What Qualifications Should I Look for in a Translator or Interpreter?
While Google is an effective tool for finding almost any kind of business, including language service providers, an impressive website isn’t enough. We strongly advise you, as a prospective client of a language services firm, to go the extra mile researching the credentials, backgrounds and work experience advertised by various translators and interpreters before signing a contract.
This makes all the difference in hiring a professional translator who intuits the expectations of your target audience, or a conference interpreter who can truly interpret simultaneously, even when the delegation-going gets tough.
What qualifications should I look for when I need a translator or interpreter?
To begin with, we’d recommend finding a reputable language solutions firm, rather than trying to find an independent translator or interpreter. First and foremost, the firm already will have already vetted the credentials, experience and referrals of their professional translators and interpreters, and negotiated fees, contract terms and working conditions with them, saving you valuable time. Second, firms have access to a greater number of linguists, so there is always a qualified professional available to assist you even when your timeline is short.
We suggest reading our article What to Look for in a Language Services Provider for more information on how to choose the right language solutions provider for your company’s needs.
Make sure you’re hiring the right kind of specialist
It is important to understand the difference between translators and interpreters. We’re often placed into the same category even though our professional roles are very different. While we have a love of language and linguistics in common, translators work with the written word and interpreters work with the spoken word. You don’t want to waste time pouring over the qualifications of a conference interpreter if you’re planning to use the top translator for your company’s newest training manuals.
Please visit our post, Common Misconceptions about Being a Professional Translator, to learn more about these differences.
Find out about their education and experience
There’s a reason why you like to see a medical specialist who graduated from Yale, Stanford or Harvard. Their highly respected academic institution gives you confidence that you’re working with “the best.” Linguists have their own elite institutions, so when we’re networking – or looking for a professional linguist outside of our expertise, we’re always more impressed by colleagues who have earned their graduate-level degree from one of our industry’s most sought-after programs. These include:
- Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS)
- Institute of Intercultural Management & Communication in Paris (ISIT) – Fun Fact: CCA’s two co-owners are ISIT grads.
- École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (ESIT), also in Paris
- University of Geneva, Switzerland (ETI)
- University of Mons, Belgium
- University of Bath, England
This isn’t to say other schools don’t have excellent programs – but these programs graduate the crème de la crème, and graduates’ credentials are respected around the globe, including by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters.
Experience is also an important part of the puzzle. Work with an experienced translator or interpreter who is familiar with your industry niche and/or approach. For example, court and community interpreters do not have the same skillset as conference interpreters. The former may be experts at short consecutive interpreting (also called liaison) but they rarely have the opportunity to develop their conference-level simultaneous interpreting skills, which are essential for larger-format presentations, conferences, delegations, etc.
How have they kept up their skills?
Translators and interpreters use language as a tool, but simply being fluent in another language does not mean that you can be a translator or interpreter. Moreover, language isn’t a static entity. It’s a living thing that evolves and changes with time and cultural shifts. And when you don’t use language on a regular basis, you get rusty. Language professionals keep up their skill set by:
- Working regularly (for example, in the interpreting arena, you want an interpreter with at least five years or 200+ hours of conference-level interpreting behind them);
- Spending time in countries that speak their A, B and C languages on a regular basis;
- Keeping up to date in terminology of a variety of fields, topics, and industries;
- Reading news and pop-culture articles and watch TV/movies/media in their working languages.
Not only does this regular practice keep a professional linguist’s language skills intact, it also ensures they remain up-to-date with the current culture of your target audience.
They present themselves as professionals
Building a rapport with clients – both you and your client/colleagues/target audience – means being a professional at all times. If your translator shows up unkempt, ill-prepared, seems overly casual or relaxed about the work there is to be done, it doesn’t bode well for their future work. You should also feel 100% confident that your account is treated respectfully and confidentially. If you’re heading to a conference in Maui, and the attire is “Hawaiian casual” – that’s great, and you can instruct your interpreters accordingly. Otherwise, you should expect them to be dressed in professional business attire and conduct themselves accordingly at all times.
Professional translators and interpreters like to be as prepared as possible and should ask you to share any documents, information, scripts, historical work, company information, etc., as you can to provide. While it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or fearful when handing over proprietary information, consider that fear a litmus test. A professional linguist maintains strict confidentiality. If you’ve hired the right translator/interpreter – their professionalism, demeanor and experience will put you at ease and sharing your information with them will ensure they are even a stronger part of your team.
Looking for a language solutions firm to handle your next multinational event? Contact us here at Chang-Castillo and Associates. Our reputation as the industry’s platinum-standard in language solutions and services is proof that we only work with the best.