How to spot a good interpreter - on paper

working with interpreters
How to spot a good interpreter - on paper

In times of reinvention and forging new paths, all sorts of creatures start roaming the Earth and overnight experts pop out everywhere.

However, when it comes to interpreting, there is no faking it. Either you can do it – or you cannot.

Also, very much like doctors, not all interpreters are created equal.

No one would even dream of asking their podiatrist to operate on their brain or their eye doctor to extract their tooth. They would all be able to give you first aid, though.

In the same fashion, any interpreter could help in an emergency, but a public services interpreter would not perform well in a conference and a conference interpreter would not necessarily know his or her way around a courtroom.

So, faced with the task of finding an interpreter, what should you do? And how can you ensure you choose the right person for the right task?

Well, first and foremost, always make sure to work with a professional interpreter and not a pseudo one.


Here is a simple checklist:

  1. Check what type of interpreter it is. If you are planning a conference, hire a conference interpreter. If you need help with a doctor’s appointment, call a community or public services one. If you need help during a court hearing, look for a court-certified interpreter, and so on.
  2. Work with a pro; that is, a qualified interpreter that received proper and relevant training. Most of the best interpreters out there have undertaken graduate training in interpreting where they acquired the very specific skills needed to move between languages at speed.
  3. Look for memberships. Usually, professional interpreters who take their work seriously are members of one or more professional associations. These associations of peers have strict admission criteria and set out guidelines for their members’ professional conduct; thus, indirectly vouching and guaranteeing their members’ work.
  4. Make sure they have the right expertise. Over time, interpreters tend to specialise in a few areas, mainly those they work with more often. A well-versed interpreter is better prepared to deal with the unexpected and can also add layers and nuance to the translated discourse.
  5. Experience does matter. Junior interpreters might cost you a little less, but senior ones have more tools under their belt. Given the unpredictable nature of interpersonal interactions, good tools and poise are certainly a desirable combo.

Where should you look for these five 'key ingredients'?


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