Qualities of a Professional Interpreter

10 Qualities of a Professional Interpreter

Have you ever been between two people who speak different languages and had to translate everything they say to make them understand each other? Have you tried to translate a video simultaneously because you are with someone who doesn´t understand the language? What about a song? If so, I´m sure you had to pause it to think. And if not, congratulations! There is a potential interpreter in you and you didn´t even know it.
The truth is that an interpretation service requires much more than just knowing the languages and being able to translate them. And therefore, when there is no  pause button, it´s advisable to hire trained professionals who know what they are doing, since they could be the key to a successful negotiation or event.

Thus, here are 10 qualities that a good professional interpreter should have:


Let’s start with the most obvious one: the interpreter must know both languages perfectly. And this doesn´t mean knowing all the theory, a good interpreter has to be completely fluent in the language. From slang to idioms, references and double entendres. Furthermore, languages change a society changes and makes use of that language, so an interpreter must always be up to date.


In addition to translating, the interpreter will also communicate the message out loud, so knowing how to speak to large number of people or even on camera is important. A professional must be a good speaker: know how to speak correctly, using the right tone and voice, as well as keeping nervousness at bay and, of course, not having stage fright.


An interpretation service is not a job in which you can be thinking about other stuff at the same time. A good professional interpreter has to be able to concentrate, since this job entails many simultaneous tasks. A moment of confusion will leave gaps in the final version and can even lead to missing the meaning of the speech.


A high level of focus requires great mental endurance and using all your senses at the same time without distractions requires a great deal of mental effort, which  can obviously be exhausting. For this reason, it´s important for the professional interpreter to improve mental endurance to not get burnt out.


No matter how well acquainted the interpreter is with the subject, no matter how many glossaries and subjects they’ve studied, the speeches to translate can be unpredictable. In an interpretation service, the professional must be prepared for everything, quickly reacting to any changes, so they will have to make decisions quickly and often to do their job.
Before providing the interpretation service, the professional interpreter has to learn several technical terms and will have to remember them correctly during the session. Moreover, short-term memory is one of the most important qualities for an interpreter because they have to remember one sentence while interpreting the previous one, then interpret that one, and so on and so forth.
The interpreter is the only the bridge between speaker and listeners and can always  change the meaning of the original speech. It may seem obvious, but even if the text remains unchanged, it is very easy to perceive someone’s opinions based on tone or gestures. A good professional interpreter should never show their personal opinions, since their job is to convey the message in the exact same manner as the speaker and keep the same original intent.
Theoretical matters aside, culture has a very significant impact on language and its use. A good interpreter should be aware of these particular characteristics, since simple translation is not enough in many cases. For instance, there are words with a completely straightforward meaning in some languages that can be misleading in others. As well as themes, expressions or even gestures that are inappropriate for a certain culture.
Listening, analyzing, taking notes, translating, summarizing, speaking… an interpreter has to do many things at the same time and use all the parts of their brain together. During an interpretation service, a professional is conveying a message while translating previous statements and listening to the next ones, this requires a significant amount of multitasking and being able to keep everything in mind without going crazy.
Nowadays, everything (or almost everything) can be improved with the use of technology and it´s a very helpful tool in most fields. Although a machine is not yet able to perform the job of a professional (See post: Machine translation, as far as the technology goes) it can help, and a good professional must be up-to-date, know how to use it and, of course, have access to it.