Client FAQs

        Interpreting Client FAQ's

  1. Are translation and interpretation basically the same thing?
  2. Interpreters are people good at speaking multiple languages, right?
  3. So what does an LS/I interpreter offer that other linguists don’t?
  4. Aren’t interpreters in the private market just as good as LS/I interpreters?
  5. Still, interpreting seems so expensive. Does LS/I make profits?
  6. So LS/I is not a private contracting agency that pays interpreters?
  7. Our office will have a meeting with foreign delegates and some of them speak English. How do I know what kind of interpreting I need, if any?
  8. Your PO is recommending a team of interpreters and equipment. Why is that? We only want one interpreter.
  9. Sometimes I have seen things getting “lost in translation”. Isn’t that because the interpreter is doing a bad job?
  10. OK, but we are limited in what we can give interpreters prior to the event. We will give them some materials when they arrive. That’s enough, isn’t it?
  11. How can my agency get an estimate for interpreting services and fund my request?

    Translating Client FAQs

     
  12. How can I request a translation?
  13. My government agency is requesting a translation. Do we have to pay for translations done by Language Services?
  14. Does Language Services offer translation services to other government agencies?
  15. Does Language Services provide transcription of foreign-language recordings?
  16. Would Language Services assist in conforming an international agreement to be signed in English and another language?
  17. What translation (written) services does Language Services offer?


INTERPRETING CLIENT FAQS

1. Are translation and interpretation basically the same thing?

No. While both involve converting one language to another, translation is for the written word (anything from slide briefings and websites to treaties and official correspondence) and interpretation is for the spoken word (meetings, conferences and summits). In both cases, a professional linguist conveys the meaning into the other language to accurately reflect the communicator’s intent. If you have anything containing the written word for which you need a translator, please contact LS/T at translation@state.gov. However, if you have a meeting where non-English speakers will attend and require an interpreter, please contact LS/I at interpreters@state.gov and we will assist you with your interpreting needs. To expedite the processing of your request, please specify in the subject line which language(s) you will need

2. Interpreters are people good at speaking multiple languages, right?

Not exactly. Language training and interpreter training are two different fields with two different purposes. People who get language training do so to be able to speak and communicate their own ideas in a foreign language. In contrast, interpreters train so they can convey the ideas of other people between cultures. Graduate programs in interpreting do not accept candidates who are not already professionally bilingual. Students undergo two years of intensive training before even being qualified to work as an interpreter. Accordingly, although most interpreters enjoy studying multiple languages, most in the U.S. market tend to have only two of what we call “working languages.” At LS/I, we maintain this standard. If an interpreter passes our Spanish interpreting test then they will be eligible to work between English and Spanish only. Even if they are fluent in, say, Portuguese and Italian, they will not be eligible to work in those languages unless they successfully test in those languages as well. Please note that – since conversational fluency does not suffice – few linguists are able to serve as U.S. government (USG) interpreters in multiple languages.

3. So, what does an LS/I interpreter offer that other linguists don't?

In a nutshell, training and experience in serving the USG. LS/I considers these vital to serving as a competent USG interpreter. That is why LS/I recruits, tests and performs vetting of qualified candidates before working with them. We ensure that, in addition to having basic interpreting skills, our interpreters are familiar with linguistic nuance and all levels of language. LS/I interpreters need to know diplomacy and the special terminology that comes up in USG meetings. Once they amass this knowledge in one language, they need to amass it again in another, which is twice the work. For example, a French interpreter needs to know the organizational structures and terms used in major U.S. agencies like DoS and DoD, but they also need corresponding knowledge for the French government, and indeed the governments of all Francophone countries with which the U.S. has relations. They develop this knowledge while keeping up with current events and key terms and trends evolving in both cultures. It is a massive and never-ending investment in intensive study that distinguishes the professional interpreter from other bilingual colleagues.
 

4. Aren't interpreters in the private market just as good as LS/I interpreters?

There are many good interpreters in the private market but LS/I has specialized in serving the U.S. Government for almost 250 years. We know and understand the needs of Federal agencies and the challenges that often arise. Still, since LS/I offers 50 languages – something that would be impossible without our small business partners – many of the private market linguists best suited to serve the USG are already working with LS/I. Our public-private configuration enables us to provide trustworthy professionals capable of handling the specialized nature of USG interpreting, while also saving on costs. Some interpreting agencies claim to offer trained linguists that will work at an hourly rate, but few professionally qualified interpreters offer their services on an hourly basis. LS/I follows the industry standard by paying day rates to secure top talent. Please note that interpreting is an unregulated industry so it is important to choose qualified linguists who care about the success of your event. On the subject of quality, all LS/I interpreters are subject to interpreter ethics, maintain strict confidentiality, and agree to serve the USG faithfully. Also, they hold at least an affirmative Public Trust determination and in many cases clearances as well. They often turn down lucrative work on the private market to work with us so they tend to be persons of character seeking to serve their nation. In short, our small business partners provide high-quality, specialized interpreters ready to serve the USG at reasonable rates. Indeed, these linguists play a vital role in American diplomacy.
 

5. Still, interpreting seems so expensive. Does LS/I make profits?

LS/I is a government office providing interpreting to USG users only. We follow strict accounting practices and do not make profits. USG users are only charged the cost of hiring the interpreter and transporting them to the site, plus a nominal overhead/project management fee to cover office expenses, such as the considerable costs that go into training and vetting USG interpreters. (Note: A simple background check for Public Trust alone can take six months and cost $10,000. Secret and Top Secret clearances can run at least double that.) Few agencies and firms provide such transparency in their cost structures, and few perform such rigorous background checks much less training to prepare their interpreters for USG work. Considerable investments of time, money and expertise at LS/I go into testing, evaluating, recruiting, vetting and training USG interpreters, not to mention the Program Officers (POs) who handle the difficult logistical challenges of a diplomatic event. LS/I is a public resource carefully created and maintained to serve the needs of the U.S. Government. We encourage all USG agencies needing language services to take advantage of this investment when possible, to ensure each diplomatic event is a success.
 

6. So, LS/I is not a private contracting agency that pays interpreters?

No, LS/I operates on a hybrid model that efficiently utilizes public servants collaborating closely with small business partners. This model ensures interpreter quality while also leveraging the cost-reducing strengths of the private market. As for freelance interpreter pay, LS/I follows standards set by the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Good interpreters typically spend many hours of their own time preparing for your assignment, something not accounted for in most hourly rate quotes. As you plan your international event, it is important to work with professional interpreters who value quality and security as much as you do. Sacrificing quality for the sake of lower costs could come with other costs, such as failed diplomacy. Just as with any service, you get what you pay for.

7. Our office will have a meeting with foreign delegates and some of them speak English. How do I know what kind of interpreting I need, if any??
 
LS/I has a dedicated team of Program Officers (POs) who are logistical experts for all types of international events, be it a small intimate bilateral or a massive international summit. They specialize in planning, coordinating and executing all manner of interpreting events and are an invaluable resource in U.S. diplomacy. If you are planning an event that will require interpreting support, please send a general query to interpreters@state.gov with the key information (who, what, when, where and the purpose or goal of the meeting) and, most importantly, the language(s) needed in the subject line. Please also indicate whether the interpreter will need to have Top Secret clearance (all LS/I interpreters undergo a background check for at least Public Trust). If you are unsure whether your event will need interpretation, please keep in mind that while many foreign partners have some command of English, this is a far cry from being able to communicate fluidly in a meeting of substance without interpretation. Good diplomatic protocol, basic courtesy, and the success of your meeting probably call for erring on the side of caution when deciding whether to an arrange for an interpreter, who can also serve as a cultural expert for your team. In addition, if it is your principal who is going overseas for a diplomatic meeting, it is always preferable to have a USG-vetted interpreter serving your principal. Allowing non-vetted foreign nationals to interpret for USG officials can pose a threat to national security. Feel free to contact us and one of our POs will help you ascertain your needs.

8. Your PO is recommending a team of interpreters and equipment. Why is that? We only want one interpreter.

They are doing that to ensure the success of your event. Understaffing the event could cause decreased accuracy. Why? Broadly speaking, there are two modes of interpreting: Consecutive and simultaneous. In consecutive (or “consec”), the interpreter waits for the principal to finish speaking a few sentences before interpreting, so there is a back-and-forth quality to it and no equipment is used, except for a microphone on occasion. However, in simultaneous interpreting (or “simul”), the linguist interprets while the principal is speaking. You may have seen people listening to foreign speeches with headphones and yet reacting in real time to what the speaker is saying. That is what the end product of simul looks like. Both modes are exhausting for the interpreter. To get a taste of how exhausting simul is, try listening to a fast-paced speech given in English and simply repeat everything they say in English (this is called “shadowing”). After doing that for 15 minutes non-stop you will see how tiring it is; the added burden of rendering that into a foreign language is even more tiring. That is why – for the sake of quality and accuracy, and to prevent interpreter burnout – simul booths need to be staffed by two or more professional interpreters who can take turns while also assisting each other.
Even for consec, which only seems less tiring, we do not allow interpreters to work alone for over two hours. Research and experience show that failing to adhere to these standards causes major exhaustion, and accuracy worsens as the interpreter tires. Another point: Equipment is a must for simul and, while this adds to the overall cost, it will generally halve the meeting time and make it possible to interpret for larger groups of people. Your PO will be able to ascertain whether your event will need a simul team and equipment.
9. Sometimes I have seen things getting “lost in translation”. Isn’t that because the interpreter is doing a bad job?
 
Not always. Speakers unaccustomed to using interpretation often read their speeches very quickly. It is impossible to understand and internalize a fast speech even when both speaker and audience are using English, much less a foreign language. That is why it is so important for principals to speak at a comfortable speed with good sentence length and syntax. Additionally, even in the best of circumstances, interpretation is a mentally exhausting and complex task requiring the right work environment and a lot of prior preparation. Your discussion will probably involve specialized terms and concepts that your linguist needs to understand, internalize and explain fluently in both languages. Even U.S. specialists giving presentations in English in their areas of expertise get tired after speaking for one hour. It is easy to imagine how exhausted interpreters get after speaking in a foreign language for hours at a time, especially when they are not very familiar with the subject. That is why LS/I makes every effort to ensure our clients provide adequate working conditions to optimize interpreter performance. In fact, users of the service who do not adequately prepare their interpreters are often the ones responsible for things getting “lost in translation.”
 
10. OK, but we are limited in what we can give interpreters prior to the event. We will give them some materials when they arrive. That’s enough, isn’t it?

Usually, no. Some people think interpreters just parrot what the speaker is saying word-for-word, only in a foreign language. That is not the case at all. In fact, if they did that, the result would be utter gibberish. Interpreters need to familiarize themselves with the special terms and concepts used in your field, and then be able to interpret those to sound natural to the foreign listener’s ear. This requires time, preparation and understanding of relevant concepts, something good interpreters work on prior to even coming to your venue. Imagine a legal scenario where you must argue a case in front of a judge. As the stakes are very high, it would be a poor strategy to simply find the lowest priced lawyer possible the day of the trial, hand them the brief as they walk into court, and expect them to successfully argue the case. Similarly, you cannot send an interpreter into an event without prior preparation, and you cannot use an untrained person as an interpreter. Having an unqualified linguist interpret could end up hurting the success of your event, and in some cases could constitute negligence. One indication you are dealing with a good interpreter is if they request talking points and preparatory materials in advance. In fact, professional interpreters routinely turn down prestigious and lucrative assignments when they suspect they will not be properly prepared. They do not want to hinder their professional reputation for a quick buck.

11.
How can my agency get an estimate for interpreting services and fund my request?
 
Once you have contacted us at interpreters@state.gov and we have ascertained your needs, your Program Officer will send you a cost estimate for approval and funding. If your office is part of the State Department, you will need to send us a reimbursement order, or RO. If your agency is not in the State Department, you will need to set up an Inter-Agency Agreement, or IAA. The initial setup can be time-consuming so please initiate this process well before your international event.
 

TRANSLATING CLIENT FAQS



12. How can I request a translation?


In order to request a service, please contact translation@state.gov for further guidance and to receive a translation request form.

If you already have a translation request form, send it, along with the document(s) for translation, to our inbox at translation@state.gov. In your email to translation@state.gov, please provide any relevant reference material, related order numbers and other relevant parameters for your project. Our team of Translation Project Managers monitors our inbox during business hours. They will handle your inquiry promptly and will follow up on your request.


13. My government agency is requesting a translation. Do we have to pay for translations done by Language Services?


It is our mandate to support the Department of State and the White House with any translation or interpreting needed to conduct foreign relations with non-English speaking peoples. Whenever possible we will provide staff interpreters and translators at no cost to the requesting State Department office. When the demand is too great or when a staff member does not cover the required language, the requesting bureau is asked to provide a funding obligation in CFMS to pay the salary of the contractor(s) assigned to the requirement. Payment is accomplished through an OF 347.


14. Does Language Services offer translation services to other government agencies?


Language Services charges other federal agencies for these services. Our office is funded by reimbursed money. We are happy to assist other agencies but we ask that this be handled through those agencies with appropriate compensation. Without this funding, Language Services would not be able to provide such high quality service to our clients.? Please contact us at translation@state.gov with your request and we will provide further guidance.


15. Does Language Services provide transcription of foreign-language recordings?


LS accepts joint transcription and translation assignments where a written translation of a foreign-language recording is needed.

However, LS rarely accepts assignments that only involve transcription of foreign-language recordings. Because of the time-consuming nature of this work, staff translators are usually not available to transcribe recordings. Under some circumstances, we will accept a transcription assignment if we are able to place it with a contractor. Transcription is compensated by the hour and can be quite expensive, particularly if the quality of the recording is poor.


16. Would Language Services assist in conforming an international agreement to be signed in English and another language?


Yes, any international agreement to be signed by the United States and another government in English and another language must be conformed by Language Services. We will certify that the document has the same meaning in all languages concerned.?


17. What translation (written) services does Language Services offer?


Formal translation and review, certified translations, comparisons, complex formatting, conference translation and translation project management services, desktop publishing, document analysis, in-depth summary translation, post-desktop publishing review, sight translation, summary translation, terminology vetting, transcription of audio recordings and hand-writing, and unreviewed translations.

 


The LS/I and LS/T teams look forward to assisting you with your language needs!