7 Critical Skills Any Great Interpreter Has Mastered

Here at Affordable Languages we’ve worked with numerous interpreters.  Over time we’ve identified the core skills that make a great interpreter.  Here they are:


This one is pretty straightforward, so I don’t really need to get into too many details. A good interpreter will show early, at the right place, ready to begin interpreting immediately.  Simple, but important.


The memory of an interpreter is an amazing thing, but the best interpreters don’t develop it overnight.  Thousands of hours of study and rehearsal go into making that memory the wonder that it is.  Interpreters heavily utilize short-term memory, and just like a muscle, short-term memory can develop greater endurance.  Teams of conference interpreters are not unlike runners in a relay race!


A truly disciplined professional interpreter will know when and what to study and how best to maintain his or her skills.  Refraining from allowing personal biases to affect an interpretation also requires a great attention to detail and sense of discipline.


This is an often overlooked, but vital skill for any interpreter.  Interpreter ethics include such important pillars as confidentiality, respect, and knowledge of one’s limitations.


Any great interpreter will have tools available at his or her disposal to facilitate a smooth interpretation experience for the customer. Commonly used tools include a computer to complete necessary research, a subject specific bilingual dictionary, and a notebook and pen to take notes.  A proper pre-session is a tool many interpreters will utilize to make a smooth experience for everyone involved.

Cultural Competency:

Language and culture are inextricable, so it’s extremely important that any interpreter be well-versed in the culture of both interpreted languages. There are certain times when cultural differences are more notable, and these are when a great interpreter will really shine.  Humor and symbolic languages can be difficult, and cultural differences may be more pronounced in topics such as mental health, and palliative care.


In my opinion, if you’re going to do something well, you’ve got to have style.  It’s what separates being good and being excellent. For me, an interpreter with style is one that has a really clear rhythm and sense of delivery. Experience can play a huge role in this skill. Anyone who’s ever used an interpreter can tell you the importance of clear delivery and rhythm.  Choppy, broken speech is difficult to understand in any language, so the best interpreters will strive to deliver the message in the same tones, inflections, and rhythms and the original speaker.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion.  Do you agree?  What do you think makes a great interpreter?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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