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The Importance of Nonverbal Cues in Accurate Interpretation

From the 2015 IMIA Congress
4 May 2015

The Importance of Nonverbal Cues in Accurate Interpretation

This information was presented at the International Medical Interpreters Association 2015 Congress: Interpreting what is being “Said”

* Click here for a detailed article on the following points *


Accuracy of interpretation is enhanced when interpreters understand verbal messages in context. Body language, facial expressions and tone measurably contribute to message meaning as they form part of both cultural and affective context. Nonverbal cues may even convey meaning that is directly translatable such as in the case of emblematic movements.



  • Emphasize the interpreter role as conveyor of meaningful communication.
  • Demonstrate the importance of nonverbal cues in accurate interpretation.
  • Propose five standards acknowledging nonverbal communication’s role in accurate interpretation. 



Standards for the use of nonverbal cues in interpreting:

  1. Must enhance message accuracy
  2. Cannot conflict with the ethical principles


Proposed Standards for the use of Nonverbal Cues in Interpreting

  1. When there is an overwhelming convergence of nonverbal cues that clearly communicate a message not matching the verbal content, interpreters shall produce an interpretation as true as possible to the intended meaning and spirit of the source message.
  2. When a source message consists only of a culture-specific emblem, the emblem should be explicitly interpreted into the target language.
  3. When critical illustrators are attached to a source message, interpreters shall incorporate the illustrators’ properties of content reinforcement and clarification in their interpretation.
  4. Interpreters shall acknowledge and judiciously act on nonverbal Regulators used by speakers when managing the flow of information.
  5. Interpreters shall incorporate culture-specific affect displays into an interpretation’s tone, style, and/or content, so as to maintain the “spirit of the message.”

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