I’m an interpreter, not a mediator

If you are an interpreter, you might have felt like saying this sentence to the parties you’re interpreting for on one or several occasions. If you are relying on interpreters you might have wondered why there are sometimes misunderstandings in your conversation even though you’re using an interpreter!

Misunderstandings occur everywhere in communication: When one party doesn’t express themselves explicitly and or when the other party subconsciously hears something different, isn’t listening properly or already has made a foregone conclusion about what might be said in the conversation. When interpreting, I fully understand what both parties are saying and every now and then it happens that I hear that there is a problem developing, but that neither party has realised yet that they might be talking about slightly different things. I continue to interpret faithfully, anticipating when they will realise that something is not quite right. Since neither of the parties understand each other’s language, it is sometimes thought that the misunderstanding arose from the interpretation (I’m not saying it never does, but an interpreter should always correct themselves when they realise a mistake). So one party might say something along the lines of “Let me know if I’m talking to fast or too much…”. That’s very kind, but I know my limits and will say when I didn’t understand something, it was too fast, too long etc. This is when I sometimes would like to hint that “I’m an interpreter, not a mediator.” If the misunderstanding persisted would both parties speak the same language, it is not my job or position to interfere. If the misunderstanding arises due to my fault, I’ll make sure both parties know and I’ll seek clarification if there’s something that might be ambiguous.

Have you come across similar scenarios in interpreting?

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