How Do You Communicate?

Date posted: Wednesday 03 April 2019

When interacting with our Guatemalan partners, especially when there is a language barrier, how do you communicate? Do you use an interpreter? Do you use actions when words fail? Do you speak louder and slower?


Recently the Guatemala Friends gathered at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Circle Pines to learn some communication techniques from Deanine Mann, a Spanish speaker who often interprets and translates for others. She pointed out cultural norms that can some travelers might not know:

  • Expect a limp handshake from those in Guatemala.
  • Do not be loud and boisterous.
  • Do not take photos of strangers.
  • Dress modestly.
  • Some Guatemalans do not smile for photos (sometimes due to bad teeth), so do not insist.
  •  Try to understand one another's culture and realize that we do not know each other's priorities.
  • Understand a visit to be a chance to build relationships, not an effort to save the world.
  • We should not feel guilt about all that we have.


Deanine described that an interpreter is used for oral speech, while a translator deals with written language. Below are some guidelines to keep in mind when using an interpreter:

  • Speak clearly and in a normal tone.
  • If the interpreter asks for clarification don't rephrase the sentence, but repeat what was said.
  • Look at the person you are speaking with, not the interpreter.
  • Keep jargon and idioms to a minimum.
  • Pause frequently.


If you have the opportunity to be an interpreter, below are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Always keep the common good in mind.
  • Do not give personal information, particularly for social networking.
  • Do not give or promise money to anyone.
  • Respect the accompaniment model.


Everyone was encouraged to learn a few basic Spanish words prior to traveling to Guatemala, as this is a great way to start building a relationship with our brothers and sisters of the ILAG. Two websites or apps were recommended for use: Duo Lingo and U-Talk.


Juli Smith
Our Savior's, Circle Pines