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Beyond Bilingual: What Makes a Good Consecutive Interpreter?

Discover how consecutive interpreting ensures an equitable conversation between speakers of different languages

Bridging Language Gaps

Interpreters have to be bilingual, of course.  But not all bilingual people can be interpreters!

Consecutive interpreters — who interpret a few sentences at a time, as speakers pause — need to have a special set of skills to make sure the conversation between speakers of different languages is accurate and equitable. These skills require training, practice, and a natural ability to create a bridge between speakers.

Who needs consecutive interpretation services?

Consecutive interpretation is frequently used in over-the-phone interpretation settings when a limited English proficient individual needs to communicate. This can happen in a call center environment, for a help or information line, and even when both parties are in the same room, such as a medical appointment, a place of business, or a government office. In this interpretation method, speakers typically pause every two to three sentences, to allow the interpreter to interpret what has been said. Consecutive interpretation services are also frequently used in educational and medical environments.

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What makes a good consecutive interpreter?

A qualified consecutive interpreter has a number of skills beyond simply being bilingual. If you are entering into a contract with an interpretation provider, ask about how they ensure their interpreters are prepared to:

  • Manage the interpretation so one person speaks at a time, in chunks of information that can be accurately interpreted
  • Ask for clarification if needed, without giving the impression that the interpreter and the limited-English-speaker are having a side conversation
  • Accurately render the intent and tone of speakers while remaining a neutral party
  • Deal with difficult, sensitive, or emotional situations — or even unhappy customers

And most importantly, make sure your provider isn’t just using off-the-shelf language-only tests to qualify people before calling them interpreters.  A good provider will be happy to tell you all about their qualification process, which should include testing of both language and interpretation skills.

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Want to learn more about Lionbridge interpretation?

Lionbridge has over 20 years of expertise in over-the-phone interpretation services — and our interpreters enable effective multilingual communication in over 350 languages. Visit our resource page for phone interpretation services, or get in touch to learn how Lionbridge interpreters are qualified to meet all of your communication needs.

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