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How to spot a good interpreter on paper

Buddhapadipa Temple

The interpreting scene -both local and global- can be quite confusing for non-interpreters and their families and loved ones, who are probably already bored to hear us talk about our professional world.

Choosing the right interpreter for your project can sometimes be challenging, to say the least, especially since it is not every day that you may face hiring one.

Besides general good first impressions and the “feeling” that the candidate is the right fit, what else should you keep in mind when selecting your interpreter?

Let’s start with the CV

Professional interpreters’ CVs tend to look somewhat like this (without the reference numbers, of course):

How to spot a good interpreter - on paper

But what does each bit mean?

Let’s see.

1- Name

An obvious and classic CV item.

2- Type of interpreter

This is the first key piece of information you should pay attention to.

Just like a neurosurgeon and a gastroenterologist are both medicine doctors but do not deal with the same parts of the body nor need to excel at the same skills, a court interpreter and a conference interpreter are both interpreters but are not necessarily trained to work in the same situations.

There are many different types of interpreters and, in addition, we also become specialised in different subject areas (more about this below). If you wish to know what types of interpreters are there, you are welcome to read this post: What types of interpreters are there?

To keep things simple, just think about your event.

Is it a business meeting? Then you need a business or corporate interpreter.

Is it a consultation with a doctor? Then you need a community or public services interpreter.

Is it a diplomatic mission? Then you need a diplomatic interpreter.

Is it a court hearing? Then you need a court interpreter.

Is it a multilingual conference? Then you need a conference interpreter.

And so on.

3- Profile

It is always nice when people introduce themselves. Plus, these short lines may give you a glimpse of the interpreter’s eloquence, style, and personality, which, ideally, should fall in line with yours and your organisation’s.

4- Languages

A fairly obvious one, as I doubt you would like to hire an interpreter of Italian for an event packed with Portuguese speakers.

Mind you, sometimes regional varieties of the same language do matter, especially with wildly spoken languages such as Spanish. As a rule of thumb, the more colloquial and everyday-like the situation, the more important regional varieties are as more formal settings tend to rely on more geographically neutral expressions.

5- Specialisms

Now we are back to the neurosurgeon and the gastroenterologist from point 2.

Professional interpreters do study a lot for each assignment. We are some sort of talking bookworms. However, and although we hate to admit it, we do not and cannot know it all. Thus, we tend to specialise in a series of subject areas.

Why does this matter to you? Well, the more specialised your interpreter is, the more easily, clearly, and effortlessly the communication will flow.

This is where the information in point 6 below comes handy.

6- Experience

Back to our doctors. A surgeon may claim to have twenty years of experience but only have performed a certain procedure a couple of times in those two decades. Does this make this surgeon an expert? Not necessarily.

We all had our first times doing something and one of the best things about interpreting is that each time is a first time as no two meetings, speeches, conversations or statements are the same. However, and especially when it comes to highly-specialised fields like, say, satellite manufacturing, it would be best to work with someone who has covered the topic before.

Just like pilots count flight hours, interpreters count days interpreted. I would go as far as to say that the number of interpreted days is the actual experience an interpreter has regardless of how long they have been around.

7- Education

I am a big (and firm) advocate of proper formal training in interpreting. My belief is not grounded on a snobbish appreciation of fancy degrees hanged on the wall but on what I have seen and experienced first-hand.

When I am working, I am constantly putting into practice tricks, pieces of advice, and lessons learned while in interpreting school. I grant that there have been and there are many excellent “natural” interpreters out there, but when I think of (or see) bilingual individuals diving into interpreting I cannot help but to feel they are flying blind and without a compass. Not quite the steadiest pair of hands to put the success of your event in, if you ask me.

8- Professional memberships

Professional memberships matter for many different reasons (more about it here) but, as far as you are concerned, they matter because having attained one means that this interpreter in particular:

  1. a) has been vetted and deemed fit to join the organisation (some professional bodies even give candidates a test),
  2. b) have probably been vouched for by their colleagues, and
  3. c) their membership is conditional on them abiding by the organisation’s Code of Conduct, which means the interpreter has agreed to behave in a certain professionally ethical way.

In conclusion

Next time you are faced with the challenge of hiring an interpreter, remember these tips and use them to make an informed decision.

Choose wisely and look for the best fit for your organisation and your event.

Your success depends on it.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
~Beverly Hills


Photo by MCL – London’s famous Thai Buddhist temple up the hills of Wimbledon.

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