CommGap International Language Services


And Now…Getting the Interpretation Services You Need

November 18th, 2013

Last week’s article dealt with a few tips that clients who are needing translation work done should keep in mind. This week, we’ll take a look at a few things clients should consider when purchasing interpretation services. As we did in the last article, we’ll be using the American Translator’s Association’s publication entitled “Interpretation: Getting it Right,” and adding in comments and tips that we’ve found useful.

Who can interpret?

Just as in translation, just being bilingual doesn’t qualify someone to perform professional interpretation services.  The ATA says, “Nine times out of ten, relying on well-meaning but untrained volunteers is a huge waste of human and financial resources.” So who can do it then? Someone with specialized training and experience in interpreting the language pair you’re looking for and in the subject area that the meeting or exchange deals with.  That specialized training typically comes with some sort of certification, and as a client, you have the right to ask what certification an interpreter has. Make sure that the certification deals with the subject area you need the interpretation for: a trained courtroom interpreter shouldn’t interpret in a hospital or medical clinic unless he or she is also certified in medical interpreting. Using an unqualified interpreter may cause expensive and irreparable damage to you and your company, and may even lead to a lawsuit.

What kinds of interpreting are there?

Several. Perhaps the most common form is what’s called consecutive interpretation. This is when one person speaks, then stops; the interpreter interprets those words to the second person; the second person replies, and the cycle continues. In more formal venues, such as high profile business meetings or UN conferences, simultaneous interpretation takes place: interpreters are equipped with a microphone and listen to discourse at some distance from the meeting’s participants, and they transmit the interpretation to listeners through headsets in real time. This is a more expensive form of interpreting, but a necessary one if intermittent speaking isn’t practical.

There are many variations to these main forms of interpretation, and it’s important for a client to research and decide which form fits their needs. It is also important to find an interpreter that has experience in the form of interpretation you need—someone who has never performed simultaneous interpretation before will most likely commit errors if they are called upon to do so without any practice, as the skills needed for this type of interpretation are different than those needed in consecutive interpreting.

Give the interpreter as much information as possible

Many of the problems that arise in interpretation come from the interpreter not having sufficient knowledge beforehand about the meeting that needs to be interpreted. Even within specializations like legal or medical interpretation, there are specific areas that the interpreter will have to be very familiar with in order to interpret accurately. Not every medical interpreter has experience in, say, interpreting during a breast cancer evaluation or a physical therapy session, and likewise, a board meeting is different than a factory tour, though a single corporation might call upon both.

Some other things to consider: Is there a particular dialect or several dialects that will be used throughout the meeting, and does the interpreter have experience speaking and listening in depth to these dialects? Is there a glossary of terms the interpreter might need to be aware of? Will documents be handed out during the meeting that the interpreter will need to sight translate, or will Powerpoint slides be shown? If the interpreter can get a hold of these materials before the meeting, he or she will be much more prepared to interpret accurately, and communication will go much smoother. The more you help the interpreter prepare for his or her work, the more you help yourself in getting your message through to those who need to hear it.

Check out this great resource from the American Translator Association(ATANET), Getting it Right: Interpreting

For more tips on finding the right interpreter, visit our Interpretation service page or contact us today to get your questions answered, email us at