What advise would you give to someone wanting to start working as an interpreter?

“A good interpreter is a master of speech and a good translator is a master of the written code.”(Alfredo Vargas). Though both require a distinct set of skills, both also have a shared set of traits. Most of the concepts below also apply to translation, or may be slightly modified to fit the written word.Image

Interpreting is one of the most complex roles in the world. And it is highly underestimated by society at large. The role of a professional interpreter is to convey faithfully and completely the content of the source language by finding adequate equivalent concepts and terms in the target language, and doing this in seconds, literally. The professional interpreter can make very fast decisions and improvise creatively. He or she must have great interpersonal skills, including great patience and empathy. We must be intimately familiarity with both cultures of the working languages to ensure that each concept AND each term used are thorough, accurate, adequate and is correctly used and expressed in the context of the conversation.

As an interpreter, you need to develop a wide array of technical skills. However, I believe that at the basis of interpreting we need the following: First and foremost, obviously, you need to be fully bilingual. You need to have full command of at least two languages. Next, you need to be a very creative person. You need to love to improvise. To create something from nothing. To switch gears at the drop of a pin. Interpreting is all about being attuned with your environment and adjusting immediately to any change in the environment. Creativity is, in my opinion, at the core of any interpreter’s traits. I believe that if you are not a highly creative human being who feels very comfortable improvising and adapting, it will be extremely difficult to be an interpreter. All the other skills you can learn. Creativity, you have to be. So, my first recommendation would be to ask yourself: am I creative and can I improvise? Or am I a more rigid methodical thinker? Because interpreters are also methodical thinkers, second, improvisers first.
Next, you should develop other non-technical skills, that are: listening, acquisition of knowledge, public speaking, note taking, and memory.

After that, the first thing is to learn how to listen. The interpreter needs, above all, be an extraordinary listener. Listen to what the person is saying, not what you think the person is saying , but what they are really truly saying. You need to learn to grasp the meaning behind the speakers works, the message being conveyed, the context in which that message is being rendered. To do that, you need to hone on your listening skills. My recommendation. Listen to the news on TV and Radio. Just sit and listen. Don’t try to translate or jot down. Sit and listen, during hours and hours. That is your first task. To learn to listen. To learn not to make assumptions. Not to guess what the person is going to say. Not to judge what has been said. Just listen to the words and message of the person talking. To concentrate and keep your thought process centered on the source of the messages, not on your own thoughts. And do this in both languages of your language pair.

Second, be knowledgeable. Read a lot. Read all sort of newspapers, either on the computer or printed. Read magazines about the world. Follow international affairs. Increase your general knowledge in the areas you plan to interpreter. If you can, go and live in the countries where your language pairs are mostly spoken. Learn about the local cultures. If you cannot go and live there, use the internet, watch youtube videos about those countries and regarding those cultures, watch movies, listen to the news, if you have cable TV, get those countries news, buy the magazines that center on those cultures. If you are going to be an interpreter, for example in healthcare, read all sorts of medical magazines. Go to your doctor’s office and read all the brochures, all the magazines. Go to the internet and read read read the blogs on medical and clinical information. Read the websites on healthcare. If it you are going to translate in the legal field, watch all the TV programs you can where there is any type of police or investigative reporting. Watch cop movies. Read law mystery books. And so on.
Third, you need to convey your thoughts appropriately. You need to learn to be very efficient with words. You need to build up your vocabulary. Know about as many subjects as you possibly can. Read glossaries. Make the reading of glossaries your passion. Stop reading just for the pleasure of reading and give meaning to your reading habits. Concentrate on downloading glossaries from the internet on the subjects of your interest and read them. Don’t try to memorize them, just put them in the hard drive of your brain where you will have access to the information when you need it.

Enroll in public speaking groups. Practice speaking out loud. Don’t hold your thoughts, start expressing your thoughts in the shower, in the car, when you are cleaning your home. Talk talk talk, specially in your second language. Become progressively fluent and comfortable expressing your thoughts. Learn to react very fast, to strengthen the connection between your thoughts and your tongue. Every day in the morning and at night try translating the local news for about half an hour. Do not judge yourself. Just let the words come out. It does not matter if at the beginning you don’t get it right. Learning to swim or ride a bike takes time. And the only way to learn it is doing it. If you don’t do it you will never learn it. The same is true for interpreting.You need to develop excellent communication skills, with the ability to express thoughts understandably, delivering your speech in such a way that it is clear and concise in all registers and at varying levels of formality or informality as be required. Do not judge yourself. Just do it, right or wrong, many times. Expertise will come with practice. The more you do it, the better you will improve your skills.

Fourth, extremely important, learn a fast note-taking technique. Take a shorthand writing course, there are many for free on the internet. Or learn to take your own notes. Practice practice practice taking notes. Do it independently of your exercises in listening or your exercises in speaking or your collection of knowledge. Note taking should be a skill highly developed by all interpreters. It is going to be one of the most valuable skills you can have. Once you feel comfortable taking notes fast, start specializing in taking notes regarding numbers and addresses. Turn on the TV to the financial channel and try to take the notes of all the numbers you hear. Do not judge yourself at first. Just let your skill develop. It will take time and practice. Do it do it do it. You have to practice practice practice.

The fifth essential skill is, of course, memory. The interpreter must have a very good memory or a very good memory to remember what has been said. Although the interpreter will be taking notes of much of what is said, it will be impossible to write down everything, so the interpreter must trust his or her memory to be able to ensure accuracy and completeness. Exercise your memory constantly. However it works for you, find a way to exercise your memory. The brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the fitter it will be.

Of course, these are just some of the steps you need to develop to become an interpreter. You will need to study a lot and learn to analyze content and develop fast reactions, you need to learn to build and use glossaries, to manage stress and perform within strict codes of conduct and ethics, to be in total command of your native and non-native languages, to become familiar with the cultures of the countries your languages represent. You will need to learn to maintain a friendly attitude, even in very distressful situations. To exercise tact and judgement with people who are rude and obnoxious. And cultivate your curiosity, it is your best friend. Keep yourself current. Make learning into a hobby. Learning what? Everything, anything. It is essential to develop a sense of patience and humor, as you will most probably have to deal with a lot of human tragedy and the load may become overwhelming unless you can see yourself just as a bridge between two points, and not necessarily the superwoman or superman that can solve all situations you come in contact with.

It is essential that you become proficient with computers and modern technology, as they will make part of our every day life. In time, as you become more proficient in your craft, you will need to ensure you are familiar with colloquialisms, idiomatic expressions and slang in both working languages. You need to develop the ability to identify the difference sin meaning due to dialects and regionalism.

To become a true professional, you need to have an open mind and learn about the roles of the interpreter, and the boundaries that you need to have, applicable laws and procedures, cultural competence, ethical and professional behavior, quick decision making, excellent customer skills, ability to prioritize and multitask, a huge amount of patience and humility, problem solving and flexibility.

Interpreters in the 21st Century


In an interconnected world, the ability to communicate in “my preferred language” (whatever that may be) has become a crucial component of our world. In less than a decade we have gone from simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, to over-the-phone and remote video-interpreting (simultaneous or consecutive), to web-based instant message delivery. Technology is transforming our profession at the speed of light, literally. The term “medical video interpreting” is so new that many in the profession don’t even know of its existence, yet the technology it is based on (and already commercially available) is sure to change the entire profession. Professional associations are scrambling to get to speed with the changes to better serve their members; certification and credentialing is becoming more urgent than ever; education and training are flourishing; and technology surprises us with so many and fast innovations, that it is hard to keep up with it.  I believe there is an urgent need for us to be extremely aware of the world in which we live and the fascinating digital revolution taking place around us at the speed of light. I stress the fact that instead of resisting technology, we must embrace it and learn to use it to further our professional advancement and intercultural communication.  If we do not become part of the digital revolution, we will soon be left out of the loop of progress… similar to what happened a few decades ago to office workers and freelancers (including translators) who refused to learn how to use a computer … they quickly became professionally obsolete because they were no longer able to interact in the modern interconnected world. This is an attempt to be a “wake-up” call to current and future interpreters about the state of the industry in our Global Village of the 21st century

In this blog, Tony Rosado introduced me to the term “Consecutaneous interpreter” (the mode where -in the same encounter- you use both simultaneous AND consecutive, in accordance with the needs of the participants).

The Professional Interpreter

Dear Colleagues,

I have always known throughout my professional career that some of my colleagues in the conference interpreting field do not like consecutive interpretation. I have listened to speeches about all the meaning that is lost when we use consecutive, I have sat through endless conversations about how the true conference interpreter only does simultaneous work, and I have heard many colleagues refer to consecutive interpretation as a lesser mode used by court and medical interpreters.

Unfortunately, I have also listened to some of their consecutive renditions.  I want to be clear about something: I love conference interpreting; I firmly believe that it is the most complex and demanding field of our profession, and I know that most of my conference interpreter colleagues are the best in their countries and fields of specialization. Nobody gets to be a conference interpreter by accident.

However, there are situations in the real…

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Multiple names of Hispanic LEPs

Many Hispanics use “full name”: 2+ names & 2+ surnames, creating multiple accounts for 1 individual: Maria del Pilar Rodriguez de Ruiz.  Avoid confusions by guiding your Hispanic patients or clients on proper name use in current country of residence. “Maria Rodriguez” or “Pilar Ruiz” instead of both or even more, like “Maria Ruiz” or “Pilar Rodriguez”.  Educate your providers, LEPs and clients regarding this common use of multiple names and surnames by Hispanics.  It will help them avoid a lot of headaches in the future, and will assist the Hispanics when they request services.

“Utility” vs. “Eloquence” for measures of Quality

I recently read that “utility is valued over eloquence as a measure of translation quality” by some of the big companies entering the translation and interpreting field (Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation).  If this is the new industry trend, in the future, “quality” will just be a “value added” sought by some few companies.  This new industry concept of “utility” being more important than “eloquence” (which to date has been our measure of quality) will totally change the roles of the players in this industry, and that includes us, translators and interpreters. We have to be aware of the changes occurring in the industry if we want to remain being relevant. Any change we want (or want to avoid), it is up to us to fight for it. So, in this fast pace world of the 21st Century, “instant” is the concept of choice in service provision, and based on this, huge companies like Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation are penetrating the translation and interpreting industry and having initial success at doing so.  The final products of course are years away, but the trend has certainly started.  The future is here.  There is no such thing as “it will not happen”.  It is happening.  Translators are being replaced by machine translation at an alarming speed. Those translators that fail to see the trend will be left without a job in a matter of a decade. Post-MT editing is strongly becoming the trend in the “normal” industry and now, with this latest concept-change of utility vs. eloquence, the trend will change faster than ever as machine translation becomes more and more common, easier to access and “acceptable” in terms of its output.  What I am reading here is that more and more the end-receivers of translation products are accepting a mediocre product provided it is fast (machine-translation produced) and relatively accurate (yet to be accomplished but fast on the way to get there).  So, people will not care about construction of the sentences or grammar or inherent meaning of the source language.  They will just want to get the “general idea” and that is all they want.  Well, at least a large portion of the buyers of translation services.  Of course there will be many large companies out there that will still strive for quality.  But if the extraordinary growth of machine translation resources is any evidence of the exponential improvement in quality in the past decade, I can only guess that indeed, quality translation, can be achieved in one or two decades with machine translation.  Yes, I know this is a blasphemy.  But it is reality.  I was one of those who thought 15 years ago this day will never come.  Well, it is here.  So, let’s face reality.  The future of the translation industry is being taken over by the big software companies that are creating the software capable of penetrating the “magic” of translation.  Once they get there, it will be like any other industry of the 19th century.  Replicate replicate replicate.  We, the original translators, must become very active in designing the strategies for our own future.  What is the profession going to look like in 20 years?  We have to start answering that question from a perspective of the current reality and not from the perspective of what would we ideally feel like it should.  Should does not work any more.  Could is here to stay. We need to wake up to reality as a profession and set out to design our future in the world.

Podcast: interview with Claudia Brauer on interpreting in the Global Village of the 21st Century (via Translator T.O.)

Technology has impacted the interpreting field. Claudia believes that interpreters should embrace technology as a tool to enhance their profession. She explains that today interpreters can provide valuable services of communication via cell phones, land lines and video Web-based technology. Face to face encounters are just one part of this mix.

Here’s a new ProZ.com podcast. These podcasts are designed to provide an opportunity to hear the week’s news, highlights of site features, interviews with translators and others in the industry, and to have some fun (see announcement). On August 16, the first online interpreting course in a new series of live online workshops designed for working and aspiring interpreters and linguists will be launched at ProZ.com so I interviewed Certified PRO m … Read More

via Translator T.O.

What is “CLAS”?

What is “CLAS”? Read my blog post at ProZ.com Translator T.O.

Guest blog post at ProZ.com Translator T.O.



CLAS is the acronym for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services. The term was originally born from the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the United States, CLAS Standards for healthcare fall within varying levels of stringency, including federal mandates, general guidelines, and recommendations in three frameworks: Culturally Competent Care, Language Access Services, and Organizational Supports for Cultural Competency.

Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, CLAS, encompasses a group of policies, behaviors and attitudes that allow professionals, companies, and government agencies to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. CLAS also refers to services that are respectful of the beliefs and practices of diverse populations and are responsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of those individuals, requiring workforce and providers to acquire or enhance their ability to understand and respond effectively to multicultural clients and patients.

Although initially CLAS referred to the healthcare industry in America, the concept has acquired a much wider application and has been adopted, adapted and localized by other countries and by many government agencies throughout the world. Additionally, similar standards have been adopted by others in the public and private sectors, including the legal environment, the educational establishment, financial services and the business world in general.

Next Tuesday, August 23, you will be able to learn more about CLAS and other Healthcare Standards in the Global Village of the 21st Century.  Register at http://www.proz.com/translator-training/topic/Interpreting