The Indispensable Personality Traits of a Great Interpreter

The Indispensable Personality Traits of a Great Interpreter

Interpretation is rarely about converting speech from one language to another. It is all about communicating ideas in different settings, many of them extremely challenging and sensitive for the purpose. The environment for interpretation can include anything from a complex legal setting to a confidential healthcare setup, or an intensely classified diplomatic exchange.

What makes interpreters immensely important professionals is their ability to transform the understanding of their audience and render their voice with a life-changing impact in any given setup such as a courtroom, accident site or emergency call service. Given the criticality of this job, it is highly crucial that great interpreters possess these indispensable qualities, not just as job requirements but as a key fabric of their personality, which will make them not only impressive but impactful for the purpose.

We are not going to list skills such as excellent language abilities or domain knowledge for working in a specialty environment such as legal or healthcare. These requirements are no-brainers and the existence of an interpreter in the said domains is questionable in the absence of such abilities.

What we are going to discuss here are those traits that make an interpreter really extraordinary in any domain of functioning. In other words, we are not talking about the functional prerequisites for becoming an interpreter but those unique qualities that separate the wheat from the chaff and highlight the “great” amongst the “good”. So, here we go!

1. Compassion

This is by far the topmost quality we admire in a professional interpreter. In all probability, the interpreter is a total stranger to the person who will be interpreted and their dependence on the interpreter is rather high, as no one else is likely to speak and understand their language. In a sensitive setting such as a mental abuse investigation or a highly formal and volatile setting such as international diplomacy, the best interpreters always prove themselves as compassionate listeners possessing empathy and patience to detail.

2. Non-judgmental attitude

The best interpreters do not play the devil’s advocate when it comes to doing their job. They absorb all that is being said with complete integrity but also have the panache to render inappropriate or offensive expressions in the target language without distortions or cultural manipulations perceived to make them acceptable. A great interpreter is wary of the natural filters operating in his or her mind when it comes to processing offensive language and steers clear of the instinctive urge to polish or refine them in the interest of cultural appropriateness.

3. Detachment and neutrality

Interpreters often work under stressful situations such as legal hearings, accident and trauma settings, situations involving abuse, or murder and other crimes. It is very important for interpreters to remain grounded and emotionally detached while also extending objectivity to the task of interpreting. Great interpreters do not allow the gravity of the situation they are in to cloud the accuracy of their interpretation. They remain undeterred by the emotional strain that the settings are likely to inflict on them while they set out to interpret. Additionally, a great interpreter will not assume any more responsibility towards the victim or defendant than that of interpreting their responses to the court. They will not take sides or exhibit favoritism or assume roles of a physician or counsellor during the course of interpretation and allow that inclination to overshadow the faithfulness of the interpretation.

4. Emotional strength

Interpreters often have to deal with speakers who are not particularly patient and cordial with other people. They may also be vague in expressing, quick in speaking and might have an accent that is indiscernible sometimes. The interpreting experience can therefore be very stressful. Great interpreters are usually well prepared mentally and emotionally to handle such environments and not get triggered or agitated when they are sometimes cornered by speakers.

5. Passion

Great interpretation goes beyond just applying multilingual skills to spoken words to render them understandable in another language. A great interpreter often goes beyond this basic requirement of interpretation to achieve an intuitive cognitive understanding of the languages that they are working on to deliver the best and maximum value to their clients by   facilitating meaningful and enriching interactions. Great interpreters focus on making their clients understand not just the spoken words of each other but the human connections and the vibes across them.

6. Ethics

Being ethical is something that can never be overemphasised for a professional interpreter. While it is a very fundamental requirement in this profession, a great interpreter ensures that this important trait is intertwined in the fabric of their personality. A great interpreter not only adheres to the privacy and confidentiality tenets imposed by the profession, but also respects the importance and impact of ethical behavior on the outcomes of the interpreting situations they are a part of.

Thus, while domain knowledge, listening skills, linguistic proficiency and cultural awareness can be seen as non-negotiable skills that good interpreters ought to possess, the ones who embody all the personality traits discussed above invariably make the flight from “good” to “great” in the field of interpretation.