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Game of Thrones


In this extract from “Game of Thrones”, we see dire repercussions for speaking in a language the speaker assumes the listener doesn’t understand. During his speech, the bald man insults and verbally degrades the woman with the whip. When he realizes she understands him, he pays for it with his life.

This extract isn’t a cautionary tale: it seems obvious that one shouldn’t insult their interlocutor whether they understand or not. It does however bring up the question of respect of the interlocutor when they don’t speak the same language and reminds us never to speak as if the other person wasn’t present. It is important to always keep in mind that despite an interpreter being present, it doesn’t necessarily mean that neither speaker has any notion of the other speaker’s language. This is especially true with Limited English Proficient (LEP) speakers in America. Even if an LEP patient or client speaks next to no English, simple concepts like the difference between “you” and “he” or “she” are almost always known. Something that may seen to some as innocent, like talking to the interpreter about the LEP person present at the third person and expecting the interpreter to correct it to the first is almost always pick-up on by the listener. Similarly, some body language and facial expressions needn’t interpretation and even if the interpreter “cleans” and corrects the speech, the listener will usually notice something is amiss.

The best way to avoid these potential disasters is to speak to whomever you need an interpreter to communicate through as if they spoke your language perfectly. It might be the difference between a successful meeting and being burned alive by a dragon!

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