Interpreters are language professionals whose function is to take what is being said in a source language and accurately convey the meaning and context in the target language, all in the spoken form. Simultaneous interpretation involves the continuous speech of the source language speaker being translated aloud in real time by the interpreter, with little to no pause to account for the interpreter’s role.

Needless to say, a professionally qualified simultaneous interpreter can be hard to come by, given the high level of language expertise and mental acuteness required to interpret a wide range of topics from one language to another at the rate at which it’s being spoken. Finding a qualified simultaneous interpreter can be even more challenging depending on how common both the source and target languages are in the local community and the business world at large. Here are some qualifications and characteristics an interpreter should have to ensure the quality of the interpretation work:

  • In depth knowledge of source language and strong familiarity with the associated culture.
  • Total mastery of target language. This includes the ability to express oneself quickly and conjure up synonyms and alternate ways of expressing something. Oftentimes, it is a requirement that the target language be the interpreter’s native language.
  • Ability to absorb information and quickly interpret the meaning.
  • Polished speaking skills and a likeable voice, as well as tactful communication skills to allow for smooth handling of potential misunderstandings or uncomfortable subject matter.
  • Strong powers of concentration. Any lapse in concentration can disrupt the target language audience’s experience and understanding of the material being presented.
  • Intellectual and linguistic integrity. Interpretation requires a high level of attention to detail and the utmost care in the areas of word choice and tone to maintain the essence of the material. Simultaneous interpretation requires a very difficult balance of speed and accuracy, as the interpreter is tasked with keeping with a speaker’s rhythm and cadence without leaving any parts out or cutting any corners.
  • Some knowledge and/or professional experience within the industry the presentation pertains to, preferably in both languages.

There is no quick or easy way to determine if an interpreter possesses all of the above mentioned qualities. Usually, companies looking to hire or contract an interpreter base their decision on interpreter’s credentials, experience, and reputation within the industry. A university degree in either the source or target language is not always the best indicator of a candidate’s ability to perform high-quality interpretation work. Instead, a language professional can build his or her reputation through a combination of education credentials, documented participation in other interpretation projects, and references from previous employers or collaborators, thus making himself or herself identifiable as a professionally qualified simultaneous interpreter.

For a more in-depth understanding about the nature of simultaneous interpretation, please feel free to read this wonderfully written Ebook A Resource for Working with Interpreters and Simultaneous Interpretation Equipment at , as well as this excellent six-part blog series on simultaneous interpretation.

Have you witnessed a simultaneous interpretation taking place in two languages that you understand? What do you think would be the hardest part about working as a simultaneous interpreter? Leave your comments below!