What It Takes to Be an Interpreter

As you’re trying to decide where to go with your career and what you can do with the language skills you have, becoming a language interpreter may be a path that comes to mind. But what does it take to become an interpreter?

We probably all know the basics: You need to be fluent in at least two languages. You should be someone who has a desire to help bridge language gaps, to help people communicate their needs and point of view. You are someone who does not belittle another person because of his inability to communicate in the lingua franca, but treats that person with equality. You need to be okay with face-to-face interactions with clients, and you should be able to interact cordially and be personable with clients. Most importantly, you want to be passionate about the work.

Besides your personality and interest, traits you should possess or be able to obtain are:

Good command of the lingo.  Of course, the most basic prerequisite of becoming an interpreter is fluency of the language and the different registers.

Good public speaking skills.  Interpreters need to be able to speak clearly to deliver their messages. Even though we are not creating the content, your communication of the information between languages needs to be clear and understandable.

Ability to work in a fast-paced environment.  Interpreting is fast paced. You have to think on your feet and convert languages on the spot. There isn’t much time to think through or reconstruct sentences, and you need to be okay and ready for that.

Calm when it comes to stressful situations.  Because interpreters work in a fast-paced environment  it can become stressful. The ability to deal with that stress is important.

Reliable transportation.  Interpreting jobs are not often held in the same location, particularly if you are a freelancer.  Having reliable transportation, whether it’s public transit or a car, is important, so you can get to your destinations on time.

Lifelong learner.  Language is always changing and evolving.  Subject matters we  handle can differ on a case-to-case basis as well.  As part of interpreters’ professionalism, you must be willing to hone your language skills continually and keep up with the trends and literature, whether it’s legal or medical or in any field, to ensure you are providing top-notch and quality services to your clients. Some ideas of keeping up with your language skills can be found in one of my earlier posts.

What other qualities do you believe an interpreter should have? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy interpreting!

One thought on “What It Takes to Be an Interpreter

  1. Hi Shenyun, great post! I’ve just launched a new online workplace: http://www.cresters.com, for which I am looking for translators/interpreters. If you have a minute could you check out the site and tell me what you think?
    Anyway I hope you have a great day! 🙂

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