Interpreters are an essential part of life whenever people meet who do not understand each others’ languages well enough for fruitful communication. They are needed by businesses, by government agencies, in hospitals, schools, at international conferences and by tourists, just to name a few examples. Many people are quite capable of fluency in more than their native language, but this doesn’t make them a natural choice for an interpreter’s job, even if they wanted one.
Some of the Qualities of a Good Interpreter are Explored Below
1. They must have Excellent Fluency in at Least one Other Language than their Own
The most obvious quality and starting point for choosing an interpreter is that they must have excellent fluency in at least one other language other than their own. Preferably, they will have lived in the country where their second or third language is spoken so they become familiar with accents and dialects as well as the use of colloquial language. Even more than translators, interpreters must be able to deliver an interpretation of what they hear quickly and accurately.
To give an example of the importance of local knowledge, consider the French-born translator who specializes in English to French conversion. They may be in the same room as the people they are interpreting for or in a more remote location. Can they understand the regional dialects of Scottish, Irish, Geordie, Yorkshire, American and Australian, all of which are variations of English?
2. Specialist Training, Certification and/or Accreditation is a Plus
When selecting an interpreter from a number of possibilities, it is more certain that the interpreter who can point to an approved training course, certification and / or accreditation with a national body will be a more attractive option. Qualifications for employment vary from country to country. Most countries have specialist interpreter courses and in some accreditation may be a compulsory necessity for employment with a government body.
To take an example, in Australia, the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) sets standards for interpreting and tests would be interpreters against these standards. Ther are different levels of interpreter certification, but the best interpreters must gain accreditation with NAATI to get better-paid jobs.
The corollary is that any organization that is looking for a particularly good interpreter will naturally choose a NAATI accredited interpreter than one who has learned the skills all by themselves without attending any special training.
3. Specialisation may be Necessary
Most interpreters tend to work within a particular field. They may choose a business field, a scientific or medical one, or a sporting field, to name a few examples. Specialisation may be gained from time within that particular field that has been gained aside from the interpreting carer. For example, a legal interpreter may have worked as a legal assistant in a former life. The vocabulary and language skills are usefully transferred over to interpreting.
4. Cultural Sensitivity
Good interpreters will have had experience with the culture of the people whose language they are interpreting. This is essential as language cues are often sent through cultural nuances which may not be understood in a literal linguistic context. Coupled with the verbal language, the interpreter can combine these two signals to present a more accurate version to the other person or group who is part of the conversation.
It can’t be emphasised enough that an interpreter must be a good listener. Empathy is more than just having an ability to sense how someone else is feeling. The interpreter is often faced to face with real people and social skills are far more important than they are for the other language conversion expert – the translator.