Mediation Skills

Mediation makes communication possible for people who do not share a common language. If you translate a text, you will render it in your own language. Your version needs to get very close to the original, imitating its exact wording. In mediation you just try getting the message across so your listeners or readers may understand. To manage all of that, you need to be flexible. The purpose, style and structure of your version may differ from the original. If the source you use is a newspaper article and what you need to write is an e-mail to a friend, the original will undergo lots of changes in the process of mediation. You can make it easier to communicate across the language barrier if you adjust to your recipient’s status, knowledge and cultural norms.


  • What type of text do you need write? Which conventions do you need to keep in mind?
  • Which forms of address seem appropriate?
  • What style and register will be suitable - formal or informal?
  • What strategy is more helpful - indirectness or bluntness?


  • What are the main points, key concept and important words? What does the recipient really need to understand?
  • What is irrelevant and does only distract your audience?
  • Are there any technical terms you may or may not paraphrase?
  • Is there a chance you might summarize lengthy parts of the text?
  • What do you need to simplify?
  • Which terms or references require further explanation?
  • In what way should the structure of the original text be rearranged?

Cultural norms

  • Where do you need to replace parts of the original by using references or imagery the recipient is familiar with?
  • Which words are practically intranslatable?
  • Is there anything that needs to be adapted to the rules of politeness that people follow in the target culture?
  • When is it advisable to use euphemisms to soften the tone of the text a bit?
  • Which offensive details can you leave out if they are not essential? For which details you need to make clear that they do not reflect your own point of view?

Further rules

  • Don’t translate the text word by word!
  • Word order can be a serious problem. Try changing the word order to make it easier to get the gist!
  • Don’t interpret the text! If the text does not reveal its message, then why should you?
  • Don’t evaluate the text by commenting on what has been said!
  • Complex sentences are also difficult to handle. Break it down to smaller units of meaning!
  • Put the message in your own words!
  • If you can’t think of the exact translation for a word, paraphrase it or describe it using the opposite!
  • If you can’t think of the right word, there may be a synonym you can use (“Russian legislation” > “Russian law”).
  • Watch out for false friends – words that look like German expressions but have a completely different meaning! In German, “the last straw” is the last chance to save yourself from an impending danger – in English, it’s the last provoking action before you finally get furious.
  • Proverbs exist in many languages. However, the images used may differ – in German, you swat two flies with one swap – in English, you kill two birds with one stone.