Client's guide for hiring an interpreter

Interpreting is a highly specialised skill and not everyone with a knowledge of two languages will be able to interpret successfully. Using an expert means you can be sure of having the full message conveyed.


Quick facts about interpreting

There are two different modes of interpreting: simultaneous (conference) and consecutive (which includes so-called liaison interpreting – see below). The type of event you are having will determine what type of interpreter you need. Talk to your interpreter about your needs and they will advise you on the best mode to use.


Interpreting is extremely concentrated work. Interpreters doing simultaneous or consecutive interpreting work in pairs and relieve one another every 30 minutes or so. Liaison interpreters may work for longer periods on their own, but care should be taken that they are not over-extended or the quality of the interpreting will suffer.


Interpreters generally charge per hour or per day. An interpreter’s charge includes the necessary preparation; you are not paying only for their time on the day. The more material you can give the interpreter ahead of time, the better they will be able to convey the message.


In addition to their interpreting fee, interpreters are paid a per diem and the client is responsible for all travel and accommodation arrangements and costs if the assignment is out of town and for refreshments for the interpreters while they are working.


Price should not be your only consideration when you hire an interpreter. Competence, experience and professionalism are also important.


An interpreter need not be an expert in the field with which the conference or meeting deals. However, the more material you are able to give the interpreter ahead of time, the better they will be able to do their job.


Characteristics of simultaneous interpreting

  • Simultaneous interpreters work in soundproof booths at large gatherings like conferences and legislative sittings, interpreting as delegates speak.
  • Specialised equipment is required for simultaneous interpreting; remember to arrange this as well as the interpreters themselves.
  • Simultaneous interpreters work in teams of at least two per language combination, as this is very intensive work and they can only interpret for around 30 minutes at a time. For conferences longer than four days, larger teams are required in order to maintain quality.
  • Interpreters should not work more than an eight-hour day, which should include a one-hour lunch break and two half-hour tea breaks.


Characteristics of consecutive interpreting

  • Consecutive interpreters work in smaller meetings, where they stand near a speaker and interpret after the speaker has spoken.
  • This method of interpreting is time-consuming and this should be taken into account in planning.
  • It is also even more demanding on the interpreter, as they are not shielded from outside noise and distractions. For this reason, teams of interpreters are required in the same way as for simultaneous interpreting.
  • Sometimes whispered interpreting may be more appropriate in smaller meetings where only a few delegates do not understand the floor language.
  • Court interpreting is a form of consecutive interpreting.


Characteristics of liaison interpreting

  • Liaison interpreters are consecutive interpreters who work in settings where two individuals or small groups require communication assistance, e.g. a doctor/nurse and a patient, a government official and a client, a policeman and a burglary victim.
  • Remember that the interpreter is there simply to convey the message; they should not be expected to mediate between the two parties.


Interpreters’ requirements from the client

Click on the link below to download a document giving guidelines on working conditions for interpreters.




Working with interpreters (27533 bytes)




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