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02 June 2018

What to look for in an interpreter?

Language and communicating are much more than just the words we say, they’re about allowing someone else to understand our thoughts and feelings. Were you to simply translate a sentence from one language to another, in theory, you might be saying the same words, but you are probably communicating something very different. What to look for in an interpreter

what to look for in an interpreter - Seria Consulting - Chinese Interpreting

This is why interpreters are so much more than a living, breathing foreign dictionary; it’s a highly specialised profession that requires many years of training and practice. Equipped with skills beyond the average bilingual person, the very best can communicate meaning across the boundaries of language and culture fluidly. Here are a few things you will find from a good professional interpreter.


An interpreter’s work always starts at least a couple of days before any on-site meeting. They will have conducted thorough research on the specific industry and topics, ensuring they are well versed in the terminology. Additionally, if their interpreting involves people from an unfamiliar country, they will have looked into their culture and trained themselves on any relevant dialects or accents.

what to look for in an interpreter - Seria Consulting - Chinese Interpreting - Punctuality

Professional interpreters are extremely punctual, arriving at meetings well ahead of the scheduled appointment time, just in case someone should turn up early. The importance of this becomes clear when considering what would happen if an interpreter arrived 10 minutes late. Both parties would be left being unable to communicate with each other, creating an awkward atmosphere which would start things off on a sour note and could even impact the meeting’s end result.

Listening and recall

In order to maintain accuracy for a sustained period of time, interpreters require intense levels of active listening, memory recall, and note-taking skills, since the speaker can talk for a few seconds to several minutes. To be able to do this effectively, professional interpreters undertake specific training and examinations which they must continue throughout their career.

Language skills
what to look for in an interpreter - Seria Consulting - Chinese Interpreting - Language Skills

This may seem like a given, but what many people do not realise is the extent of knowledge and vocabulary needed for the interpreter’s target language. According to the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), in order to be a professional their “understanding of the language must be comparable to that of an educated native speaker”. To reach this level of fluency, they must not only have language degrees and certifications but also have lived abroad for an extended period of time to develop their skills and improve their cultural literacy.


Interpreters must remain impartial as well as being able to accurately and idiomatically transmit a message from one language to another without any additions, omissions or other misleading factors that can alter the intended meaning. What to look for in an interpreter

After all, what an interpreter says is automatically considered to be coming from the speaker. Non-professionals who alter the original meaning, even with the best of intentions, would influence the potential outcome of meetings. They have been employed as interpreters, not consultants, so by creating their own version of a conversation it runs the high risk of seriously damaging you or your company’s reputation. What to look for in an interpreter

Cultural knowledge

what to look for in an interpreter - Seria Consulting - Chinese Interpreting - Cultural LiteracyFluency in a language is not enough to facilitate effective communication, as it does not address the cultural barriers. This is especially important if the two parties are from regions that are culturally very different from one another, e.g. China and the US.

One common mistake made by companies that come to mainland China on business is to hire ethnically Chinese people who speak both English and Mandarin. On the surface, this was a logical choice. However, what these companies found was that their bilingual speaker didn’t understand the country’s business environment and the many local customs, manners and expectations which that entails. This resulted in huge communication problems and ultimately the failure of many endeavours.

The best professional interpreters, on the other hand, have had extensive cross-cultural training, absorbing the sensibilities and nuances of the target culture. Therefore, they can navigate through the cultural and conceptual gaps separating the participants and act as a cultural guide for their client.

Emotional Intelligence

This is arguably the most overlooked factor when employing interpreters. Regardless of their field of work, interpreters will often encounter sensitive information and delicate situations which require both tact and maturity. Being the conduit for all the messages being exchanged, they can manage the mood of the meeting and help both parties communicate in the professional manner they are accustomed to.

For example, during a meeting, an American party may ask their Chinese counterparts what the flaws of a product or service may be. This line of questioning and the directness – while perfectly normal in many western countries – would likely offend the Chinese party and cause them to lose face, which in turn would almost certainly derail any negotiations.

So, to ensure the meeting remains harmonious, the interpreter would take the literal meaning of the original message and slightly alter the spirit of it, allowing the question to make the transition over the cultural divide while still remaining true to how the speaker intended it.

Employing the right interpreter is key to effective communication and, ultimately, the success of your business endeavours. However, with demand currently outweighing supply, finding one can be a daunting task. We eliminate those worries, providing reliable and professional interpreting services to those conducting business with Chinese companies and individuals.