Author: Francesca Calabrò

English translation: Martina Pozzi
Traduction en français: Claudia Vona

Some days ago, Fabiana wrote this article to explain to us why relying on an interpreter during a negotiation with a client who speaks a foreign language is key from a business point of view.

In this article, on the other hand, I will try to focus on how and why the liaison interpreting is suitable for a series of communication contexts where oral translation is needed.


Liaison interpreting or, even better, dialog interpreting

Before giving an overview of the contexts in which a liaison interpreter is appropriate or needed, it is better to explain what we mean by liaison interpreting and how it works in practice.

To this end, Wikipedia can help us, as it always does.

«Theliaison interpreting technique (or B2B interpreting) is performed in a two-way manner and it’s used in business negotiations; the interpreter conveys information about specific topics between speaker(s) of an A language and speaker(s) of a B language, without note-taking and using concise sentences. Specifically, common terms and scientific/sectoral terms are alternatively used.

This definition is surely both brief and thorough, but at the same time it’s very technical and people not working in this field may find it hard to understand it; therefore, we will try to explain its meaning in this article.
In other words: the liaison interpreter has the task of orally translating, from Italian into the foreign language (and vice versa), the sentences pronounced during a meeting(I will explain what kind of meeting later) between two, three or four people.

Yes, I gave you these numbers on purpose.

The liaison interpreting technique is suitable when small groups meet, i.e. where the participants speak to each other spontaneously (sometimes even in an informal and playful manner), so that they “take the floor” one after the other.
It is true, in fact, that the main advantage of this interpreting technique lies in the fact that it doesn’t rely on ad-hoc equipment or on expensive and advanced instruments. However, this is also its main disadvantage: this technique cannot be used if there are more people speaking different languages.

Here’s why:

Let’s think about a group of friends in a restaurant, with 8, 10, 20 people speaking to each other.
If we looked at them from the outside, first of all we would notice that in reality, they aren’t really talking to each other all together; what happens is that there are sub-groups of 2, 3 or 4 people, and each sub-group starts a conversation on a certain topic.

That’s it. This is what would happen in a professional context, as well. Therefore, it is impossible to keep the attention of a huge number of people on a single topic of conversation, most of all if they all speak different languages and if there is an interpreter who has to translate all the dialogs from a language into another.

Now that we understood what the liaison interpreting is, how it works, who the involved people are and when it can be used, let’s now move to the last question.


Although its name can be misleading, the liaison interpreting (or B2B interpreting) technique is not only used in business negotiations or in B2B contexts. Quite the opposite, it’s a very versatile technique which is suitable for a wide variety of working contexts and settings.

This is the reason why in the academic field, in these last few years a new name has gained more and more ground: dialog interpreting, which is quite unknown, most of all to people not working in this field, but it better embodies the essence and the core features of this oral translation technique.

Since both Fabiana and I have already focused a lot on the liaison interpreting in business contexts (i.e. during fairs, company visits or business meetings), it‘s now time to give you an overview of other professional and social contexts where this interpreting mode is used.


The liaison interpreting technique is used both by interpreters and cultural mediators

As ad-hoc equipment is not required, and the technique can be performed without knowing the conference interpreting techniques (the consecutive and simultaneous interpreting techniques, in fact, can only be learnt during a Master’s degree), we can say that liaison interpreting – or, as we learnt, dialog interpreting – is statistically speaking one of the most popular oral translation modes. It is not only used by “educated” professional interpreters (the so-called conference interpreters), but also by (inter)cultural mediators.

These roles have sometimes been created under the Law to protect foreign citizens or migrants.
But unfortunately, although the presence of a cultural mediator in the contexts where they are necessary is a legal obligation, their preparation standards, skills and education have not been set so clearly. The role of the interpreter, on the other hand, is linked to specific competences and features which grant them an accreditation, like the Conference Interpreting Degree and/or the fulfillment of some requirements/ passing the exams of the main professional associations (AIIC, ITI, ATA, etc.).

When do we use liaison interpreting?

Here is a quick and general overview showing the different communication and working contexts, where the interpreters (or, in specific contexts foreseen by law, cultural mediators) use the liaison interpreting technique.

  • HEARINGS AT TERRITORIAL COMMISSIONS OR, BROADLY SPEAKING, DURING THE ENTIRE PROCESS OF APPLICATION FOR INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION (this is one of those specific cases where the migrant has the right to be assisted by a cultural mediator)


Asymmetrical and peer-to-peer interactions

Without going into detail on these communication settings, generally speaking we can say that dialog interpreting is sometimes used during peer-to-peer interactions. Just think of a business negotiation, where the Purchasing Manager of company X and the Sales Manager of company Y, although they may speak different languages, both know the English technical terms related to the products they sell/buy and they also share general knowledge and ideas about the sector; therefore, even if one of them spoke English and the other one spoke Italian, they would “speak similarly” thanks of the concepts and knowledge they share.

There are times where liaison interpreting is necessary during asymmetrical interactions, where the speakers, besides speaking two different languages, don’t have the same degree of knowledge and skills. Therefore, the interpreter (or the cultural mediator) must bridge this gap.
This is the difference between the “scientific/sectoral terms” and the common terms we mentioned earlier.
This is the case, for example, of a medical examination, where the patient may not know the term “oligomenorrhea” written in her clinical record: the gynecologist is referring to her infrequent and light menstruation.

Or think of a court.

How is the interpreter supposed to behave in these cases?

In my (modest) opinion, in these circumstances it is pointless for the interpreter to show off their language skills; it’s more sensible that the professional doesn’t concentrate on the “perfect expressions”, but rather tries to reach the ultimate goal for which he or she was hired: to ensure the quickest and smoothest communication possible, and that the message is conveyed without distortions or losses.

For this reason, if for example I am translating in court for one of the two parties of a case (a citizen from Peru, for example), and at the end of the hearing the lawyer explains to this person that “the judge deferred”, if the citizen is not a lawyer or doesn’t have legal knowledge, it is pointless to study the Spanish version of every single step or measure foreseen by the Peruvian Civil Code and tell the citizen theexact technical term or the phrase used in Peru. On top of that, different legal systems don’t always share the same legal concepts and characteristics; quite the opposite, it’s more common that the opposite happens.

In these cases, I personally make sure that the foreign citizen is able to understand the meaning of thatlegal expression, i.e. That the judge has decided to postpone the decision until a later date, so that he or she has the time to deeply analyze the case, the parties’ requests, the deeds, the notes and the documents filed.


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