There were nearly 57,000 interpreters and translators working in the U.S. in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Professional interpreters help facilitate communication and understanding across cultures and remove language barriers. They support events and conferences, play an integral role in the U.S. legal system, and help businesses serve clients around the world.
Finding a professional, reliable, and skilled interpreter can feel daunting. What makes a good interpreter one of the best? To help, we’ve listed the qualities that we think make a good interpreter great. They are broken up into two important categories – technical skills and interpersonal skills.
Technical Skills that Interpreters Must Have
1. Language Fluency – A demonstration of near-native fluency in the source and destination languages should be expected. The best interpreters also bring specialized industry knowledge, including jargon.
2. Industry Specialization (Certification) – When it comes to specialized industries and high-stakes events, including legal and healthcare, professional interpretation is essential. Accreditation requirements can vary by state and industry, but certification is one way to identify professionals who can meet your needs. Learn more about interpreter and translator certifications.
3. Memory and Multitasking – A great memory is vital when it comes to simultaneous interpretation, which requires fast recall. Interpreters are charged with retaining the speaker’s words, identifying the best interpretation, and speaking – all at the same time. The ability to multitask is essential.
4. Notation Skills – Notation is an important skill in providing accurate consecutive interpretation. It requires the interpreter to take notes and share their interpretation during predetermined speaker pauses. These interpreters must have great shorthand and notation skills to ensure accuracy.
Interpersonal Skills that Distinguish the Best Interpreters
1. Empathy – The best interpreters show compassion and empathy. Medical visits, depositions, court testimony – these are all stressful situations that can be made less so with a professional interpreter who provides compassionate support. Creating a comfortable environment can be as impactful as ensuring clear communication and mutual understanding.
2. Public Speaking – Interpreters must be skilled at speaking to both small and large audiences, so confident public speaking skills are key. Clear diction and an ability to mirror the tone and nuances of the speaker further separate great interpreters from the rest.
3. Level Headed – Interpreters can be called to help when there is a lot on the line. The best interpreters remain focused on ensuring the highest degree of accuracy, even in stressful situations. From emergency response to court interpretation, the professional must remain calm and competent in complex situations.
4. Growth-Minded – The best translators take pride in their work and want to deliver the highest quality service possible. They ask for a clarification to ensure they’re communicating the speaker’s intended meaning, rather than just a word-for-word translation. Asking clarifying questions can be critical in technical situations requiring a high degree of specificity.
5. Embrace Your Goals as Their Own – The best interpreters match the speaker’s tone so the intent and energy behind the original speaker is not lost in translation. Speakers often seek to move their audience to feel or to see things from a different perspective. Their tone and rhythm help create that experience for listeners and shouldn’t be excluded by interpreters.
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