Insights July 21, 2021

So you’re hiring an interpreter. How hard can it be?

Living Word
By Living Word

Hiring an interpreter surely can’t be that hard? Well – as it happens, there are a number of things that can go wrong, and terribly so, as we’ve exemplified before. But with our checklist, it should hopefully be smooth sailing.


  1. Analyse your own needs

How could you possibly find The One if you’re not yet sure what you’re looking for? Start by thinking about your needs. What’s being translated, and for whom? Do you need consecutive interpretation – that’s when an interpreter translates, say, a business meeting for the attendees – or simultaneous interpretation, where the interpreter’s translation is audible through audience headsets? Whatever your needs, you want to make sure that your interpreter is familiar with both the logistics and the type of event.

  1. Do your research

There’s nothing wrong with trusting your gut, but before you interview interpreters to see if you get on with them, read testimonials and reviews. This helps not just in flagging any potential weaknesses or issues, but also in highlighting key skills and areas of expertise that the interpreter perhaps hasn’t listed on their own profile or website. Which brings us onto…

  1. Make sure your interpreter ticks your expertise boxes

Linguistic qualifications go a long way, but if you’re in an industry with plenty of jargon or complex terminology, you’ll likely want to hire someone who knows that industry inside out. Whether it’s legal terms or medical phrases, finding an interpreter who doesn’t need to be briefed on all the terminology and jargon saves a huge amount of time and energy.

  1. Brief them properly

And yet, it’s a good idea to brief them on all of the above, at least to some extent. If you’ve found a good match, a glossary won’t be necessary, but you should always aim to send over any documentation a few days in advance and to think of specific acronyms or case details you think are likely to come up, which the interpreter can’t prepare for without prior warning.

  1. Explain context and goals

The better the interpreter understands the context of the meeting or event they’re translating, the better their interpretation is likely to be. Forget about confidentiality as much as possible and give them names, titles, history and other relevant information. And remember to discuss your ‘why’ with them. Why is the event taking place, and what are you hoping to achieve? Make the interpreter part of your team and they’re far more likely to help you achieve your goals.

  1. Double up

Interpretation requires a huge amount of cognitive work, and research shows that the quality of the live translation tends to suffer after about half an hour. If your event is likely to go on for much longer than this, using a team of interpreters to allow for breaks is a good idea.