part of the recruitment process, we seek to find out more about our potential employees as individuals. As well as testing their technical skills in interpreting and assessing their qualifications, we try to gain an idea of what sort of person they are and whether they are a good fit not only for a particular role, but for the culture of the business as a whole.

We also make a special effort to create a sense of community among our interpreters. Every Christmas, we arrange a gathering of our employees working in this field, sometimes inviting people to bring along festive dishes from their home countries and to share their own seasonal traditions.

The idea behind this is that it creates a sense of engagement and strengthens the relationship we have with our interpreters, as well as allowing people to have fun and to get to know each other.

This, in turn, contributes to feelings of reliability and trust, which is beneficial for the individual, the business and our clients. People who feel that they know our company well and enjoy working with us are more likely to be loyal and to take on more assignments.

Overall, good working relationships and strong personal associations with our interpreters contribute to better services and end results for our clients. We strive to apply the personal touch in our working culture, which encourages our language professionals to uphold the same standards in their work with clients.

Why working culture is so important

The growing importance of a strong, positive working culture is something that has been evident in various industries in recent years.

Workers are increasingly showing that job satisfaction and engagement are about more than just pay and monetary benefits. It's becoming more and more common for people to look for jobs that allow them to make a positive difference or achieve some sort of fulfilment beyond financial gain.

Being part of a rewarding working culture can play a big part in this, particularly when the job involves working with people to achieve things that can make a positive difference to their lives. This is something that interpreters – particularly those specialising in fields such as healthcare – experience on a regular basis.

Recent research has emphasised just how important it is for people to find their jobs worthwhile and gratifying.

Professional recruitment firm Robert Half surveyed more than 2,000 people working in the UK and found that 68 per cent want to get on well with their colleagues, while 66 per cent want to find their jobs interesting. Other common priorities include having a sense of accomplishment (63 per cent), being proud of their organisation (60 per cent) and feeling appreciated by their bosses (50 per cent).

Phil Sheridan, director at Robert Half UK, said: "When attracting candidates to work for their organisation, businesses are increasingly needing to sell the career potential, the employer brand and the organisation culture at the same time."

At Language Connect, we attach a lot of importance to our working culture and building a sense of community, trust and personal engagement within our network of interpreters and linguists.

We believe this contributes to loyalty, commitment and reliability, which helps the business to maintain high standards and provide the best possible results for our clients.


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Interpreters require a personal approach

Achieving excellence in interpreting – Part 1: Overcoming challenges

There are many intricacies and demands involved in the delivery of interpreting services, particularly in sectors such as healthcare, where a high level of subject matter expertise is required, along with a sensitive approach to what could be delicate topics of discussion.

As a result, businesses and organisations using interpreting services want to know that their chosen partner can provide the resources and skills required to do the job well.

One of the most effective ways to determine this is by looking at how the interpreting service provider has overcome significant challenges in the past.

Common challenges in interpreting

Interpreters often find themselves working in fairly busy environments, where they face the difficult task of ensuring a clear understanding of what the speaker is saying and relaying that message to the recipient.

Often, the job of understanding what a person is saying involves not only having a strong technical grasp of the language in question, but being aware of factors such as cultural context, regional dialects and different modes of expression.

It's not uncommon – particularly in sectors such as healthcare – for interpreters to be put to work on uniquely demanding assignments at the last minute. With little time to prepare, this requires the language professional to rely on the skills and experience they have acquired throughout their working life to get the job done.

Language Connect has had first-hand experience of some of the distinct demands and requirements that can make effective interpreting such a challenge.

In our healthcare business in the UK, for example, we have to be prepared for the possibility of receiving any kind of request, at any time of the day or night. Our work with the NHS has previously required us to find interpreters with the ability to converse in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, and Edo, which hails from a state in Nigeria and is only spoken by a relatively small proportion of the population of that country.

Operating in the healthcare sector also raises the challenge of subject matter expertise, with interpreters often required to have experience and a certain level of understanding of specialist subjects, such as mental health.

Finding the solutions

The experience Language Connect has gained in the delivery of interpreting services means we now have various resources and processes we can call upon in order to deliver the best possible results for our clients.

In the previously mentioned cases where Khmer and Edo interpreters were required for NHS assignments, we were able to use the strong connections we have built up with local communities and associations to find someone to complete these jobs. In both instances, we were able to source an interpreter in a short time frame and deliver the end result the client was looking for.

When these kinds of unusual requests come in, having links with local groups representing different nationalities can prove extremely valuable.

As far as the subject matter expertise of our linguists is concerned, Language Connect places a big emphasis on finding the right person for the job. This is particularly important in fields such as mental health or social services – where specialist knowledge or a sensitive, well-informed approach is likely to be required.

One of the methods we use to guarantee a high standard of professionalism is a rigorous recruitment process. This begins with evaluating the individual's CV to ensure our minimum requirements are being met, but also includes a testing phase that evaluates the applicant's performance in a mock interpreting scenario.

In cases where we require an interpreter to specialise in a particular subject, we also look for proof of the candidate's knowledge and qualifications in that area.

The combination of a reliable base of language professionals and strong links with community groups and associations has enabled Language Connect to deliver some excellent results to clients in need of interpreting services.

Our core principles and professional expectations ensure that our interpreters are always able to meet certain standards, regardless of the challenges they face.


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Why good translation is about emotion as well as skills

The task of translating written text or interpreting the spoken word from one language into another demands certain technical skills, such as in-depth knowledge of grammar and syntax in a particular language and how these nuances are transposed into another tongue.

However, there are many occasions where the work of translators and interpreters is about emotional intelligence just as much as it is about technical ability. The job often involves simply talking to people and making a human, emotional engagement, based on empathy and understanding.

The importance of these principles recently came to light during a Language Connect project with a client based on the east coast of the United States.

The project

Language Connect's work with this client involved two focus groups – one in California and one in Massachusetts – the aim of which was to gain insights into the experiences of immigrant groups in these states.

In the first study, we handled the translation of the discussion guides, moderation of the group and transcription of the interviews, working mainly in Arabic, Farsi and Spanish.

This particular project had some unique demands, with the range of topics covered including domestic violence. The participants were divided by gender, with a female moderator required for the female groups and a male moderator for the male groups.

In the second study, the focus was on mothers in immigrant communities, with Language Connect transcribing interviews conducted in Chinese, Portuguese and Korean into English.

These interviews covered potentially sensitive subjects, including access to healthcare and the participants' feelings about the current situation facing immigrants in the US, in light of the political climate.

Combining the technical and the emotional

This project is a prime example of how the work of translators and interpreters is often about the combination of linguistic ability and technical know-how with emotional intelligence and empathy.

Understanding and communicating in complex, diverse languages such as Chinese, Farsi and Arabic, and effectively translating these discussions into English, is a demanding task. Getting the technical side of things right is extremely important.

However, given the sensitive and potentially controversial nature of some of the subjects being discussed in this project – such as domestic violence and the political climate – it was equally important to find the right emotional tone.

Our linguists had to have a good understanding of the various possible feelings and opinions associated with these issues, in order to engage with the participants and encourage an open discussion.

The way people express themselves is often influenced and shaped by emotion, and linguistics professionals must be in tune with this in order to do their job effectively.

Partnership based on trust

A lot of what Language Connect does – not only in this project but across all of our contracts and working relationships – is based on developing partnerships that are built on trust.

When engaging with immigrant communities in the US, our linguists had to create trusting relationships with the people taking part in the focus groups, but also with the client conducting the study.

Beyond the accurate translation and interpretation of written and spoken words, the delivery of a high-quality language service is about forming a partnership defined by ongoing consultation and communication between provider and client, which leads to a positive end result for both parties.

This helps to build the long-term trust that is required to have a fulfilling and mutually beneficial working relationship.


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Accurate communication is vital in the healthcare and pharma sectors

Why accurate communication is vital in the healthcare and pharma sectors

All businesses have to contend with challenges and risks of some description, but it could be argued that organisations in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors face higher stakes than their counterparts in other industries.

In these markets, the need to deliver a certain level of service and adhere to strict rules and regulations can literally be a matter of life and death.

It is vital for all organisations operating in the healthcare and pharma sectors to maintain extremely high standards as far as their outbound communications are concerned. Here are some of the chief reasons why:

High stakes

It should go without saying that protecting the health and safety of patients is the number one priority in the healthcare and pharma industries.

This has a number of real-world ramifications and operational consequences for businesses and service providers, one of which is that the information you are putting out into the public domain must be 100 per cent accurate and up to date, with no scope for any ambiguity, lack of clarity or potentially misleading messages.

Packaging inserts and labelling on pharmaceutical products are just two examples of communications that must be meticulous and correct in order to protect patient health.

This can be a big enough challenge in one language, but it becomes even more demanding when the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of various languages are thrown into the mix.

Complex terminology

Healthcare and pharma communications often need to feature complex scientific language, with terms and descriptions that have very specific meanings but can often overlap.

To give an example, in one case, a patient in the US was wrongly treated for intoxication, rather than poisoning, because of a poor Spanish-to-English translation. That individual suffered lifelong health effects from the incorrect treatment and, as a result, received a $71 million compensation payout.

This illustrates how medical terms can be closely related yet very distinct, particularly when it comes to treatment. Without accurate translation, certain pieces of technical language can be easily confused, raising the risk of some very severe consequences.

The demands of face-to-face engagement

It's important to remember that healthcare and pharma communications is a broad area that encompasses many disciplines and responsibilities. Beyond written information, there is often a need for healthcare providers to engage in face-to-face, spoken conversations with patients, often about sensitive and delicate subjects.

This can become very difficult when there are language barriers involved, with health organisations and professionals having to ensure that the correct message is adequately conveyed, while taking into account the personal and emotional side of the conversation.

Getting adverse event reporting right

Any healthcare or pharma organisation that wants to maintain full regulatory compliance and transparency needs to place a big emphasis on adverse event reporting.

Information about medication errors, adverse events in clinical trials or product quality complaints must be communicated promptly and with absolute accuracy. This is vital to show that the business has maintained full disclosure and not held back any potentially significant data.

Again, this crucial task becomes even more demanding and complicated when the unique aspects of different languages are taken into account.

So what should you look for in a translation partner?

As we have seen, there are a number of reasons why it's extremely important for organisations in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to get their communications exactly right.

For large companies and institutions whose work often involves using different languages, finding the right translation partner is a key part of this challenge. So which qualities should you expect from your language services provider?

  • Experience – Look for a company that has been there and done it all before, with proven results showing how it has helped organisations such as your own overcome the kinds of challenges you face on a regular basis.
  • Specialist knowledge – Translation providers working in niche areas such as pharmacovigilance must be able to show that they can offer the specialist knowledge and skills required to ensure the message being conveyed is the correct one.
  • Efficiency – It's not uncommon for healthcare and pharma communications to demand quick turnaround times – if an adverse event needs to be reported as promptly as possible, for example. This requires maximum efficiency from translation services, as speed must not come at the expense of quality. Look for a company that is making use of the latest technologies to drive efficiency.
  • Confidentiality – Considering the potential sensitivity of much of the data handled by healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations, complete confidentiality is a valuable trait in a translation partner.

By using these and other relevant criteria to select your translation services provider, you can feel assured that all of your communications, regardless of the language, meet the highest standards.


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The most common mistakes made when translating text [Photo: iStock/xijan]

The most common mistakes made when translating text: Part two

Recently, we looked at some of the most common mistakes that can be made in translation, either through basic human error, inexperience or a lack of expertise in general. We also discussed why it's important to minimise these mistakes, and how employing expert translators can help you and your business avoid the minefield that is translation errors. 

Here, we discuss further common mistakes and look at their potential impact on businesses. 

Misreading the tone

Tone is important in language, especially when it comes to certain sectors, and it's easy for someone who is not an expert in translation to get the tone wrong when they are going from one language to another. You can be well versed at translating words from one language into another, your phrasing might be spot on and you might have got a handle on things like sentence structure and the nuances of the written word in your origin and target languages. But get it wrong when it comes to tone, and you might well be the reason for business deals breaking down, among other issues. 

One of the most common places for this to happen is when it comes to the translation of legal documentation. As anyone who has ever read a legal document will know, it's oftentimes a long, boring read, with sentences seeming unnecessarily long and complex. This is simply how legal documents are, though, and for a translator, it's important to capture that essence to make your documents fully effective. If you don't then you risk them coming across like an essay or a more simplistic document, and this can see them be treated far less seriously in the legal world, which can leave you facing real problems. 

Cultural dialect

For the novice translator, one of the most tempting pitfalls to fall into is when it comes to cultural dialect. Remember, for every document you have, although your intention is to translate the document into another language, along with all of its content, there are just some things that you simply cannot translate. In most languages, there are cultural dialects and words that probably can, if you dig deep enough, be translated roughly into another language, but the fact is that they rarely, if ever, should be. 

This can be common when it comes to travel or retail websites online. When you are talking about things in another country, you can be faced with things like food types specific to one country, or products that you might not be able to get anywhere else. When this is the case, a novice translator might be tempted to look at the content and try to find the nearest suitable word. One example is in the Malysian dish laksa. Although it does translate to noodle soup, there are a range of other products that also fall into this category, so it can lose its meaning if you do translate, meaning your documents or websites carrying less weight and authority. In these cases, the better option is to simply leave the words as they are, and perhaps explain them alongside.

Knowing the use

One of the big problems faced by new translators is that they will often not know where or how a translated document is going to be used. For example, you might be translating something into one language that has been a website story in the past, but which the client wants to come across as a speech in the end. Not knowing this can mean you end up with a document that is not as useful, far less adaptable and pretty much hopeless as a good piece of translation. 

In the world of translation, there are many mistakes that it's easy to make, but when working with an expert translator, you can rest assured that the chances of these happening are greatly reduced, which massively improves your chance of finding success, whatever your sector, with the final materials. 

The most common mistakes made when translating text: Part one [Photo: iStock/alexsi]

The most common mistakes made when translating text: Part one

Translation is an essential but difficult task. Every year, billions of documents, speeches and other files are translated from one language to another across a range of sectors. Whether it's medical, business-to-business or consumer facing, effective translation is a vital tool in making sure that everyone understands all they need to know when making a decision, whether that's to do business, make a purchase or even decide on treatment for a patient.

While translation is essential, however, it's also an incredibly difficult thing to get right. Those who are translating documents need to be experts in a number of different fields to make sure they get everything right. You need to know, when having documents translated, that your translator is an expert in: 

  • The origin language: To ensure the translator has a good understanding of the original document and what you need it to do, it's vital that they understand the original language fluently and know what it says and means
  • The target language: To make sure they get the translation perfectly on point when they come to translate, it's essential the translator not only understands, but is fluent in the target language. If they do, it helps them avoid commonly made mistakes and ensures they get it right every time in a world where consistency is essential
  • The sector: As well as having good language skills, you need to know, especially in legal and medical sectors, that the translator has a good understanding of the industry they are translating documents for. If they do, then the chances of them being able to capture the original meaning, carry over any industry terminology and accurately deliver a good product, is enhanced

However, despite this, not everyone will always look to work with an expert translator. This is often because they are trying to make savings or cut corners. But that can cause issues, with errors far more likely to creep in, and slack translations more common. Here, we look at a few of the most common mistakes that can be made in the world of translation, and why working with an expert is always the best option for companies, regardless of sector. 

Word for word translations

For those who do not have that much knowledge when it comes to translation, it's easy to think that all it takes to get things right is to translate each word into the target language and you'll have a well translated final product, but this is never the case. No matter what languages you are using, sentence structure, meaning and word order will be very different. This means that if you choose to simply translate each word one at a time rather than translating and correctly ordering phrases and sentences, you are much more likely to leave yourself with a document that is garbled. 

At worst, you will be left with a document that just doesn't make sense, or that no one can make head nor tail of in the target language, which makes it a completely useless document. And at best, you will have something that people who speak the target language will understand, but which will read poorly, and give off an unprofessional air. In these cases, the chances of you losing deals and/or business are much higher. 

Figures of speech

Non-English speakers will be all too aware of how things can be literally lost in translation when it comes to figures of speech. English may be one of the most widely spoken languages online, and in the world in general, but all it takes is one Google search to see just how confusing the language can be for the rest of the world when phrases including idioms, metaphors, similes and other figures of speech are used. 

And when it comes to non expert translation, these can cause real problems as well. As in many cases, the translator, if they are not a fluent or native English speaker, might not know that translating word for word, and literally, is the wrong way to act when dealing with figures of speech. If you take and English figure of speech and translate it literally into a foreign language, however, you risk it not making any sense. Calling something a snake in the grass, for example, has obvious connotations of trickery and sneaky behaviour, but to speakers of Japanese, German or Chinese, it might just come across as rather a strangely placed biological analysis of the area. For this reason, it's important that we always make sure figures of speech are used correctly, translated well, and never taken literally.