Think You Have What it Takes?


We’ve posted before that the future job prospects for interpreters have never been better. Interpreting is a great career for a number of reasons. But what is it exactly that makes a good interpreter? There are no hard and fast rules about what kind of personality type is best suited to this line of work, but there are definitely traits that help!






Freelance interpreters have to be highly adaptable people. We work in board rooms and warehouses, hospitals and factories. Your ‘workplace’ can vary widely from one day to the next. A willing attitude and a flexible mindset are essential to enjoying the work.



The languages you work in are always evolving, so there really is no way to have learned everything. Staying curious and engaged with the cultures of your languages is essential to being an effective interpreter. Curiosity will help keep you on top of your terminology and it will help you connect with your clients.


Team Player

Interpreting is difficult, skilled work that is often uncelebrated. A bad interpreter can spoil an entire conference if they are unprepared. You are part of a team, and your work is important, even if it goes unnoticed. Interpreters are also often literally team players when doing extended simultaneous interpretation. We generally work in pairs, and the non-speaking partner will feed any tricky terminology to the active interpreter. Even though only one of us is speaking at a time, both parties are engaged in a team effort.



An interpreter must maintain strict confidentiality as per the standard code of ethics. In sensitive situations, such as medical visits or legal interviews, it is especially helpful if the client knows he or she can speak freely.




Memory / Recall

Particularly when performing consecutive interpreting, having a good memory is very helpful. We have written previously about shorthand and other methods of taking quick notes while doing consecutive work. There are plenty of memorization techniques that can help if this is an area you want to improve in.



It goes without saying that it is impossible to interpret in a subject area if you are not familiar with the technical terms used. We still regularly prepare for assignments by reviewing subject matter terminology in the days before an assignment. Precision is usually key where technical terminology is involved.



Not all venues require certification, but gaining some sort of certification communicates ability and professionalism. The ATA certification (American Translators Association)  is recognized across fields and is something many agencies look for when hiring interpreters.


Do you have anything to add to this list? What is it that you think makes a good interpreter?