Interpreters: Know Your Filters!


Communication is very tricky business. There’s a lot that can throw a message off its intended course. Ambiguous word choice, unclear speech, and ambient disruptors are just a few. Filters are another element of communication that can send a message off course. Unlike ambient distractors, like a noisy cast removal saw which is obvious and apparent to everyone, filters are not immediately apparent, making it harder to pay attention to them.

Filters are those internal things that influence how you perceive the message of the speaker. Your filters are formed by your experiences, beliefs, worldview, and even your current emotional or physical state, which certainly fluctuate. As you can imagine, everyone’s filters are different. 

Every individual brings his or her own filters to the discourse. Two people bring two sets of filters. Three people bring three sets of filters. You see where I’m going with this. The more filters, the more opportunity for the message to miss its intended mark.

Have you ever witnessed someone take offense at a comment you thought was harmless? Or taken or caused offense yourself? I’ve been in all those situations – witnessing, taking, and giving. Like I said, communication is tricky.

As interpreters, we also bring our own filters to the communication. If we are not self-aware or if we are oblivious to our own filters, they can end up skewing or distorting the meaning of the original message that we are tasked with interpreting faithfully.

You can’t know 100% of the participants’ filters 100% of the time. But you can at least account for your own when interpreting. No interpreter would intentionally change the meaning of the message, which is why awareness of these sneaky, unseen filters is so important to delivering a solid interpretation. 

Now if someone can just figure out how to make a silent cast removal saw, we’ll be all set.

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Are you a medical interpreter interested in learning more about filters and building skills to navigate the meaning of tricky phrases? Sign up for Divorce the Word, Marry the Meaning, an online continuing education course for medical interpreters.