What Do I Do if I Don't Speak the Language of The Interviewee?
Aug. 23, 2021
What do you do if you don't speak or understand the language of the interviewee? Again, it depends. One of the fundamentals of workplace investigations though, is that people be able to express their concerns and people, sometimes because of language skills, and sometimes because of anxiety, and sometimes because of the way victimization affects your mind, people can't express themselves as fluently in a supplementary language as they can in a native language.
Relatedly, if you, as the investigator, don't speak that language, then you're not doing anybody any service because you're missing nuance, and you're missing opportunities to question because an elementary understanding of a language is going to lead you to only collect and observe elementary pieces of the communication. And investigating is very much about nuance. And so, if there is someone who speaks primarily, or is more comfortable in another language, you need to get an interpreter, or you need to pass the whole investigation to someone who speaks that language.
I've even stopped interviews when somebody assured me that they did communicate equally well in English, which is my only fluent language, I do speak some Spanish but not nearly enough to conduct an investigation. So, I've even stopped interviews and said, "You look like you're flustered. And I don't think you're communicating as well as you could, if we were speaking Spanish. I feel like I need to stop this and get you an interpreter." And that's what we did.
Sometimes an interpreter can come from in-house but, again, if it's a non-administrative interview, you may want to get another neutral third-party involved so that the exchange of data won't be biased in favor of any party through the interpreter.