One of the fascinating experiences of my recent China trip was speaking through an interpreter. That was a first for me. Once we were past the basic greetings, I was out of my element due to my limited Mandarin. When asked to speak to a Chinese church congregation a couple of times, the talks were, of course, more than mere greetings. I am grateful to our interpreter, Jim (pictured on the left here), for the exceptional job he does.
Being from China but being PhD educated and living in the U.S. for many years, Jim is fluent in both Mandarin and English. What he brings to the table is the ability to go beyond mere word-for-word translating. Instead, he captures the meaning of what we say in English and expresses that as needed to convey the same thought in Mandarin. He is the ideal travel companion when people around him speak either English or Mandarin, but not both.
Jim’s interpreting skills are not needed in a room full of people speaking English, nor in a room of people speaking only Mandarin. At least they should not be.
How many times, though, in a business or other setting have you experienced failed communication between people who technically speak the same language? It happens all the time, right? Of course it does. Why is that, and what can be done about it?
When we are concerned only with saying what we want to say and are not equally concerned with how well it is understood, we risk failed communication. I see it all the time in business and personal conversations. We need to remember that just because we say something, that doesn’t mean others understand it as we mean it. We need to ask questions to assure clarity, hear people repeat back what they heard, and take time to actually make communication a two-way thing rather than a monologue.
That seems so basic, but it is too often ignored. If people have to interpret what you say to others who speak the same language, then you need to work harder at clearly communicating.
Leap year lesson #115 is You shouldn’t need an interpreter when you speak the same language.