5 features of the conference interpreter

Published on 26/11/2020

When we hire an interpreting service, it is normal to worry about who is going to do the work. Translation and interpreting agencies do a selection and testing work to offer the best professional profiles to their clients.

However, it is normal that as a client you want to review and check that this selection is the right one to ensure that the event will go perfectly.

Language interpreting, or oral translation as some know it, is a highly demanding activity. In this blog, I present to you what skills a good interpreter must have to be a great professional.

1. Native language skills

Native language skills

The first feature that a conference interpreter must have is a perfect command of two or more languages. This includes both the language itself and the respective cultures and customs of the countries in which that language is spoken.

Since the job of a conference interpreter is to convey a message in a source language into a target language, absolute mastery of those languages is the main feature that a good conference interpreter must have.

Interpreters must specialize in two active and one passive language or one active and three passive languages. The active languages are those towards which it is interpreted, while the passive languages are the languages from which it is interpreted.

Thus, if an interpreter has Spanish and German as active languages and French as a passive language, it means that he or she will only interpret from French into Spanish and German. While he will also interpret from Spanish into German and from German into Spanish.

The ideal conference interpreter is one who can be considered bilingual, i.e. whose active languages are native languages. We can consider an interpreter to be bilingual when they do not have a foreign accent in their active languages and express themselves at a native level.

However, there are excellent interpreters who are not bilingual in this sense, and just because an interpreter is bilingual does not necessarily mean that he or she is a great interpreter.

2. General culture and specialization

General culture and specialization

The interpreter has to be a curious person who has a broad general culture and who has no difficulty in continuing to learn. In this way, we could say that an interpreter never stops studying, since he or she must always be up to date with the latest trends.

The ideal conference interpreter specializes in one, two or even three market sectors for which he or she prepares daily. This is achieved through reading, specific courses or training in those fields, etc.

And especially through work experience! All interpreting work requires a preparation phase where the interpreters study and prepare the specialized terminology and the most important concepts that will be spoken at the event.

3. Memory and dissociation of attention

Memory and dissociation of attention

Another feature that distinguishes a good interpreter from other mortals is his good memory and ability to dissociate attention.

Mastery of these two aspects is what makes a good conference interpreter. Because the better you know how to handle these two tools, the better the final production result will be.

There are pairs of languages, such as English and German, which differ greatly from each other. In German the verb is usually placed at the end of the sentence, while in English it is placed at the beginning.

That means that the interpreter must retain the English verb produced in his mind until the time comes to produce it in the German sentence. And that's without stopping talking.

Luckily today there are endless resources for training memory and attention dissociation and a good conference interpreter knows how to challenge and improve them every day.

4. Stress management

Stress management

No matter how good an interpreter may be, when accepting an interpreting assignment, or an oral translation assignment using a non-technical term, he or she knows from the outset that he or she will be exposed to is very stressful. You're probably wondering why, and the answer is very simple.

During an interpretation, the interpreter must dissociate his or her attention. This means listening to the speaker on the one hand, simultaneously translating the content produced in his head and producing the content in another language.

All this without what he is saying losing sense or not corresponding with what the speaker is saying.

This causes a great mental burden that cannot be sustained for long. Some say that simultaneous interpretation (or simultaneous translation) is one of the most cognitively demanding jobs.

In addition, depending on the interpretation assignment, interpreters usually receive the preparation material within a very short time or will have to adapt to last-minute changes.

5. Voice Care

Voice Care

Conference interpreters and interpreters in general must take good care of their voice. This isyour working tool and catching a cold the day before an interpreting assignment is not the best way to offer a quality service.

You'd be lying if you say you do not want to hear a soft voice with a neutral accent at your event, since that's what we all like. In an interpretation, the clearer and more understandable the interpreter's voice is, the better.

And to achieve that, apart from the different voice exercises that interpreters can do, you need a lot of tea and to always be warm. And that nature has gifted you with a good voice!


conference interpreter

The job of a conference interpreter is anything but easy. It requires a lot of knowledge, a lot of effort and a lot of dedication to meet quality standards.

It is therefore essential that your translation and interpreting services agency works with interpreters selected for their professionalism and talent to deliver quality interpreting.

With the new paradigm of remote interpretation, the attention of interpreters is now even more dissociated, since in addition to listening, translating and producing, they must also know how to handle the interface of the different meeting platforms, videoconferences and webinars. If that wasn't enough!

You don't know what remote interpretation is? Check out our blog "The Challenge of Remote Interpretation" and find out everything you need to know about remote interpretation.

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