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What Makes a Great Interpreter (Part 2)

In the last entry, we discussed how becoming an interpreter requires much more than simply fluency in a second language: as a highly specialized profession, it requires training and practice. We covered two skills that are requisite for a person to become a professional-level interpreter – language skills and listening and recall.

In this second part, we will cover three more skills that need to be developed in order for someone to become professional interpreter that you can trust: Ethical behavior, cultural knowledge, and subject knowledge.

1. Ethical behavior: Regardless of their field of work, interpreters may encounter confidential or sensitive information. Interpreters working in medical services must be particularly attuned to the strong regulatory environment surrounding patient and consumer privacy.

Ethical behavior extends beyond just keeping what you’ve heard to yourself. On the US Courts website, they list that an interpreter must be both impartial andAble to accurately and idiomatically turn the message from the source language into the receptor language without any additions, omissions or other misleading factors that alter the intended meaning of the message from the speaker.” An interpreter who interprets unethically in a medical scenario could have an impact on the ability of the physicians to save a person’s life. As a result, Interpreters have a significant responsibility and must be dedicated professionals.

2. Cultural knowledge: It’s not enough for someone to be bilingual, it’s just as important to be bicultural. If a person is bicultural, they have naturally absorbed the sensibilities and nuances of two cultures and have inherent abilities to mediate between the two cultures that they belong to.

Dr. Holly Mikkelson from the Monterey Institute of International Studies states, “In all of their work, interpreters must bridge the cultural and conceptual gaps separating the participants in a meeting.”

3. Subject knowledge: Imagine if you are tasked to listen to an academic lecture about aerospace engineering and then repeat what you had learned. Unless you are deeply familiar with how aerodynamics works, you might be hard-pressed to make any sense of the lecture, much less repeat it back in a way that is understandable to anyone else.

Likewise, it is critical that an interpreter understands the subject material of a conversation they need to interpret. In a medical setting, familiarity with common medical terminology, problems, and procedures is a must. If it is confusing to an interpreter due to lack of subject knowledge or insufficient vocabulary knowledge, there is no way the audience of the interpreter will fare any better in understanding what is being said.

CyraCom provides innovative language solutions for healthcare, including Over-the-Phone Interpretation, Video Remote Interpretation, Translation and Localization, and On-Site Interpretation to over 2,000 healthcare clients. The company is exclusively endorsed by the American Hospital Association for its interpretation and translation solutions and is ISO 9001:2008 quality certified.

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