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Appendix F

Use of Interpreters

Most U.S. military operations are conducted on foreign soil. Consequently, there are occasions when CA soldiers will lack the linguistic ability to communicate effectively with the local populace in the AO. The use of interpreters is often the best or only option, but must be considered a less satisfactory substitute for direct communication. Therefore, the proper use and supervision of interpreters can play a decisive role in the mission.




F-1.   Since the majority of CA operations occur in foreign countries, theater-oriented linguistic capabilities enhance the effectiveness of CA personnel. CA organizations attempt to achieve limited basic language skills aligned with their geographic combatant commander's priorities. Ideally, CA units will recruit individuals with a combination of civilian technical expertise, military education, and appropriate language skills. In practice, however, adequate language skills are difficult to attain and maintain. Thus, during most operations, language requirements are met by locally contracted interpreters-translators.

F-2.   To help meet the military's theater language requirements, the CA linguist team provides expertise to supported commands and language training management for the CA command.

F-3.   The capabilities of the linguist team are to manage the command language program, provide limited translation capability, manage interpreter support, and coordinate production of language handbooks. Although the linguist team may provide some operational interpreter support, more often they provide a management and quality control function with locally obtained interpreters.




F-4.   Whenever possible, the interpreters used should be U.S. military personnel or at least U.S. citizens. In some operational or training settings abroad, the CA soldiers will not be faced with the problem of selecting an interpreter; they will simply be assigned one by the chain of command or host government. In other cases, interpreters are chosen from a pool provided by the host government. Finally, in many operational situations interpreters will be hired from the general HN population. Whatever the case, the following guidelines will be critical to the success of mission accomplishment. This is an opportunity for the CA soldier to truly influence the outcome of the mission.

F-5.   Interpreters should be selected based on the following criteria:

  • Native speaker. Interpreters should be native speakers of the socially or geographically determined dialect. Their speech, background, and mannerisms should be completely acceptable to the target audience so that no attention is given to the way they talk, only to what they say.
  • Social status. In some situations and cultures, interpreters may be limited in their effectiveness with a target audience if their social standing is considerably lower than that of the audience. This may include significant differences in military rank or membership in an ethnic or religious group. Regardless of the CA soldier's personal feelings on social status, he should remember the job is to accomplish the mission, not to act as an agent for social reform in a faraway land. Local prejudices should be accepted as a fact of life.
  • English fluency. An often-overlooked consideration is how well the interpreter speaks English. As a rule, if the interpreter understands the CA soldier and the CA soldier understands the interpreter, then the interpreter's command of English should be satisfactory. The CA soldier can check that "understanding" by asking the interpreter to paraphrase, in English, something the CA soldier said; the CA soldier then restates the interpreter's comments to ensure that both persons are in sync. Also, interpreting goes both ways. The interpreter must be able to convey the information expressed by the interviewee or target audience.
  • Intellectual intelligence. The interpreter should be quick, alert, and responsive to changing conditions and situations. He must be able to grasp complex concepts and discuss them without confusion in a reasonably logical sequence. Although education does not equate to intelligence, generally speaking, the better educated the interpreter, the better he will perform due to increased exposure to diverse concepts.
  • Technical ability. In certain situations, the CA soldier may need an interpreter with technical training or experience in special subject areas to translate the "meaning" as well as the "words." For instance, if the subject is very technical or specialized, with terms such as nuclear physics, background knowledge will be useful.
  • Reliability. The CA soldier should beware of the potential interpreter who arrives late for the interview. Throughout the world, the concept of time varies widely. In many less developed countries, time is relatively unimportant. The CA soldier should make sure that the interpreter understands the military's preoccupation with punctuality.
  • Loyalty. If the interpreter used is a local national, it is safe to assume that his first loyalty is to the HN or subgroup, and not to the U.S. military. The security implications are clear. The CA soldier must be very cautious in how he explains concepts to give interpreters a greater depth of understanding. Additionally, some interpreters, for political or personal reasons, may have ulterior motives or a hidden agenda when they apply for the interpreting job. If the CA soldier detects or suspects such motives, he should tell his commander, S-2, or security manager. The CA soldier should be aware of and monitor these motives with all interpreters.
  • Gender, age, and race. Gender, age, and race have the potential to seriously affect the mission. One example is the status of females in Muslim society. In predominantly Muslim countries, cultural prohibitions may render a female interpreter ineffective under certain circumstances. Another example would be the Balkans, where the ethnic divisions may limit the effectiveness of an interpreter from outside the target audience's group. Since traditions, values, and biases vary from country to country, it is important to check with the in-country assets or area studies for specific taboos or favorable characteristics.
  • Compatibility. The CA soldier and the interpreter will work as a team. For the interpreter to be most effective, he should become a psychic extension of the CA soldier. The target audience will be quick to recognize personality conflicts between the CA soldier and the interpreter, which can undermine the effectiveness of the communication effort. If possible, when selecting an interpreter, the CA soldier should look for compatible traits and strive for a harmonious working relationship.

F-6.   If several qualified interpreters are available, the CA soldier should select at least two. This practice is of particular importance if the interpreter will be used during long conferences or courses of instruction. The exhausting nature of these type jobs makes approximately four hours of active interpreting about the maximum for peak efficiency. Whatever the mission, with two or more interpreters, one can provide quality control and assistance to the active interpreter. Additionally, this technique can be useful when conducting coordination or negotiation meetings as one interpreter is used in an active role and the other can pay attention to the body language and side conversations of the others present. Many times, the CA soldier will gain important side information that assists in negotiations from listening to what others are saying among themselves outside of the main discussion.


F-7.   Implied throughout the preceding points is the need for a careful analysis of the target population. This type of analysis goes beyond the scope of this lesson. Mature judgment, thoughtful consideration of the audience as individual human beings, and a genuine concern for their receiving accurate information will go a long way toward accomplishing the mission. The CA soldier must remember that the individual from a farm or small village is going to have markedly different expectations than the jet-setting polo player.

Evaluation Criteria

F-8.   As mentioned, it is safe to assume that if the interpreter is not U.S. military or at least a U.S. citizen, his first loyalty will be to his country or subgroup and not to the United States.

F-9.   The security implications of using local nationals are clear. The CA soldier must be cautious about what information he gives his interpreter. The CA soldier must always keep in mind possible security issues.

F-10.   Certain tactical situations may require the use of uncleared indigenous personnel as "field expedient" interpreters. Commanders should be aware of the increased security risk involved in using such personnel and carefully weigh the risk versus the potential gain. If uncleared interpreters are used, any sensitive information should be kept to a minimum.

F-11.   The interpreters must be honest and free from unfavorable notoriety among the local inhabitants. Their reputation or standing in the community should be such that persons of higher rank and standing will not intimidate them.

Rapport Establishment

F-12.   The interpreter is a vital link to the target audience. Without a cooperative, supportive interpreter, the mission could be in serious jeopardy. Mutual respect and understanding is essential to effective teamwork. The CA soldier must establish rapport early in the relationship and maintain rapport throughout the joint effort. The difficulty of establishing rapport stems most of the time from lack of personal contact.

F-13.   The CA soldier begins the process of establishing rapport before he meets the interpreter for the first time. The soldier should do his homework. Most foreigners are reasonably knowledgeable about the United States. The CA soldier should obtain some basic facts about the HN. Useful information may include population, geography, ethnic groups, political system, prominent political figures, monetary system, business, agriculture, and exports. A good general outline can be obtained from a recent almanac or encyclopedia. More detailed information is available in the Area Handbook for the country, and current newspapers and magazines, such as New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report.

F-14.   The CA soldier should find out about the interpreter's background. The soldier should show a genuine concern for the interpreter's family, aspirations, career, education, and so on. Many cultures place a greater emphasis on family over career than the United States, so the soldier should start with understanding the interpreter's home life. The CA soldier should also research cultural traditions to find out more about the interpreter and the nation in which the soldier will be working. Though the soldier should gain as much information on culture as possible before entering an HN, his interpreter can be a valuable source to fill gaps. Showing interest is also a good way to build rapport.

F-15.   The CA soldier should gain the interpreter's trust and confidence before embarking on sensitive issues, such as religion, likes, dislikes, and prejudices. The soldier should approach these areas carefully and tactfully. Although deeply personal beliefs may be very revealing and useful in the professional relationship, the CA soldier must gently and tactfully draw these out of his interpreter.


F-16.   Early in the relationship with interpreters, the CA soldiers should ensure that interpreters are briefed on their duties and responsibilities. The soldiers should orient the interpreters as to the nature of their duties, standards of conduct expected, techniques of interview to be used, and any other requirements necessary. The orientation may include the following:

  • Current tactical situation.
  • Background information obtained on the source, interviewee, or target audience.
  • Specific objectives for interview, meeting, or interrogation.
  • Method of interpretation to be used-simultaneous or alternate:
    • Simultaneous-when the interpreter listens and translates at the same time.
    • Alternate-when the interpreter listens to an entire phrase, sentence, or paragraph, then translates during natural pauses.
  • Conduct of the interview, lesson, or interrogation.
  • Need for interpreters to avoid injecting their own personality, ideas, or questions into the interview.
  • Need for interpreter to inform interviewer (CA soldier) of inconsis-tencies in language used by interviewee. An example would be someone who claims to be a college professor, yet speaks like an uneducated person. During interrogations or interviews, this information will be used as part of the assessment of the information obtained from the individual.
  • Physical arrangements of site, if applicable.
  • Possible need for interpreter to assist in AARs or assessments.

F-17.   As part of the initial training with the interpreter, the CA soldier should tactfully convey that the instructor, interviewer, or interrogator (CA soldier) must always direct the interview or lesson. The soldier should put the interpreter's role in proper perspective and stress the interpreter's importance as a vital communication link between the soldier and the target audience. The CA soldier should appeal to the interpreter's professional pride by clearly describing how the quality and quantity of the information sent and received is directly dependent upon the interpreter's skills. Also, the CA soldier should mention how the interpreter functions solely as a conduit between the soldier and the subject.

F-18.   The CA soldier must be aware that some interpreters, because of cultural differences, may attempt to "save face" by purposely concealing their lack of understanding. They may attempt to translate what they think the CA soldier said or meant without asking for a clarification or vice versa. Because this can result in misinformation and confusion and impact on credibility, the CA soldier should let the interpreter know that when in doubt he should always ask for clarification. The soldier should create a safe environment for this as early in the relationship as possible.

F-19.   Other points for the CA soldier to cover while orienting and training the interpreter are-

  • Importance of the training, interview, or interrogation.
  • Specific objectives of the training, interview or interrogation, if any.
  • Outline of lesson or interview questions, if applicable.
  • Background information on the interviewee or target audience.
  • Briefing, training, or interview schedules. It may take double or triple the amount of time needed when using an interpreter to convey the same information. For that reason, the interpreter may be helpful in scheduling enough time.
  • Copy of the briefing, questions, or lesson plan, if applicable. Special attention should be given to develop language proficiency in the technical fields in which the interpreters are expected to be employed. In general, this will give the interpreter time to look up unfamiliar words or ask questions to clarify anything confusing.
  • Copies of handout material, if applicable.
  • General background information on subject.
  • Glossary of terms, if applicable.

F-20.   The CA soldier selects an appropriate site for the interview. He positions and arranges physical setup of the area. When conducting interviews with VIPs or individuals from different cultures, this arrangement can be significant.

F-21.   The CA soldier instructs the interpreters to mirror the soldier's tone and personality of speech. The soldier instructs the interpreters not to interject their own questions or personality. He also instructs the interpreters to inform him if they notice any inconsistencies or peculiarities from sources.

Interview Conduct

F-22.   Whether conducting an interview or presenting a lesson, the CA soldier should avoid simultaneous translations; that is, both the soldier and the interpreter talking at the same time. The soldier should speak for a minute or less in a neutral, relaxed manner, directly to the individual or audience. The interpreter should watch the soldier carefully and, during the translation, mimic the soldier's body language as well as interpret his verbal meaning. The CA soldier should observe the interpreter closely to detect any inconsistencies between the interpreter's and CA soldier's manners. The soldier must be aware not to force the interpreter into literal translation by being too brief. The soldier should present one major thought in its entirety and allow the interpreter to reconstruct it in his language and culture.

F-23.   Although the interpreter will be doing some editing as a function of the interpreting process, it is imperative that he transmit the exact meaning without additions or deletions. As previously mentioned, the CA soldier should insist that the interpreter always ask for clarification, prior to interpreting, whenever not absolutely certain of the soldier's meaning. However, the soldier should be aware that a good interpreter, especially if he is local, can be invaluable in translating subtleties and hidden meanings.

F-24.   During an interview or lesson, if questions are asked, the interpreter should immediately relay them to the CA soldier for an answer. The interpreter should never attempt to answer a question, even though he may know the correct answer. Additionally, neither the soldier nor interpreter should correct the other in front of an interviewee or class; all differences should be settled away from the subject or audience.

F-25.   Just as establishing rapport with the interpreter is vitally important, establishing rapport with interview subjects or the target audience is equally important. The CA soldier and the interpreter should concentrate on rapport. To establish critical rapport, the subjects or audiences should be treated as mature, important human beings that are capable and worthy.

Communication Techniques

F-26.   An important first step for the CA soldier in communicating in a foreign language is to polish his English language skills. This is true even if no attempt is made to learn the indigenous language. The clearer the soldier speaks in English, including diction, the easier it is for the interpreter to translate. Other factors to consider include use of profanity, slang, and colloquialisms. In many cases, such expressions cannot be translated. Even those that can be translated do not always retain the desired meaning. Military jargon and terms such as "gee whiz" or "golly" are hard to translate. In addition, if a technical term or expression must be used, the CA soldier must be sure the interpreter conveys the proper meaning in the target language. The soldier should speak in low context, simple sentences. For instance, he may want to add words usually left off such as "air" plane. This ensures the meaning will be obvious and he is not talking about the Great Plains or a wood plane.

F-27.   When the soldier is speaking extemporaneously, he must think about what he wants to say. He should break it down into logical bits, and give it out a small piece at a time using short, simple words and sentences and low context, which can be translated quickly and easily. As a rule of thumb, the CA soldier should never say more in one sentence than he can easily repeat word for word immediately after saying it. Each sentence should contain a complete thought without verbiage.

Transitional Phrases and Qualifiers

F-28.   These tend to confuse and waste valuable time. Examples are "for example," "in most cases," "maybe," and "perhaps." The soldier should be cautious of using American humor. Cultural and language differences can lead to misinterpretations by foreigners. The soldier should determine early on what the interpreter finds easiest to understand and translate meaningfully. In summary, the CA soldier should-

  • Keep the entire presentation as simple as possible.
  • Use short sentences and simple words (low context).
  • Avoid idiomatic English.
  • Avoid tendency toward flowery language.
  • Avoid slang and colloquial expressions.

F-29.   Whenever possible, the soldier should identify any cultural restrictions before interviewing, instructing, or conferring with particular foreign nationals. For instance, when is it proper to stand, sit, or cross one's legs? Gestures, being learned behavior, vary from culture to culture. The interpreter should be able to relate a number of these cultural restrictions, which, whenever possible, should be observed in working with the particular group or individual.

Do's and Don'ts

F-30.   The following are some do's and don'ts for the CA soldier to consider while working with an interpreter. The CA soldier should-

  • Position the interpreter by his side (or even a step back). This method will keep the subject or audience from shifting their attention, or fixating on the interpreter and not on the soldier.
  • Always look at and talk directly to the subject or audience; guard against the tendency to talk to the interpreter.
  • Speak slowly and clearly; repeat as often as necessary.
  • Speak to the individual or group as if they understand English. The soldier should be enthusiastic and employ the gestures, movements, and voice intonations and inflections that would normally be used before an English-speaking group. Considerable nonverbal meaning can be conveyed through voice and body movements. The soldier should encourage the interpreter to mimic the same delivery.
  • Periodically check the interpreter's accuracy, consistency, and clarity. Another American, fluent enough in the language, should sit in on a lesson or interview. This should assure that the translation is not distorted, intentionally or unintentionally. Another way to be sure is for the soldier to learn the target language so that the interpreter's loyalty and honesty can be personally checked.
  • Check with the audience whenever misunderstandings are suspected and clarify immediately. Using the interpreter, the soldier should ask questions to elicit answers that will tell whether the point is clear. If not clear, he should rephrase the instruction differently and illustrate the point again. The soldier should use repetition and examples whenever necessary to facilitate learning. If the class asks few questions, it may mean the instruction is "over the heads" of the audience, or the message is not clear to the audience.
  • Make the interpreter feel like a valuable member of the team; give the interpreter recognition commensurate with the importance of his contribution.

The CA soldier should not-

  • Address the subject or audience in the third person through the interpreter. The soldier should avoid saying "tell them I'm glad to be their instructor," but rather should say, "I'm glad to be your instructor." He should address the subject or audience directly.
  • Make side comments to the interpreter that are not expected to be translated. This tends to create the wrong atmosphere for communication.
  • Be a distraction while the interpreter is translating and the subject or audience is listening. The soldier should not pace the floor, write on the blackboard, teeter on the lectern, drink beverages, or carry on any other distracting activity while the interpreter is actually translating.

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