With 65 million US residents speaking a language other than English at home, many forward-thinking contact center leaders have recognized their need for multilingual support – that is, the ability to interact with their customers in a variety of languages in real time. This enables the cross-cultural communication necessary in today’s society.
That’s a great first step. But it’s one thing to make a decision to use interpreters; it’s another to understand the characteristics that separate qualified, professional interpreters from the rest.
At Voiance, we don’t expect our clients to be experts on what makes a great interpreter – that’s our job. Here are five key characteristics of qualified, professional interpreters. We also cite the processes Voiance’s parent company, CyraCom International, puts in place to ensure our interpreters meet that standard. Our interpreters do more than simply translate words- they relay concepts and ideas between languages.
- Language Skills
Most people don’t realize the extent to which knowledge and vocabulary an interpreter needs in his/her native language. Michelle Hof, a professional conference interpreter and trainer who runs a blog called The Interpreter Diaries, writes:
“As an interpreter, you need to be able to express yourself well in many different registers and have access to a broad active vocabulary covering different fields. Just growing up speaking a language does not automatically mean you will have these skills. I see it all the time in the early days of a course, when students can’t seem to stop themselves from talking like they do to their friends in the bar and start sounding like interpreters.”
And that’s just what’s needed for the interpreter’s native language. The International Association of Conference Interpreters’ website (AIIC) states that in order to be an interpreter, a person's “understanding of the [target] language should be comparable to that of an educated native speaker of the same language.”
Before taking calls for Voiance, our interpreters undergo a thorough assessment of both their English and target language skills, ensuring they possess the bilingual fluency needed to work as a professional interpreter.
- Listening and Recall
There are two main interpreting methods: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpretation requires interpreters to listen and speak at the same time. The interpreter begins to convey a sentence being spoken while the speaker is still talking. Consecutive interpreting – more common in a contact center environment - requires waiting until a speaker pauses before interpreting. This modality requires intense active listening, memory recall, and note-taking to produce an accurate interpretation, since the speaker may speak for several minutes prior to pausing.
Interpreting requires more brain power than usual. Scientists have conducted experiments on bilingual subjects and found when a person transitions between two languages, the brain uses regions not active in normal language use. This suggests that interpreting takes greater coordination of mental operations and that the phonological processing is more difficult when having to switch languages.
Our interpreters undergo 120 hours of comprehensive, in-person classroom training prior to taking client calls – training which includes demonstrating the listening and recall necessary to excel as an interpreter. Interpreters must:
- pay attention carefully
- understand what is being communicated in both languages
- express thoughts and ideas clearly
- exhibit a distinct set of skills and aptitude.
- Ethical Behavior
Interpreters may encounter confidential or sensitive information – social security numbers, credit scores, and other personal identifying information, for example.
Ethical behavior extends beyond just keeping what you’ve heard to yourself. The US Courts website states that an interpreter must be both impartial and “able to accurately and idiomatically turn the message from the source language into the receptor language without any additions, omissions or other misleading factors that alter the intended meaning of the message from the speaker.”
Our 120 hour interpreter training course emphasizes the need for ethics and confidentiality. After completing training, interpreters work in our large-scale US interpreter contact centers, where they are overseen by an in-section supervisor and regularly monitored for quality and security purposes. Clean desk policies and weekly audits help ensure adherence.
- Cultural Knowledge
Being bicultural is just as important for qualified interpreters as being bilingual. Bicultural individuals have naturally absorbed the sensibilities and nuances of two cultures and have inherent abilities to mediate between them. Dr. Holly Mikkelson from the Monterey Institute of International Studies states:
“In all of their work, interpreters must bridge the cultural and conceptual gaps separating the participants in a meeting.”
Many of our interpreters are members of bilingual and bicultural communities, giving them familiarity with the experiences unique to minority cultures living and working within the US. They must be sensitive to the cultures associated with their language of expertise.
- Subject Knowledge
Imagine listening to an academic lecture about aerospace engineering and then being asked to repeat what you learned. Unless you are deeply familiar with how aerodynamics works, you might be hard-pressed to make any sense of the lecture, much less repeat it back in a way that is understandable to anyone else.
Likewise, it is critical that an interpreter understands the subject material of a conversation they need to interpret. An interpreter confused by a lack of subject knowledge may struggle to understand what is being said. The interpreter must become familiar with the subject matter that is being discussed; this may involve research to create a list of common words and phrases associated with the topic.
Interpreters taking Voiance calls receive training in the industries where our clients do business, as well as access to reference material provided by specific clients to increase interpreter familiarity with the subject matter they are likely to encounter.