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  • Writer's pictureBe Moore Interpreting

3 Common Misconceptions about Interpreting

People usually don't understand an interpreter's scope of work. This is because common misconceptions cloud people's perceptions surrounding the interpretation industry. In today's blog post, we will dive into understanding the world of interpreting, and debunk some common misconceptions along the way. From the belief that interpreters are just walking dictionaries to the assumption that anyone who knows two languages can be an interpreter, we'll explore the popular myths and uncover the truth behind them.

So let’s get started!

1. Interpreting Is the Same as Translation

Have you ever thought that interpreting and translation are the same thing? It's actually a common misconception. Let us break it down for you. Translation is when you convert written text from one language to another. On the other hand, interpreting is the process of orally conveying spoken language from one language to another in real time.

Interpretation is also a live process where the interpreter must convert spoken or sign language in real-time. For example, imagine you're at a business meeting, and one of your colleagues only speaks Spanish. An interpreter would be there to instantly convert what the colleague is saying into English so everyone at the meeting can understand, whereas translators have the luxury of time to research, edit, and revise their work. So, even though both professions involve language mediation, interpreting and translation have unique challenges and expertise.

Please check out this blog post to gain more insight into the difference between interpreting and translating.

2. Interpreters Can Interpret Any Topic

Some people think that interpreters can interpret any topic without requiring specialized knowledge. However, to become a professional interpreter, individuals must undergo rigorous training that goes beyond language proficiency.

Let's take a look at the healthcare industry, for example. Interpreters that specialize in the medical field will usually have obtained a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) certification, which is highly regarded in the medical interpreting industry and is awarded by The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.

To be eligible for healthcare interpreting certification, applicants are required to complete 40 hours of specific interpreter training related to healthcare, which should be instructor-led and not limited to self-study or interpreting experience. This training can include academic courses, non-academic training courses, continuing education courses, and on-the-job training, among other activities. On-the-job training, for example, must be well-documented, including the healthcare interpreting topics covered, the number of hours for each topic, and the dates of the training.

Interpreters also need to be proficient in English and at least one other language in addition to the interpretation or translation service they intend to provide.

3. Interpreters Don’t Spend Lots of Time Preparing

Interpreters usually spend much time and effort researching and familiarizing themselves with the subject matter before an interpreting assignment. They use this time to study background information and read relevant materials. Here are some way that interpreter prepare for a session:

  1. Pre-session Briefing: Interpreters may participate in pre-session briefings with clients or colleagues involved in the meeting or event. These briefings help clarify expectations, establish ground rules, and provide essential background information about the participants and the purpose of the session.

  2. Glossary Creation: Some interpreters create a glossary of key terms and phrases in both the source and target languages. This personalized glossary serves as a quick reference during the session and ensures consistency in terminology use.

  3. Mental Warm-up: Often time interpreters engage in mental warm-up exercises to prepare their linguistic and cognitive faculties. They may practice language exercises, tongue twisters, or interpreting drills to enhance their language proficiency and interpreting skills.

  4. Review of Ethical Guidelines: Ethical considerations are vital for interpreters, particularly in sensitive settings such as medical or legal interpretations. They review the ethical guidelines and ensure they understand their role as impartial and accurate communicators.

  5. Equipment Check: If the session involves using interpreting equipment, such as headphones and microphones, interpreters check the equipment's functionality to avoid technical issues during the session.

It is essential to note that preparation is a continuous process in the life of a professional interpreter. Ongoing professional development, language enhancement, and staying informed about industry trends and terminology are integral to maintaining proficiency.


Now that we've shared some of the typical misunderstandings about interpreting, you're one step closer to understanding the profession. Remember, it is not enough to be bilingual or to translate word-for-word when interpreting, and this occupation necessitates specialized abilities such as cultural understanding, active listening, and rapid thinking.

So, the next time you meet an interpreter, show them some love for all the incredible knowledge they bring!

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