The Interpreter’s Functions and Duties Defined
The interpreter’s escort duties are many and varied and cannot be fully covered in this brief manual.
The following paragraphs, however, attempt to set forth the basic principles which are intended to serve as a guide to the interpreter in meeting the problems which arise in the course of the assignment. They have been grouped around several main topics; namely, interpretation proper, the programming function, interpreter-grantee relationship, suggestions of a general nature, and emergency situations.
The interpreter is expected to interpret conversations and speeches as required to facilitate the official mission of the foreign visitor. On such occasions he should keep out of the conversation except as interpreter, letting the principals carry on the discussion even when the interpreter himself may have the answer to a question addressed by one of the parties to the other. At no time should the interpreter permit his own prejudices or opinions to color his interpretation, and he should faithfully interpret the substance of all statements. Occasions may arise, however, on which he may have to exercise discretion in guiding the conversation or in toning down unnecessarily tactless or offensive questions or statements encountered in the course of the trip. There must, however, be no censorship nor refusal to interpret a statement.
It frequently happens that the visitor requests the interpreter before a given interview to ask certain questions for him. In such cases the interpreter should be careful to make it very clear that he is posing the question at the grantee’s request. As a matter of fact, even in such cases it is preferable to have the grantee at least prompt the asking of the question at the time of the meeting, in order to avoid giving the local sponsor the impression that the interpreter rather than the grantee is doing the talking and cause the sponsor to feel that he is cut off from direct communication with the visitor.
The Programming Function
The preparation of the grantee’s program is the responsibility of the programming agency, which plans the itinerary in accordance with the grantee’s interests and wishes. Consequently the grantee should be encouraged to make known his interests and wishes at the outset, so that they may be given due consideration. At the same time it should be pointed out to him that once he has given his approval to a certain program and itinerary, and on that basis commitments have been entered into, reservations made and tickets purchased, it is reasonable to expect him to adhere to the schedule thus established, unless there should be compelling reasons for doing otherwise.
The program worked out in general outline by the programming agency at the outset is implemented by local contacts or sponsors in the course of the trip. The programming agency will provide the interpreter with the names of these contacts prior to his departure from Washington. It may happen en route, however, that for one reason or another the program breaks down or an unexpected gap develops. At such time the interpreter should contact the appropriate contact or sponsor in the locality or, if there is none, his programming agency. If this is not feasible, he should take the initiative to improvise a program in line with the objectives of the mission. It is well for the interpreter to discuss such eventualities with the programming agency at the beginning of the trip in order to determine the degree of initiative the responsible officer may wish him to exercise at such time.
Upon arrival in a given locality, the interpreter will establish contact with the local sponsor and together with him and the grantee to over or work out, as the case may be, the details of the program in the particular area. Local sponsors prefer to have the grantee present while this is being done. The interpreter might point out to the local sponsor what the visitor has seen on previous stops and what aspect of the program the visitor wishes to have emphasized in the given city, making it clear that he is speaking for the grantee. This will tend to eliminate unnecessary repetition which might work against the best interests of the program.
On the basis of the program worked out in this manner, the interpreter should plan each day’s schedule well in advance and see that this schedule is clearly understood by the visitor and acceptable to him. In this connection it is well to impress upon him the importance of keeping appointments on time.
In order to facilitate communication and avoid misunderstanding, the interpreter should suggest that local sponsors and contacts leave messages at hotels not only in the name of the grantee but in the name of the interpreter as well. Too frequently, unnecessary delays and even hurt feelings have resulted from the grantee not understanding and consequently ignoring important messages, without the interpreter realizing what was going on. This suggestion, passed on by the programming agency to the local contacts at the beginning of the trip, may go far to forestall such unnecessary complications.
The job of the escort interpreter is not an easy one, and a great amount of patience, tact, and diplomacy is frequently required of him in order to maintain a good working relationship with the grantee. His task will be greatly facilitated if he sees to it that the grantee is given at the outset a copy of the sheet setting forth some of the guidelines with regard to the functions of the interpreter. This is best done through the appropriate CU officer.
Briefly, the interpreter’s main task consists in providing interpretation at official interviews and discussions and in otherwise assisting the grantee to achieve his program objectives. Sightseeing trips and social functions are frequently an integral part of the program, and when this is the case the interpreter is expected to serve in his official capacity on such occasions.
Aside from the time required for such official duties and for incidental aid relating to reservations and other essentials of the itinerary, however, the interpreter’s time should be regarded as his own although it is, of course, difficult to define or limit the actual workday on an escort assignment. Rather, the interpreter should keep in mind at all times that it is his function to help make the visitor’s stay a success and that his actions will have an important bearing on the visitor’s impression of the United States. Nevertheless, the interpreter should not regard himself as a factotum on duty 24 hours a day. He is not expected to prepare for the visitor any written translations not directly related to the immediate needs of the mission, and, if given, such assistance should generally be confined to possible letters of thanks and similar matters. Neither is the interpreter required to assist the foreign visitor as a matter of course in purely personal diversions or to handle such minor details for him as sending his laundry out, accompanying him to movies, ordering his meals, and so forth, expecially after the visitor has been in the United States for some time and can reasonably be expected to have oriented himself in these matters. Some overall guidance in this respect at the outset is, however, in place in most instances.
When appropriate, a moderate degree of social companionship is encouraged, although this will vary from assignment to assignment and depends largely on the personalities involved. However, just as the grantee will understand that the interpreter is not at his disposal at all hours of the day or night, the interpreter must realize that the grantee may not desire his company everywhere or at all times. The interpreter should therefore respect the grantee’s desire for occasional privacy and not force his presence on the visitor when the latter would prefer to be left alone.
There are, moreover, occasions when the interpreter should definitely refrain or offer to refrain from accompanying the grantee. This applies, for instance, when the grantee is invited to social functions by officials or other persons from his own country, where language is no problem. At such times the interpreter should not go along unless specifically requested to do so. Even when invited under such circumstances, he need not necessarily accept the invitation, if he prefers not to, since his presence will not really be required in his official capacity. In that event, however, he should make certain that his refusal will not hurt any sensibilities.
Unless there are very special circumstances, the interpreter should stay at the same hotel as the grantee, throughout the trip, since the problem of contact and communication with local sponsors, etc., is otherwise unnecessarily complicated. The interpreter is not, however, expected to stay in a hotel at his home base, unless his doing so is considered essential in the interest of the program. Regulations differ in this respect for staff and for contract interpreters, and before undertaking to incur hotel expenses at home base, the interpreter should familiarize himself with the provisions set forth in the section dealing with the reimbursement of expenditures incurred at home base by an interpreter of his particular employment category. The interpreter and grantee should not ordinarily share a room and in general should maintain a certain degree of formaility in their relations with each other.
With the exception of the special circumstances described under the heading “Handling Grantee Expense Funds,” interpreters are not expected to defray any of the visitor’s expenses, since on the average assignment the interpreter has no expense account for such purposes. Thus the grantee must pay for his own taxi fares, tips, etc., and it is desirable that he be made to understand this as early as possible, preferably at the initial meetings at CU or the programming agency. At the same time, of course, the grantee should not be permitted to pay any of the interpreter’s expenses. In case the visitor encounters serious monetary or other difficulties, the programming agency and/or CU should be contacted at once.
At the end of the assignment the interpreter should not merely take leave of the visitor but should make sure that he is in competent hands or that the further course of his trip is clear. This may involve putting the visitor on the train, plane, or ship for the return trip home, per previous arrangement. If, on the other hand, the trip officially ends in Washington, the interpreter should not consider his assignment ended until he has taken the visitor back to the office where he received him (generally CU or the programming agency) and is assured there that his services are no longer needed.
At the conclusion of the trip every grantee must obtain a sailing permit from the Internal Revenue Service, unless he holds a diplomatic passport and/or diplomatic visa or a B-2 visa and had no income in the U.S. The interpreter is called upon to assist the grantee in this matter.
As a general rule, interpreters should not use their own cars to transport visitors in preference to public transportation over long distances, unless specifically authorized.
By comparison with the average American, many of the grantees are profoundly indifferent to matters of time, especially as regards promptness in keeping appointments. The interpreter should anticipate difficulties on this score and may need to employ the utmost diplomacy and patience to achieve a satisfactory solution of this problem.
Much of the success of the exchange program is based on the voluntary cooperation of many persons throughout the country. It is well for the interpreter to call this fact to the grantee’s attention from time to time. Moreover, the interpreter should make a point of expressing the grantee’s and his own appreciation for assistance rendered, whether official or otherwise, even if the grantee should fail to do so. This will help to maintain the contact’s goodwill toward the program in general as well as facilitate the task of the interpreter in particular, should he pass the same way on another assignment. In general, the interpreter should never forget that, for public relations reasons and the good of the program, the impression he makes on the programming agency, the local sponsors, and other local representatives is every bit as important as his relations with the grantee. While he should be concerned with protecting the health and interest of the grantee, if necessary, against overprogramming by an occasional overly enthusiastic local sponsor, he should be very diplomatic and avoid creating the impression that he is taking the side of the grantee without due regard for the feelings of the local representatives and the efforts they may have expended with the best intentions.
During extended trips it is frequently advisable for the interpreter to send brief notes a few days in advance to the hotel and local sponsor at the next stop on the itinerary, to serve as a reminder of the group’s impending arrival. Such notes serve to keep hotel reservations open and are helpful to the sponsor in planning his schedule. It is also well, whenever possible, to advise sponsors in advance of new program ideas or saturation of previously stated interests. The San Francisco Reception Center, for instance, has specifically requested such programming advice.
The interpreter will do well to confirm continuing travel arrangements immediately upon arrival in each city.
Many grantees are in the habit of making numerous and cumbersome purchases at almost every stop. It has been found helpful for the interpreter to try to discourage them from doing so to some extent. If persuaded to wait until their last stop, frequently New York, they will not have to carry their purchases all over the country at great annoyance to themselves and possibly to the interpreter. Moreover, this may eliminate the necessity of paying for excess baggage and the possible danger of running out of money before the end of the trip. Grantees who acquire a great deal of printed matter might also be encouraged to mail these materials to their homes periodically in order to lighten the burden.
The interpreter’s manner, dress, and general appearance should at all times reflect the fact that he is on official duty.
Source: Escort Interpreter Manual, 1963, Department of State, Washington, USA.