Linguistic Ability

The first and most obvious of the skills a simultaneous interpreter should have is a solid knowledge of all working languages (languages used in official interpretations). This includes more than just complex verb conjugations, precise nouns and rarely used adjectives; a sufficient comprehension of slang and regional variation is also a necessity to be considered an experienced simultaneous interpreter. Secondly, an extensive knowledge of the cultural attributes unique to each country that speaks one of your working languages. This can Interpretinginclude historical events, cultural etiquette and daily life connected to each of these languages. For example, in the French-speaking world there are three different times of day that are seen as an appropriate time to switch from ‘Good day’ to ‘Good evening’, depending on who is speaking: 8PM in Québec, 2PM in West Africa and 6PM in France. Being on different continents, these distinct cultures view the transition from day to evening in ways that are the most appropriate for their climate. As simple as saying ‘Hello’ might seem to most people, a skilled interpreter has to know these subtle distinctions to avoid even the slightest bit of confusion to ensure fluidity in the communication. Thirdly, an interpreter who is truly capable of simultaneous interpretation must fill the shoes the title implies: simultaneously communicate the whole message. The ability to switch from one language to another with less than a few seconds delay, in both listening and speaking, is an essential skill required of simultaneous interpreters.

Contextual and Mental Know-How

Even when working in 20-30 minute shifts, a serious amount of mental stamina is demanded from the interpreter to concentrate and process the information accurately. This must be done without adding any external nuances or blending perspectives on the matter being discussed; the interpreter functions as an invisible conduit during the entire interpretation process. This also requires a notable amount of diplomatic skill and cultural sensitivity to where the message is coming from and for whom it is intended. This usually relates to level of formality in the speech itself but the setting of the interpretation plays an important role as well. It is also helpful to keep in mind that there will always be gaps in translating certain expressions or terms because language is dynamic and evolves with the people of its respective culture.

Specified Experience

In terms of more concrete ways to gauge experience levels with interpreters, there is a loose standard of number of hours spent doing both consecutive and simultaneous interpretation that qualifies someone as an experienced interpreter (roughly 10,000 hours). As hard as that may seem to keep track of, most universities in the United States that have specific programs for interpreting language do record hours spent by each student on live interpretation. Although lacking a universal certification standard, these programs and others related to interpretation licensure typically push the pupil towards subtopics and expertise to focus on (technical, medical, legal, business and so forth). These topics are sometimes referred to as ‘working knowledge’ within whatever languages the interpreter uses; however they can be as specific as ‘aerospace engineering’ or as broad as general ‘medical’ knowledge. There are certain state and federal requirements if one is working at a public hospital, a courtroom setting or any international communication within government agencies; but keep in mind that these are rarely done by freelance interpreters.


Here are some more articles that you may be interested in.

Simultaneous Interpretation: How Does the Brain Tackle such a Demanding Task?

Ethics for Interpreters

The History of Simultaneous Interpretation Equipment