Interpreting hints

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Interpreting hints

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Interpreting hints
Bridging the gap with style


  • Know your vocabulary. Make vocabulary lists and learn the vocab.  If you can't come up with the translation for a word instantaneously, you need to keep practicing.
  • Expand your general knowledge.  Background knowledge will often (although not always) allow you to make educated guesses even if you don't understand every word.

Before an Assignment

  • Finalize all your payment details (rates etc) in writing before starting an assignment.  Interpreting jobs have a tendency to fall in your lap at the last minute.  That's fine, but make sure you at least have an email from your client.  People can sometimes forget what they promise you over the phone and you want to reduce as much anxiety as you can beforehand.
  • Decide on your stance towards cancellation charges, if any, and make sure you inform your client/agency of them.
  • Work out who is employing you.  This sounds obvious but can be clouded if you get work through an agency.  It will help you fathom who's in charge on the day (and who should be giving you instructions).

At the start of an assignment

  • Work out who’s in charge. It’s always good to have someone to get instructions from.
  • Write down people’s names and titles at the start of your interpreting notebook. You can refer to this during your assignment.
  • Give your client instructions on how to make the best use of you.  A lot of clients are not used to using interpreters so let them know how (i.e., not all talking at once, breaking up what they want to say in manageable chunks). 

On the day

  • Look at your notes when listening and look up at the listeners when talking.  This will encourage the speakers to talk to the listener rather than to you the interpreter.  The best interpreters are invisible.
  • Aim to understand.  If you understand, you'll be able to remember the content better and reproduce it accurately.
  • If you don't understand, ask a question.  People understanding the message is more important than you looking good.


  • Take notes in whichever language you please.  I use Japanese, English and my own symbols when taking notes irrespective of whether the speaker is talking in English or Japanese.