How to Improve Interpreting Skills

Woman signing word phrase 'Argument' in American Sign Language while communicating with a man

Interpreters are charged with the challenging tasks not just of translating words, but of interpreting their meaning. Whether you're just starting your career as an interpreter or hoping to improve your skills after a long tenure in your career, constant practice is a vital key for success, particularly in the areas of interpreting you find most challenging.

Get the Right Training

Your interpreting skills will improve with a strong educational background in the language(s) you plan to interpret. Consider seeking a foreign language degree or pursuing coursework on topics such as community interpreting. Your education can make your resume more appealing. Moreover, you may need a specific educational or training background to perform some interpreting services. Court interpreters, for example, typically have to pursue certification before they can interpret testimony in court.

Don't Just Translate

Interpreters are charged with the task of interpreting the meanings of words rather than just providing literal translations. To be a good translator, you'll have to know about the culture for which you are providing translation services. You'll likely need to remain up to date on current events by reading papers in multiple languages. A person from a non-English-speaking country might not know that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center are routinely referred to as 9-11, but you might still use this term when interpreting such a person's words.

Manage Your Emotions

Interpreting requires you to give voice to positions you might not necessarily agree with. Reading up on these positions and working to control your immediate reactions can help. Likewise, you'll also need to give the same emotional weight to a speaker's words that he gives to them. Mirror the speaker's tone and inflection as much as possible. If he sounds joyful, angry or frightened, your voice and words should reflect this. Try practicing mimicking facial expressions and tone of voice before a big interpreting gig.

Practice Languages Every Day

Languages are dynamic. New figures of speech and expressions come and go, and the meaning of words changes over time. In English, for example, many people now use the term "literally" to mean "figuratively." Reading papers, popular literature and even message boards in the languages you interpret can help you remain up to date. Talk with friends in various languages and practice your language skills by writing letters or sending emails in each language you interpret.

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