Introduction Letter to the Interpreter

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  • Use text like the following to introduce a translator to the role you expect her to play during a foreign-language interview.


    First, thank you very much for helping us with our research. The [project name] project is very important to [company name], and we are investing a lot in the research. The mental model research involves getting to know the interviewee as if we were meeting him/her at a dinner party. We want to know their interests and their thought processes. We want to get to know how they think. We want their words and their approach. To achieve this, it is very important that your interpretation of the interview be as representative as possible. Tell us the words as the person says them. Tell us the stories even if they’re not exactly in line with the way you and I think. We want to hear things the way the interviewee says them.



    The interview will last about 60 minutes. Each interview is different. [interviewer name] or [interviewer name] will conduct the interviews, and our main goal is to make the interviewee comfortable enough to talk about the details of their work. If the interviewee is comfortable enough, it might be hard to get them to stop talking after an hour! That would be an ideal interview, where there are stories and laughter.

    We expect you to join us on the telephone before we dial in the interviewee, and when the operator dials the interviewee, we expect you to make the initial greeting in their local language. Immediately after this, [interviewer name] or [interviewer name] will begin with an explanation of the interview and verification that the length of the interview is still convenient. We will then mention that the interview will be confidential and that we will give them [a stipend] at the end. We will expect you to translate what we say to the interviewee and get their confirmation.

    Then we will begin with some questions that are intended to get the interviewee comfortable with talking, and to get you comfortable with the rhythm of this conversation. We might ask about the interviewee’s role at her or his company, the role of the company in the sector, and the current projects. Each of these might be separate questions that you can translate to the interviewee, and then translate the answer back. We expect each answer to be a minute or two of conversation, so if the interviewee answers with just a few words, please encourage them to elaborate. For example, if we ask, “What project are you working on?” and they answer, “I run the production line,” you could prompt them to give more details. Or you could ask us what to say next to encourage the interviewee to talk. We are expecting most of the interviewees to be interested in talking, so this should not be too much of a problem.

    We will be taking notes and recording the transcript of your translation. There might be times that we ask you to repeat something to make sure we get it recorded correctly. But since translation will take up a lot of our time during our interview, we will try to be efficient.

    After the interviewee is comfortable talking about their job, we will ask them more questions based on what they have told us so far. We have a list of topics that we might want to cover, but the actual questions are completely based on what the interviewee says. Just like at a dinner party, you ask your companion questions based on the conversation so far, not based on a list of things to talk about that you have written down on your napkin! We want to keep the conversation as natural as possible, and give plenty of room for the interviewee and for you to feel comfortable and eager to talk. Most of the international interviews I have conducted in the past have an element of excitement about talking to someone many time zones distant, who has a different culture and a different set of problem solving skills. The interviewees realize that this is what we are after: exploring the way they approach their work. They realize that they are an example representing the rest of their country. This will engender a bit of humility, but also a lot of humor, and every interview so far has been very positive.

    We are looking forward to these interviews, and to the chance to reach out and interact with our peers from around the world. We are also grateful to you for your contribution to the effort acting as an interpreter. Again, thank you.

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