Preparing to Interpret at Work

preparation sheet

A couple of months ago I was teaching a student at a company class in Tokyo. “Can you help me prepare for a meeting tomorrow, please?” she asked.

Her company had arranged a meeting with a machine salesman from Korea who spoke no Japanese. My student, an intermediate speaker of English – the best in her company, spoke no Korean. Luckily, they both spoke English.

“My problem is, I don’t know where to start,” she explained. The free checklist and preparation sheet at the bottom of this post can help you. First, continue reading.

Go to their company website

Go to the website of the person or people you are going to meet. Go to the English section if they have one. If not, use Google Translate to translate the pages if they are in a language you don’t understand (If you use Google Chrome, you may not need to do this because it might ask you to translate the site). Write down the key information you need. Write down new words or terms that may be useful. You might want to write these on word cards for later study.

Find out specialist and technical terms

Write down any specialist technical terms and data, including units from their website, brochures, catalogues or from your own technical specifications. If there is more than one possible unit to measure in, write down a conversion formula. e.g. Fahrenheit to Celsius is C = F-32*(5/9) F= C + 32*(9/5).

Ask your co-workers what they want to ask the visitor

Ask your co-workers to give you any questions they want to ask the visitor. This will give you time to translate them in time for the meeting.

Think of questions your visitor may want to ask your company

This means that you can find the answer quickly and have a translation ready in plenty of time.

Make a list of things that you need to take to the meeting

To avoid more stress, make a list of things you need to take to the meeting. If you have no whiteboard pens or even a notebook, this can make you panic. Try to relax by preparing in advance. Here is a free checklist (PDF) to help you.

Good luck!

Improve Your Email

Blank Email

Today people use email for business and pleasure. It’s slightly different to the traditional letter; it’s occasionally perceived as a little less formal than a letter. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the standard form of the letter. In this post I will show you how to improve your email writing.

If you want to get more detailed advice about business email, buy my ebook, Better Business Email.


If you’re writing an informal email a simple ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ will do. It’s a nice touch to use the name of the person you’re sending the email to: that way, they know that you haven’t sent the email to the wrong person by mistake.

If you’re writing a business email, ‘Dear’ is the standard opener. You may often see business emails without ‘Dear’, and with only the name. This is only acceptable when you have already established a working relationship.


For friends, use given names (e.g. John) or nicknames (e.g. Johnny). For business it’s more complex.

If you have a working relationship already, you can use a given name. If you don’t, it is best to use a title (that is, Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) followed by the family name.

Never use a title followed only by a given name. It looks and sounds strange.

Get to the point!

A lot of people have full inboxes. Say what you want to say. Make it short, but include details and keep it interesting. This is true for both personal and business emails.

Signing off

Use ‘Yours’ or even ‘Bye’ in personal emails. For business or formal emails, ‘Yours faithfully’ is the most appropriate for first contact. In further emails, use ‘Yours sincerely’.

Sign off with your name. Your given name is fine for personal emails. Use your full name in business emails. You can use your title with your full name but be aware that this looks extremely formal.


Business emails should include an automatic signature with your company name and address, URL and telephone and/or fax number.

Check your spelling and you are ready to send your email.

Here are some examples:


Hi John,

It was great to bump into you the other day. I wish I’d had more time to chat and maybe go for a coffee.

I have some time off next week. Do you want to meet up for a coffee, dinner or drinks sometime?

Let me know.



Dear Mr. Smith,

I was very pleased to have met you again at the conference. I was disappointed that I did not have time available to discuss your company’s language training needs.

I am available for most of next week. If you would like to let me know a time that is convenient for you, I would like to meet you to discuss this.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Marc Jones