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.
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.