The Interpreter's Skillset


In some regards, interpreters and translators can be seen as two different sides of the same coin.

They both specialize in the communication of meaning, but approach it in very different ways. It goes without saying that an excellent mastery of the languages of choice is essential in both professions, but the differences that set both disciplines apart stick out like a sore thumb as soon as the jobs start coming in. 

As much as they might share a common love for languages, a good translator will not necessarily make a good interpreter and vice versa, and since we’ve already written at length about the skills required to be a good translator (it’s our home turf after all!), let’s take a look at the key abilities for being a great interpreter.

Develop your social skills

Translation can often be a rather lonely job, but being an interpreter is far from it. Interacting in real time with people of different cultures and backgrounds will require a good dose of social skills to make clients feel confortable and at ease. There are plenty of other social interactions that an interpreter might encounter before turning up to a meeting on the other side of the world, so it’s always a plus to navigate them as efficiently as possible.

Work on your punctuality

Deadlines are hugely important in translation, and in the world of interpreters the big time management skill is the ability to be in the right place at the right time. If a job requires catching trains and connecting flights, any slight delay can make the hours pile up at an alarming speed and steer you dangerously close to a non-appearance. The ability to plan ahead is key, so the worst case scenario never takes place.

Man on the subway looking at his watch

Be an outstanding listener

It’s quite hard to stay 100% engaged and focused on what a person is saying, and even harder when having to interpret everything in real time, but this focus on listening is an essential skill for any serious interpreter aiming to get into the field. Keeping those ears wide open is a must, as a small lapse in attention can mean essential information is lost.

Technological literacy

After 2020 the world will never be the same. Countless companies have transitioned to the online world, as the huge reduction in travel and other expenses offered is too much to ignore. Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts are some of the many applications to keep in mind now that many of the traditionally in-person meetings might very well be something of the past. 

Keeping up with technology can be a lifesaver.

Patience is a virtue

Although interpreters are expected to perfectly master the languages they are hired for, the clients don’t necessarily have the same requirements. From huge mistakes that completely alter the meaning of a phrase, to indecipherable accents that can prove a very difficult to understand, let alone interpret, some clients just bring the most challenging of surprises to the table. Both of these and everything in between will require a huge deal of patience to deal with, so it’s a great skill to have under one’s belt.

Grace under pressure

Humans are sometimes nice, and sometimes…not so nice. It’s impossible to predict in which mood a client might arrive, or how much patience he or she has left for the day. If the worse does happen and the whole thing starts falling apart, developing the necessary diplomatic skills to prevent an outright disaster can save the day for everybody in the room. Sometimes interpreters double as diplomats, and many negotiations have been saved by keeping potentially problematic exchanges under control. 

Man and woman with mask talking to another woman with mask who types on the computer

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