How — and Why — to Hire an Interpreter


Jonathan Rechtman

Teal Flower
Teal Flower
Teal Flower

You wouldn’t go to trial without a lawyer, right? Why would you go to a meeting overseas without an interpreter?

There are a million different ways for a business meeting to fail, but a pretty good chunk of them can be traced to some form of miscommunication.

When doing business in another country, in another language, the risk of miscommunication increases exponentially. Hiring a professional conference interpreter is the best way to mitigate that risk and ensure that your message — and your business — is not lost in translation.

Get it right — the ideas and the details.

Big ideas are important, and not always simple. There can be a lot of nuance and sensitivity in a single sentence, not to mention a full presentation. Details are also important — the specific whos, whats, wheres, whens, and the ever-critical how much. If these ideas and details aren’t being communicated properly, what’s the point of having the meeting in the first place?

Conference interpreters specialize in ferrying complex ideas and minute details across the language barrier as accurately, efficiently, and eloquently as possible. This means a lot more than just listening to a bunch of words in one language and finding the corresponding words in another — it means a genuine comprehension of concept, structure, nuance, and semantics, followed by a complete deconstruction and reconfiguration of all those same elements using an entirely different set of linguistic tools. It’s tricky business — that’s why you want to work with a pro.

Beyond Bilingual

Many multinational companies have bilingual staff, and it can be tempting to just pull one of the local associates into a meeting and have them interpret for the boss. After all, they speak both languages and they know all about the company, right?

Well… maybe. How do these other ideas sound?

“We don’t need lawyers to review this contract. Everyone on our staff can read.”

“Our analysts crunch numbers all day — we’ll just let them do our taxes!”

Maybe not such a great idea, huh?

Companies hire professionals for a good reason — they possess skill sets that go above and beyond a basic aptitude. And conference interpreters are professionals, just like lawyers and accountants — they are properly trained, certified, and have the confidence to deliver a mission-critical service when doing business with foreign partners.

Also, remember that by conscripting your junior analyst to work as an interpreter, you’re depriving yourself of an analyst. Your staff has their own set of expertise and their own responsibilities in your organization — whisking them off to do ad-hoc interpreting (that they aren’t properly trained for) can be an uncomfortable and unproductive burden.

Context and Security

It’s true that many business discussions involve context that a freelance interpreter might not be familiar with — internal references and abbreviations, the names of individuals or institutions involved, technical terminology, etc.

Fortunately, professional interpreters always come prepared. They’ll start with background research into your industry and its jargon. If you have any presentation materials for the meeting, it’s a good idea to share it with your interpreter in advance so they can review them and ask questions if necessary. Spending 15–30 minutes with your interpreter either on the phone or in person beforehand is usually enough to make sure everyone is on the same page.

And don’t worry — professional ethics (and the non-disclosure clause of any standard contract) ensure that anything you discuss in front of your interpreter will be treated as strictly confidential.

A good interpreter is an extension of your brand.

Your interpreter is literally speaking on your behalf — a competent and professional interpreter helps to project your own confidence and trustworthiness to your partners across the table. This is especially important if you have senior executives attending the meeting — they deserve to be represented with as much eloquence and professionalism in a foreign language as they command naturally in their own.

How to find, evaluate, and hire a good interpreter.

Finding the interpreter that’s right for you is similar to picking a lawyer, stockbroker, or any other business service provider. Trust, transparency, professionalism and accountability are the most important factors.

The old-fashioned approach is simply to seek out a referral for an interpreter (or agency) with a good reputation — you might ask for recommendations from colleagues, or from the embassy or local chamber of commerce in the market that you’re doing business in.

But like all professional services, the interpretation industry is experiencing a transformation in the digital age: a movement toward on-demand service, transparent pricing, data-driven matchmaking, and in-depth user feedback. Online platforms like Cadence Translate, for example, connect business clients to a network of over 2500 freelance interpreters around the world, using smart analytics to find the best fit at the best price.

Interpretation services providers need to be evaluated like a new hire.

However you find your interpreter, here’s a checklist of questions you might want to ask before hiring:Have they been professionally trained/certified as a conference interpreter?Is their English resume well-formatted and in convention with international business standards?Do they have experience interpreting for meetings or events similar to yours?Can they speak intelligently about your industry in general terms?Do they have the professional appearance and social intelligence to represent your brand?Do they charge by the hour, half-day, or day; and do they have an overtime and/or cancellation policy?Keep these factors in mind, and you’ll find that hiring an interpreter can be a simple, cost-effective way of improving meeting productivity and winning better outcomes when doing business abroad.