Speaking more than one language is impressive. But being able to professionally interpret for someone who speaks a different language? That’s an even bigger feat.

Language interpreters transmit ideas for foreign language speakers in a number of different environments, some of them possibly life changing. Interpreting in the courtroom and healthcare settings gives non-native speakers a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have, deciphering 911 calls and legal testimony.

They make business possible for international companies and clients and bridge cultural and linguistic barriers. In short, interpreters are important people.

But, as in any industry, some professionals are better than others. An effective language interpreter possesses more than just top-notch language skills – they are able to combine a number of linguistic and interpersonal abilities to get the job done right.

A strong interpreter should have the following five traits:

1. Amazing Language Skills

First and foremost, interpreters need to have an exhaustive grasp of the language they interpret for. This sounds obvious, but it’s not always the case. When an interpreter is working in the field,  they probably don’t have time to refer to an encyclopedia or dictionary. An extensive vocabulary and excellent written and verbal communication skills are a must.

An interpreter should be able to speak just as well, and preferably better, than a native speaker. Superior grammatical knowledge and the ability to interpret idioms, nuance and metaphors in conversation is essential to effective communication.

2. Specialty Knowledge

Most translators work in a specific industry or field (i.e. healthcare, legal, business, etc.). This means they need to have specialized knowledge in a certain area to be successful communicators. Even though someone might be an amazing multilingual speaker, they wouldn’t get far interpreting at a hospital if they had no experience with medical vocabulary and lingo.

3. Accreditation

Certification or accreditation from a reputable interpretation institution shows that an interpreter has put the necessary work in and has the credentials to do the job well.  Those who have undergone professional training will not only have a better grasp on language requirements, but also codes of ethics used by interpreters.

At the same time, someone who has received credentials is less likely to make mistakes on the job. And errors can lead to serious consequences for both interpreters and the institutions they work for.

4. Soft Skills

A good interpreter is more than just a skilled linguist – he or she is someone who is willing and able to be a good, compassionate listener. Interpretation situations can be intimidating for non-native speakers, and an interpreter should try to make the experience as comfortable as possible. Second in importance to outstanding language skills is the ability to connect with a wide range of people.  These invaluable connections are a necessity for any strong interpreter.

5. Cultural Competence

Interpreters should not only be very familiar with more than one language, but they should also have a cultural understanding of the languages they interpret for. This is the ability to detect certain nonverbal cues or customs that are specific to a particular group of people or geographical place. Having a strong grasp on cultural norms will help an interpreter better convey what a non-native speaker is trying to get across.

A Great Interpreter Is An Empathetic Listener

No matter what industry they work in, interpreters should be equipped with a wide range of linguistic and interpersonal skills. Language education and experience lay a strong foundation for interpreters, but the ability to be an empathetic listener is just as important.

United Language Group announced that it had acquired Language Select, a leading interpretation provider, in December. Visit our interpreting page to learn more about the services we offer.

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Interpretation Strategy Interpreting

Jake Schild

Jake Schild

A former newspaper reporter and native Minnesotan, Jake Schild is a staff writer in the marketing department at ULG.

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