how to be an effective interpreter

How To Be an Effective Interpreter

This is a collaboration with Day Translations. In this article we discuss how to be an effective interpreter and be on top of your game.

What Makes a Good Interpreter

The role of a professional interpreter is complex as it combines a wide range of skills. A good interpreter can tick many boxes and, most importantly, is committed to continuous learning.

These are some of the qualities that an in-demand interpreter possesses.

Language Skills

It is essential to be completely comfortable and confident interpreting from the source to the target language. This includes having an exceptional memory for terminology in the chosen language pair. The interpreter needs to demonstrate an impressive command of languages that goes beyond being able to communicate correctly.

Cultural Nuances

Good interpreters know how to relay concepts in the target language conveying any subtle cultural nuances that only native speakers are familiar with. Not only does the meaning need to stay consistent but when necessary it has to be adapted to fit with a different culture. This includes visual cues and body language that fit with a specific cultural background.

Being exposed to local media, particularly listening to podcasts, is a great way to keep up-to-date.


Even when the content of what needs interpreting may be upsetting, controversial or offensive, the interpreter must keep a detached attitude and focus on the content without expressing any type of judgement. The interpreter steps into a role, focusing on what the speaker is saying and almost becoming their body double while staying completely neutral.

How to Be Effective at Interpreting


A briefing session before interpreting starts is just as important as the interpreting session itself. During the pre-session the interpreter gets a chance to get to know the person they will liaise with and provide assurance that they will deliver an accurate interpretation. This step is key and both the client and the interpreter get a chance to agree on what tone to use. Even in emergency situations a short introductory conversation to discuss the aims of the session allows the interpreter to have a successful outcome. Being able to ask questions in advance ensures that the speaker can give some additional background information.


An effective interpreter can empower the speaker to discuss confidential or difficult issues, feeling confident that the meaning of their words is conveyed accurately. For example, in a confidential session discussing a medical issue, the interpreter can act as a calming presence in a situation that can induce anxiety simply by doing their job and keeping calm and focused. Being tactful and respectful allows the interpreter to gain the trust of the speaker.


Interpreters have superpowers: they retain information they listen to, convert it into a target language in their head and relay it verbally. It takes laser-sharp focus and concentration to process so much content within a few seconds. Precision comes with experience and it relies on good memory recall. A precise interpretation is a sign of years of practice and dedication.


Interpreting puts a strain on mental energy therefore an interpreter needs to look after their mental agility and manage stress levels. Being on top form for each assignment guarantees a long and productive career. Through experience an interpreter can anticipate which situations require extra mental effort and will plan to keep energy levels high.

Smooth Delivery

Simultaneous interpretation is a real-time verbal translation while consecutive interpretation happens in blocks with pauses in between when the interpreter relays what is being said. In either simultaneous or consecutive interpretation, keeping a steady pace is key to be understood. Enunciating words and having a good rhythm ensures that each concept is fleshed out and the listener can grasp what is being said. This can be extremely challenging when the speaker is talking quickly and it is the skill of the interpreter to slightly change gears and adapt the speaking speed but without causing unnecessary delays. In other words, interpreting is an art that is finessed over time.


As more interpretation services are delivered over the phone and video, being familiar with available tools gives interpreters a clear advantage. When working remotely, web-based tools and apps provide instant access to available interpreting gigs. These on-demand options are convenient for clients.

Day Interpreting is part of Day Translations and offers phone interpreting (telephonic interpretation) via a real-time interpretation app and web services.