Back in 2006 I was invited to Yeovil by the UK Trade and Investment to deliver a talk at their international trade conference dedicated to business with Russia. Since then, a lot has changed for business as well as for public service in terms of provision of interpreting and translation. This brief article is to refresh advice I delivered and to summarise the up-to-date suggestions on how to choose the right interpreter for the job.
In the same fashion as I started my talk in 2006, I will reiterate the fundamental principle that every customer needs to understand. When choosing an interpreter (speaking mode) or a translator (written mode), it is vital to know that this person is going
to represent your words in their entirety. Your interpreter becomes your mouthpiece. With this, comes understanding of a massive degree of vulnerability on the speaker/writer’s part when it comes to such a profound degree of reliance. Therefore, it is vital to choose an interpreter wisely.
Here I will firstly attempt to give guidance and reassurance to my readers of what “a professional interpreter/translator” means and what criteria define this individual. My second goal is to address a clear lack of information in business circles on how to select an interpreter/translator and what boundaries there are to separate professionals from non-professionals. I will also direct the reader to a number of professional bodies, where customers may verify the interpreter/translator’s credentials.
Out of simplicity considerations and to avoid confusion of the dual nature of the skill (interpreting vs. translating), in this article I will refer to interpreters/translators as interpreters, however, I will specify the actual skill modality where it is required.
Who is a professional interpreter?
Interpreters are highly educated professionals trained in a skill of accurate transfer of a message from one language and culture to another language and culture. When an experienced interpreter is hired, communication becomes effortless. In such settings, communicating parties often forget about their interpreter and address each other directly.
A professional spoken interpreter delivers the message in full and without delays, while it is still salient to the situation (almost simultaneously, depending on the setting). The interpreted message results in the same reaction as it would, if it was said in the same language. Professional interpreters do not add to, subtract from or alter the original message. They will translate everything said in the room. Their speech may display some minor accent, but it in no way interferes with the information exchange and fluency. Heavy foreign accent in any language is distracting and is indicative of insufficient training. In general, a professional interpreter presents a positive image on behalf of the client company they are working for.
Written translator translates documents word-for-word, but appropriately observes cultural norms of expression. Again, the documents turn out clear, grammatical with the content fully matching to that of the original document. Some highly professional translators are able to certify their translations on the basis of their training and professional affiliations they may hold. Such translations will be accompanied by a translator’s statement of certification along with his/her credentials and contact details. Examples of documents that may need to be translated with certification are export, shipping documents (e.g., Certificates of Origin), personal documents (birth; marriage; death certificates), education certificates. Ask your translator if they can provide such service.
Most excellent practitioners will have professional affiliations and memberships, such as the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI www.nrpsi.org.uk ) and the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL www.ciol.org.uk ). Such memberships ensure unity of professional standards, observation of the accepted code of practice (e.g. strict confidentiality) and, in some instances, guarantee security clearances (in case of the NRPSI). The Chartered Institute of Linguists also enjoys Royal patronage and sets a clear distinction between professional practitioners and opportunists.
On this point, I would advise companies, serious about international image and development, to be cautious of corporate multilingual translation and interpreting agencies. The first reason for that is that large multilingual agencies often source their “linguists” based on limited information with regards to their training, experience and personal qualities – all the essential attributes of a successful international event. Often, the booking agents have never met the “linguists” they are subcontracting to represent their client companies and have little knowledge of their range of expertise. Such a “linguist” is not a suitable person to represent a reputable company in international trade.
The second reason for caution is a lack of control over who you get. As a client, you have no say in selection of a specific person for the job. The agency will often source a “linguist” based on their own internal criteria (most often a cheaper price at the expense of quality), which the client has no way of checking or enforcing. In fact, you may not know who is going to turn up until the last minute before the event.
Finally, when dealing with a large multilingual agency (especially those who claim to deliver “services in any language, on any subject and for any industry”), it is never clear what criteria were followed to source such colossal expertise. Be guided by your critical thinking on this matter and question such bold claims. It is always advisable to build a strong professional relationship with a specialist interpreter or an interpreting firm specializing in industry like yours or in your required language.
How to search?
Despite the initial anxiety, searching for an interpreter is not a hard thing to do. If an interpreter is needed for a meeting or a translator to translate a legal contract, a member of staff would probably search on the internet with a combination of “Russian interpreter Sheffield” (or similar depending on the location of the event or language) or, perhaps, a combination of keywords reflecting an area of expertise. The search engine will bring up a number of pages with the results. It is a much harder task to choose the right interpreter for your project.
How to choose?
There are several aspects that a company needs to bear in mind when choosing the right interpreter. Here are some of the most important steps.
Check the skill. Here I will state once again that interpreting and translation are a set of taught and learned skills. Professionals spend a number of years in further and higher education to perfect both languages of their combination, hone their translation skills and practicing them in assessed settings. It is an incorrect assumption that a person can act as an interpreter purely because he/she happens to speak two languages.
When a number of possible interpreters are identified through internet searches, do contact the professionals of your choice and ask what training these people have received and if they can handle an international project. Ask if they have memberships of professional bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) or the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).
It is also advisable to arrange a meeting with the professional of your choice and assess if this person is of the right calibre for your event and you are happy for him/her to represent your words. Remember, your interpreter is your mouthpiece throughout the whole event. Assess her/his verbal fluency, confidence levels and general professional appearance.
Check areas of expertise. Have a conversation with the interpreter to ascertain if they are knowledgeable enough to work with your project. Most professional interpreters clearly state their areas of expertise on their websites and will happily discuss their proudest professional achievements with you. Probe this knowledge in a conversation during the meeting. Discuss your product. Ask if he/she has experience in handling similar projects. It is worth remembering that an expert in public service interpreting may not necessarily be an expert in manufacturing, or vice versa.
Negotiate the rates. While it is customary to request the rates early, it might often be a premature step. Negotiation of payment rates, terms and conditions is always more efficient once there is an understanding of who you are dealing with. By then, some rapport will have been built between the client company and the potential interpreter. Both parties will benefit from a more efficient negotiation of the interpretation service and its costs. Furthermore, an experienced interpreter will tailor the rates and payment terms to suit your requirements. Remember, the chosen interpreter will want your business and will be happy to negotiate.
To sum it up, do invest some time to research the interpreter you wish to hire for your event. Choose the best you can find. Build a good rapport. These actions are all building blocks of a successful international trade and relationship.
Copyright Dr. Anna Ibrahim