If you are planning on hiring an interpreter, you'll need to first ask a few questions, namely; what are the characteristics I need to look for when sourcing an interpreter? The act of interpreting seems fairly straightforward: the speaker speaks, and the interpreter interprets. However, what seems to be a simple exercise is a complex process that only a professional interpreter can successfully negotiate. So what should you look for when taking on an interpreter? Some of the skills required may seem rather obvious, while others are less so. Below we discuss some of the most important characteristics you need consider in your search for a professional interpreter.

Expertise of both the Source and Target Languages

Language interpreting demands excellent knowledge of the source language (one from which the interpreter interprets) and the target language (one into which the interpreter interprets). Simply being bilingual is not enough to possess the skill to professionally interpret. The depth of knowledge required by the interpreter extends beyond a simple ability to converse, and is usually only achieved after years of extensive formal education often at a tertiary level.

Mental Capability and Adaptability

The highest quality interpreting services are performed by professional simultaneous interpreters who must be comfortable working in a pressured and changing environment. The interpreter may need to react quickly and work within fluid conditions. Interpreters may have limited information about the topic of conversation prior to the assignment. For example, an interpreter will not know the exact topics of discussion if assigned to interpret during a board meeting, especially if there are open questions asked during the meeting. Interpreters may also have to deal with last minute changes to schedules or running sheets of assignments. And of course, a speaker may well choose to depart from even a prepared speech.

Skilled at Maintaining Focus and Concentration

It is critical for an interpreter to be able to focus and maintain concentration for sustained periods. They must be able to pay close attention to what is being said and avoid all distractions. If the interpreters concentration lapses, they may miss a word, sentence or the meaning of what they are interpreting. Concentration is particularly vital during simultaneous interpreting because the interpreter is not given the option of asking a speaker to repeat his/her comments. This form of interpreting is especially challenging and mental fatigue can become an issue for even the most experienced simultaneous interpreter. To maintain quality during these assignments, industry practice dictates that interpreters should interpret for no more than 30 minutes before a second interpreter takes over.

Ability to remain calm and perform under stress.

Interpreting can be viewed as a performance where your every word is critical to the show's success. And whether you have an audience of 2 people or 500 people you must be able to remain cool under pressure. An interpreter cannot be susceptible to stage fright or nerves. They must perform meticulously while accepting perfection is impossible and be able to remain calm in the face of distractions and unanticipated events.

Interpreting is a complex vocation. A highly skilled professional interpreter requires many talents which they can rely on and utilise depending on the nature of the assignment.

Interpreting could be viewed as an art, a fine balance of skills that an excellent interpreter controls with finesse to produce a polished and refined work.