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How to select the right translator or interpreter?

Elena Ferrara, Italian conference interpreter and translator

Just like you wouldn’t go to a vet to treat a toothache, you shouldn’t rely on someone who just “speaks a foreign language” for your business needs. There are many people out there, specialists in the area, who are keen to help you bridge communication gaps in various contexts.

First, you need to decide if you need a translator or an interpreter. But how can you tell? It’s easy! Ask yourself whether you need help during a business meeting or a conference. Do you need someone who can talk for you in a foreign language? If the answer is yes, then you are looking for an interpreter. On the other end, if you need to read or draft a document in a language you don’t understand, you want to contact a translator.
Although linguists offer both translation and interpreting services, translation and interpreting involve different skill sets.


To put it simply, interpreting is oral translation and has two main settings:
Simultaneous interpreting: as the name suggests it happens at the same time as the speaker talks. Some examples you might be familiar with are European Works Council meetings, EU and UN summits. The interpreter works in a booth and the audience listens to the interpretation using a headset tuned to the correct language.

Consecutive interpreting: the interpreter listens to the speaker (sometimes they also take notes), and conveys the message in the other language after the speaker has paused. Consecutive interpreting is ideal for small gatherings or business meetings.

In order to perform, the interpreter needs to think quickly and be prepared to switch from one topic to another. Preparation plays a key role in the success of the event. For this reason, it is important to share with the interpreters the reference material, presentations and scripts, where available. Interpreters comply with the highest industry standards and therefore are bound to confidentiality. No need to worry, your sensitive information will be safe with us!


Time is one of the factors that differentiates interpreting from translation. The latter happens at a slower pace. Don’t get me wrong, there are strict deadlines to be met, but the translator has the chance to thoroughly research the correct terminology. Interpreting is instantaneous and happens there and then, so interpreters must do their research in advance and come prepared.

Translators need to have a good eye for detail to ensure that the text is accurately transferred from one language to the other, making sure that it also reads well in the target language and avoiding literal translations.

So, how do I select a perfect linguist?

To continue with the medical analogy, just like you wouldn’t go to the dentist for a broken arm you should find a linguist specialised in the field you need.

Depending on the requirement, you may choose from the following specialisms:
• legal (contracts, legal conferences, hearings, minutes, court papers)
• medical (medical reports, consultations, conferences, training, clinical trials, pharma documents)
• business (contracts, meetings, training, correspondence)
• media (marketing campaigns, subtitles, websites, market research)

Many translators and interpreters can work brilliantly in multiple fields; it is best to find a specialist who knows the industry inside out in both languages.

Where to search for language aid?

Lists provided by industry associations, such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), are a good starting point, as the linguists’ skills and qualifications have already been verified by the organisations.

Once you have shortlisted a few names you can check their online presence via their websites and verify their credentials by looking at their testimonials.

It is best to call your translators and interpreters for that initial conversation and quote. We are a friendly bunch and we are ready to answer any questions you might have!


Written by Elena Ferrara

Italian conference interpreter and translator specialising in legal and corporate communication.

Visiting Lecturer on the BA and MA interpreting course at London Metropolitan University and Middlesex University.



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