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Five things you need from a professional interpreter

Published on April 26th, 2018

While interpretation is essentially the spoken form of translation, it requires a unique set of skills from any other kind of language service. In most cases, interpretation takes place in important settings like courtrooms, business meetings, hospitals and other environments where mistakes simply aren’t an option.

A professional interpreter needs to keep up with the conversation and make sure everyone understands each other, which can be a challenge in fast-paced situations where difficult topics are often at the centre of discussion. This requires certain skills that might not be so obvious until you run into problems – at which point it’s already too late.

Here are five things you need from a professional interpreter.

#1: The necessary language skills

Of course, the first thing you need from a professional translator is the necessary language skills. This means absolute fluency in every language expected to be used in your meeting, plus the vocabulary and topical knowledge to understand the conversation, no matter how complex it becomes.

#2: Topical and industry knowledge

In most settings where you need professional interpreter services, regular conversation skills aren’t going to cut it. As we say, your interpreter is going to need extensive vocabulary and topical knowledge to keep up with technical business, legal or medical terms – to name a few examples. They also need to know how proceedings operate in your setting and how to conduct themselves. The demands of a courtroom are significantly different to a patient’s room where a doctor needs to explain how they’re going to deal with a serious illness to family members.

#3: Excellent sensory, motor and cognitive skills

In 2014, the BBC featured an article entitled The amazing brains of the real-time interpreters. While it’s not the most current piece of writing on interpretation, its headline still sums up the excellent sensory, motor and cognitive skills displayed by professionals in this niche. The thing is, great interpreters aren’t simply translating words. They’re interpreting all of the nuances, idioms, tone of voice and even body language that might influence the true meaning of what people are saying – and then converting it into another language.

#4: Cultural awareness

Language barriers always bring cultural differences with them and this is something an interpreter must always be ready to deal with. For example, a political reference in one language might not be relevant to the audience in another and this gives your interpreter something to think about. Do they feel the reference will be relevant enough to the target audience or does it need to be adapted? Should it be replaced entirely with a similar but more relevant example or should your interpreter provide a brief explanation or comparison – assuming there is time to do so? These are the kind of decisions the best interpreters make in an instant, without interrupting the flow of conversation.

#5: Emotional impartiality

In many cases where interpreter services are required, emotions can be difficult to avoid. Imagine court cases where victims, witnesses, or even suspects, need an interpreter to give evidence. Or scenarios where a family needs to be told their residency in the UK is no longer valid due to Britain leaving the EU. Sadly, there are many cases like this and a professional interpreter needs to stay emotionally impartial, no matter how difficult the topic of conversation might become.

It takes more than language skills to make a professional interpreter. When important business contracts, legal decisions and lives are on the line, language barriers can’t be allowed to get in the way.

If you need more information on professional interpreter services, get in touch with our team of experts today.

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Posted on: April 26th, 2018