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Negotiating China with the right interpreter

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task, working smoothly with one can also be challenging.

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task, even for a seasoned business traveler. Working smoothly with one can also be challenging.

If you've never worked with an interpreter, the first thing to recognize is its collaborative nature. You need to find a good match for your needs, and you need to communicate well before and during meetings.

Keeping the following advice in mind when hiring and working with an interpreter will improve your experience.

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task

Seek help

The best interpreters—or vendors of any kind—often come personally recommended by friends. So ask people in your network who have worked in China to recommend someone. If that doesn't work, you can locate numerous agencies and freelance interpreters online.

After identifying potential candidates, you can get a sense of their capabilities and compatibilities by talking with them on the phone. Any serious candidate should be able to discuss relevant experience and provide verifiable references. Be sure to check them!

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task

Do a background check

Although Mandarin is China’s official language, its citizens speak many dialects. You should ensure that your interpreter can fluently speak the local dialect. Membership in a professional organization like the International Association of Conference Interpreters can be a good qualifier.

Understanding cultural distinctions between China and the West is another critical part of any successful negotiation, so it's good to hire an interpreter who has been educated both locally and at an institution in North America or Europe.

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task

Ensure compatibility

Finding someone with interpretation experience in your field is key. If you work in manufacturing, you probably don't want to hire someone who has interpreted only for bankers.

Interpreters who have experience in consecutive interpretation—during which the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish a sentence or an idea, then renders the speaker's words into the target language—can easily handle most business transactions.

An interpreter with experience in simultaneous interpretation—the real-time type you see during United Nations meetings—is nice to have, but this style of interpretation isn't ideal for business meetings, as it might feel like an ongoing stream of distracting interruptions.

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task

Prepare

Once you have hired an interpreter, get her up to speed. Before your meeting, ensure that she understands the nature of your business and your objectives. If you're giving a prepared speech in front of an audience, provide her a copy beforehand so she can have more time to absorb and interpret it

Hiring a good interpreter in China can be a daunting task

Collaborate

During a business meeting, speak directly to your counterpart, not the interpreter. Use plain language and complete sentences, being careful to avoid idioms or jokes, which rarely translate well. You will most likely end up working with a consecutive interpreter, so be sure to pause after each paragraph or complete thought to give the interpreter time to convey your message.