Tips On Being Better Interpreter

Being an interpreter is not an easy profession. It isn’t just simply sitting down and translating anything the speaker says to the audience, you aren’t just a background voice or a pawn on the stage, you’re essential, you’re a valuable extension in this presentation, if you weren’t there, well… Things wouldn’t be going very smoothly; therefore you must be aware of a few things. There are many skills and or traits that an interpreter must be aware of and apply. Other than the obvious knowledge of another language; there are 3 that, in my opinion, are the most important ones to be successful in the field.


Yes… Acting

I’ll set up a scenario, you’re interpreting in a serious business meeting, and the speaker has the most serious tone you’ve probably ever heard in your life, nearly fearful. Your routine business meeting turns into a heated dispute, now, don’t get intimidated by this; you have to remain relaxed when this is happening, we don’t want you screaming what he says, don’t overact and move around like the guy, remember you’re just another person in the room, you’re interpreting what he’s saying, don’t be like that scene in “Spanglish” where Flor confronts John through her daughter:

Even though you are there to purely translate don’t be a regular ol’ translating machine, don’t pull a Google translate with the speech option. Make the interpretation a human experience, that’s why they looked for you.


Let’s say, you were hired by a speaker at a conference; they have an hour long presentation at this huge event. You’ll most likely get the chance to meet your employer. This is a huge advantage as you’re given the chance to get to know the person you’re interpreting for so don’t shy it out. Ask as many questions about the topic as you can, get familiarized with it, be interested in the topic. Be enthusiastic.

Believe me it will not only make you much more comfortable interpreting but you’d have some awareness as to what you’re actually saying and your employer will be happy with you, you’d make them look good so it’s a win-win situation.

Being affable and confident are pretty much the requirements to be an interpreter. You have to be approachable and sure of yourself. No matter if you’re mentally and physically exhausted for whatever reason in that moment, you have to put on a smile and pull through and be courteous and willing to communicate in case after the presentation someone might want your contact information or to know more about the presentation, on the contrary you’re not only going to make yourself look bad but also your speaker.

Confidence and self-control:

Confidence and self-control are necessary traits for any profession where there is public speaking, where you’re in the public eye, be it you’re a singer, actor, dancer, motivational speaker, interpreter, among others.

In our case, we have to be confident, not so confident that we come off as cocky but confident enough that even if we don’t know what we’re talking about it seems as if we do.

Put yourself in this situation, you’re in Argentina; you were hired by a French business man that was holding a convention. We’re only human, we may have a lot of knowledge but we sometimes don’t know it all and knowing multiple languages it’s very easy to mix them and forget some meanings, there could be a word said that you may not know how to exactly translate it into the target language, so, even if the word is unfamiliar to you, you can’t let it show, you’re face expression can tattle you out easily (unless you have already mastered the poker face, which I suggest you do.)

You have to keep your head up and at least act like your sure of what you’re saying, if not your image will falter with the audience and with the speaker. In certain circumstances, and if you’re confident enough to do so, ask the speaker what they meant, it’ll show that you want to do your job as accurately as possible, however there’s a limit to how many times you can question the speaker, if you ask too much it’ll look as if you aren’t being professional, that you are faulty in that topic or even the language.

At the end of the day, just take a few deep breaths and remember what I like to call the “RCC”: Relaxed, confident and contained; Happy interpreting!  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *