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How to be a professional interpreter

Working as a professional interpreter requires a great deal of organization and thought. You’re not only representing yourself; you’re also representing the interpreting service for whom you’re working. To demonstrate best practices, we’ve broken the concept of “professionalism” into three parts: before, during and after the assignment. Interpreting should never be taken lightly, and preparation is key to the best experience.

Professionalism as an Interpreter

Before the assignment

Accepting the job is, naturally, the first step in the process. If you’re working with an interpreting company, your contact is your project manager or interpreting head. If you’re freelancing without an agency, your contact is the person who’s hiring you on a case-by-case basis. Always ask the following questions when accepting an assignment:

  • “What is the nature of the assignment?”

    • This question includes specific information about the person or team with whom you’re working. It also covers more general ideas about the assignment, including dialect, number of people, etc.
  • “When will the assignment take place?”

    • Be sure to specify and write down the date and time. If you’re going to coordinate with the non-English speaker to determine a ask for their contact information. It’s also helpful to ask whether your contact knows the best time to reach them. After you coordinate with the non-English speaker, call your contact immediately to let them know the assignment details. Some Agencies have scheduling systems that allow automated to sent to your smartphone messages. Inquire about this possibility with your agency. Scheduling systems vary from agency to agency but they are very useful as a repository of all information related to a specific assignment
  • “Who is my contact at the location?”

    • Be sure to ask for a contact number if applicable and if there is a sign-in process.
  • “Is there anything specific I should bring to the assignment or for which I should prepare?”

    • Often, an assignment will require you to bring an id badge, pen, pencil, notebook, dictionary, or other assorted items. This question also covers vocabulary that you might have to learn before the assignment starts. If you use your smartphone as a dictionary, please make sure you advise the client that the use of the smartphone is exclusively for terminology meaning and interpretation purposes.
  • “Please confirm my hourly rate.”

    • Lastly, confirm your rate for the assignment: flat, hourly, and/or travel if applicable. Confirm your rate for a cancellation scenario less than 24 hours before the assignment start time. It’s prudent to also ask about contingencies, such as if a client requests the wrong language.

During the assignment

Once you’ve accepted the assignment, here are important points to remember for any assignment:

  • Arrive on time: Always arrive at your assignment location on time—or, preferably, 10-15 minutes before the projected start. If you’re going to be at all late, call your contact.
  • Be prepared: Bring everything you need to interpret and study any new or unfamiliar material before the work begins. This primarily includes session-specific vocabulary, though bringing a dictionary with you is always recommended.
  • Leave personal convictions at the door: Interpret to the best of your ability. Don’t express any judgements or opinions about the subject matter, even if asked. Your role is to be a language conduit only. Rendering an opinion is unprofessional in this context and should never be offered or given if requested.
  • Call for help if you need it: Call your contact for help if the assignment requires more time or work than you’re able to accommodate. Also call if the work is different from the requested in the assignment brief.

After the assignment

You can determine the end of an assignment in one of two ways. Either the client will dismiss you or you’ll reach the projected end time. If the session extends past that end time, call your project manager to let them know. You can either stay if it suits your schedule or your language services company will send another interpreter to finish. Once you and the client agree that the session’s over:

  • Conclude the session and destroy notes: Confirm that your work is complete and destroy any relevant/confidential notes in front of the client and non-English speaker.
  • Wait for the client to dismiss you: The client will dismiss you. This happens either at the pre-approved end time, when the work’s finished, or after discussing other options for continued service. If your assignment includes a timesheet, ask the client to sign it.
  • Debrief with your contact: After you’ve left the assignment, give your contact a call or send an e-mail to debrief. Mention any relevant details of the assignment or client that could assist your contact. Send your invoice promptly and wait for a message of receipt that the contact has received your invoice and is processing it.

Professionalism as an Interpreter: An eLearning course provided by Global Arena

Starting in the interpreting industry can seem daunting: so much to do, so much to learn! We’ve created several interpreting training courses designed to help beginning interpreters as they navigate their way. Try our eLearning course timed for one hour, Professionalism as an Interpreter. It’s designed to give you a foundation and prepare you to start accepting assignments. The course includes a training certificate upon completion: useful for any hiring process. It’s self-paced and you can take it anywhere that suits you, with your mobile device.

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