How to prepare for an interpreting assignment – a 4 step guide

Part of what makes professional interpreters skilled and keeps their clients asking them to work with them again and again is that they prepare for each interpreting assignment thoroughly.

I truly believe that, to be a successful interpreter, we need to give our client and their event our absolute best. I asked Diana Merchant, my interpreting coach at CCIT (where I studied Conference Interpreting for 2 years) and AIIC Member, to outline her take on how to prepare for an interpretation. She is one of the people I most admire, not only for her outstanding interpreting skills but also for her generosity when training future interpreters.

Enjoy!


How to prepare for an interpreting assignment – your 4 step guide

We know our profession requires flexibility, resilience and being prepared for the unexpected.

You have just been asked to interpret at a meeting about a subject you are not familiar with. Should you accept the assignment or not? The answer to this question is not a clear-cut one. It all depends on the time available to you before the event to research the topic, prepare a thorough glossary and listen to the speaker, all with the help of technology which has come to our rescue and made this task so much simpler.

A deep knowledge of the subjects to be discussed is crucial since it will allow you to convey a message or an idea far beyond the mere repetition of a series of words which, although technically correct, bear no meaning without a clear, logical context.

Listening to lecturers on the Internet, whenever possible, is also of great help since it will allow you, not only to grasp a speaker’s accent, intonation and speed but also to gage the extent to which cultural background is involved in the presentation and discussion: Does the speaker make use of humor and how does this translate into the second language? Will people be offended by a certain joke? Does the speaker mention brand names, names of local television characters or does he or she refer to local events which are relevant in the lecturer’s country but might mean nothing to someone living in a different continent? The list is endless and the challenge ahead of us daunting unless we are fully prepared for the assignment.

And finally we must be aware of the meeting’s agenda or schedule. Last minute surprises might come as an unwelcome hitch when we realize a meeting lasts far longer than anticipated or includes a well-known local comedian who has been hired to add a bit of sparkle to the closing session. We know our profession requires flexibility, resilience and being prepared for the unexpected. But certain surprises can be avoided right from the very beginning if we have taken the time to look into details and come up with solutions which will make our workday a more enjoyable one.

Diana Merchant

Conference Interpreter & Interpreter Trainer

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Beverly Hills


Coffee places are all over London and even they relish in the festive spirit. Photo taken by me, of course. I am also proud to volunteer my translation skills to The Costa Foundation.

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