What to Look For in Interpreting Agencies

Interpreting and translating are two sides of the same coin. They both facilitate communication from one language to another, but the form of the language is different. Interpreters are used for converting the spoken word from one language to another while translators convert text.

Interpreting

It is important to distinguish between the two, as although some interpreters are probably capable of translating well enough and vice versa, basically they are different skills. If you need an interpreter, you need to look for a suitable interpreting service and not a translating service! 

There are Several Factors you should Consider when Choosing an Interpreting Agency

• Can the interpreter speak the language you want interpreted fluently?
• Is the interpreter experienced in interpreting?
• Is the interpreter trained in interpreting and has a recognised qualification?
• Is there a need for the interpreter to be specialised in the topic or content that is likely to be used in the communication?
• Is the interpreter capable of understanding and interpreting cultural nuances and appreciating sensitivities if these are likely to be a concern?
• Were previous customers satisfied with the interpreting service?

Fluency in the Language Needed

Fluency is obviously a pre-requisite for any interpreter. Remember that a good interpreter must be able to listen and interpret what he/she has heard at considerable speed. Lack of fluency is likely to delay the interpreting session and possibly cause misunderstanding. As important as being fluent is the grounding in the cultural contexts of both languages. A good interpreter can prevent misunderstanding and embarrassment through their understanding of each person’s cultural backgrounds.

For example, person X says something that is culturally innocuous in his / her own culture but could cause offense if converted literally into the language of person Y. The fluent, but culturally astute interpreter, can side step possible cultural dissonance by adapting the language to suit.

Experience, Training and Certification

Most professional interpreters have gone through some sort of training. This might be at a college or university depending on the country where the interpreter is based. It might be difficult to determine just how well trained an individual freelance interpreter is if you are unaware of training requirements. In many countries there are professional associations to which interpreters can belong. These associations usually have criteria which must be demonstrated before admittance to the association is allowed.

In Australia, for example, the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) is the main organisation that sets standards for both translators and interpreters, hence its name. If you need an Australian based interpreter, then you would certainly want to check that he/she has NAATI accreditation. There are similar examples in other countries, even though the names of the relevant bodies or associations may be differently named. They can usually be found by a Google search or through a Wikipedia site.

Specialisation

How specialised are your interpreting requirements? Do you need an interpreter for legal purposes, e.g. to interpret in a court hearing? Is the interpreter likely to have to interpret something of a scientific, technical or medical nature? Is the interpreter expected to be used in a marketing context? Interpreters, like translators, tend to specialise, mainly because there is more to language than basic fluency.

The content of the language that needs to be communicated may have its own specific terminology. A specialised scientific interpreter would be less useful if he/she were to be used in a business or legal context. Larger professional interpreting services may have interpreters available, or can be drawn upon, who can interpret in both the languages required and the context that is required, too.

How to Choose the Right Interpreter

You can use the guidelines above to narrow down who you could choose. Sometimes you may have less choice simply because you need an interpreter quickly. You may be in a remote location or somewhere an interpreter is simply not available at all. You may be able to use a telephone interpreting service if a locally based interpreter is not available. Telephone interpreters can be based anywhere. They may also be available through the internet making the potential choice much larger. 

Like choosing any business these days, you can use reviews, as long as they are genuinely independent, and comments made by previous customers, if stuck for a choice. If the interpreter you want is a difficult choice, there is no reason why you can’t try and get in touch with previous customers by phone or email to see if they were genuinely satisfied and the skills of the interpreter they used suit your particular requirements.