How to spot a good interpreter?
Updated: Jul 30
1. Accuracy of Interpretation
Repeating each speaker's words accurately and completely is the most fundamental duty for any
professional interpreter. A good interpreter strives to convey both the literal and metaphorical meaning as well as non-linguistic codes, while remaining sensitive to any potential cultural misunderstandings. Interpreters should never paraphrase, summarize, add or omit anything said.
Professional interpreters never divulge any information about their client. Interpreters should never use privileged information for personal gain.
Interpreters should signal any real or potential conflicts of interest that might make it inappropriate to interpret in a given situation. This includes any existing personal or financial relationship with one of the parties.
4. Competence and Misrepresentation
Interpreters should only accept assignments that are within their sphere of competence. They should never misrepresent their training, their abilities or their professional credentials to get a job.
5. Language skills and experience
Knowing a second language or being a bilingual does not make them a professional interpreter. It is a whole different ball game being able to listen to, process, translate and reproduce words in a matter of split seconds over a prolonged period of time – something which can only come with experience in this line of work.
6. Note taking and breaks
A good interpreter knows its processing capabilities. They will signal that the utterance is long enough for interpretation to ensure nothing is lost. They will note down, ask for clarification, repetition when needed. If the client speaks continuously for 20 minutes and the ‘interpreter’ translates it in a few sentences, you are certain they are not a professional.
Interpreters remain outsiders to the situation and do not let their personal attitudes or opinions affect their work. They do not function as assistants or representatives to the people they interpret for.
8. First person
A good interpreter translates everything in first person. If the patient says, “my head hurts,” the interpreter will relay, “my head hurts,” for the health professional.
9. Flow of Communication
To avoid misunderstanding, interpreters should ask all parties to speak directly to each other and keep sentences short to ensure accuracy of the message. Interpreters should also assign a hand motion to signal pauses (in case the speaker goes on too long) to allow time to complete the interpretation.
Everything that is said should be interpreted, even if it was not directed to the other party. For example: If the doctor has side conversations with the nurse and you and the patient can both hear it, the interpreter should translate it. The patient has the right to hear everything spoken in the room.
Interpreters should always introduce themselves to the parties at the beginning of the job. They should say e.g.: . “My name is .... , I work for .... and I will be interpreting for you and the client today. I will translate everything that is said today and keep it all confidential. I will be impartial and will interpret in the first person. I might take notes but will destroy them before leaving. I might interrupt for clarification, and you may do the same if needed. I will now translate everything that I have just said to the other party. “
12. No side conversation
Interpreters should never start side conversations with a client that exclude the client. To reduce the chance for this, interpreters should leave the room when the doctor/ client leaves.
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