Sergeant Grumpy's Rules for dealing with Terps

You are in charge, not the Terp I have been in a situation where a terp, who in fairness had been at the base we were working at a long time, said during a meeting when told to translate something, "No, we aren't going to do that, I won't translate it." Eventually, like a precocious puppy who nips all the time and doesn't get disciplined and eventually bites, terps start to think they know more than Soldiers they work for. This happens because people fail to manage terps like they do their subordinates. If this is happening, stop and re-set expectations with your terp, and make it damn clear. If the terp can't adapt, get rid of him if you can. The terp in this story ended up being sent packing after one month.

You must communicate with your terp While terps are tools, they are not screwdrivers. You won't get the best results by just throwing them into a meeting at the last minute without warning. While OPSEC concerns must be respected, take the time to pre-brief him or her on what general topics you plan on covering, if there are any specialized vocabulary you intend to use, say you are going to discuss issues related to a water treatment plant, the terp might need to do a little research. And take this time to remind the terp, you work for me, translate just what I say, try to use my tone of voice, etc. Then do a quick debrief while you review your notes, this is a chance for you to give immediate feedback to the terp to reinforce positive performance and demand improvement in weak areas. It also is a chance to ask for their help if there are areas in your notes that are lacking, or if something was said you didn't understand, but didn't want to break the flow.

You will check your terp My experience tells me terps will get lazy in their use of language, and some have personal hang ups over using profanity, etc. You need to take the time to learn a few words so you can test your terp. If you find he hasn't used the word you are expecting, this has to be addressed immediately after the meeting. The easiest of course are to use the profanity which always seems to be the easiest to pick up. Another good tactic is to bring in a linguist who the term doesn't know speaks, of course this only works once, but puts him on notice.

You will treat your your terps like they are sources Because guess what, they are. You terps will likely have many, many side conversations with all the important local nationals you visit with. And they will also talk to all the other terps on base, who are also talking to people all over town. Get it? Now, the other rules above will require you to take a tough line with your terp from time to time, but if you handle that professionally, and take the time and effort to actually build a relationship with them, you will gain access to a ton of information. Don't like your terp? Too damn bad, I'm not asking you to become domestic parnters, I am saying the terp better think you two have a good relationship. And never ever forget that the terps gossip and talk shit about each other and Soldiers on base, don't give him anything to say about you other than "he's a hard ass sometimes, but he's fair."

Corrallary: Do not treat your military linguists like terps. They are god-damn Soldiers, not terps, so treat them like the rest of your Soldiers. Nuff said.

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