In today’s globalised and culturally diverse world, many an organisation is faced with communication issues. Is it enough to hire a bilingual employee to save the day or should you resort to a professional interpreter? A no-brainer if there ever was one: hire a professional interpreter. Here’s why…

It all starts with the basic difference between employees and interpreters. A bilingual employee is a person who works for you and has a certain level of proficiency in two languages. A professional interpreter has been trained to be just that, and has the necessary professional qualifications. Interpreters have a high level of mastery of at least two languages, and have the expertise to tackle any interpreting job you trust them with. Professional interpreters translate skilfully and accurately, and they abide by the highest ethical rules and confidentiality requirements.

Being bilingual does not make you an interpreter, even if people like to think it does. Mastering two languages is only the basic requirement that professional interpreters meet. Merely speaking two languages is not enough to work as an interpreter. Many other skills come into play, such as bicultural competence, language ethics, mental dexterity and a high level of concentration, etiquette and professionalism.
Truth is, trusting a non-professional entails some risks. Your bilingual employee might be less proficient in one of the two languages, or they might have a long to-do list that keeps dragging their attention away from the interpretation at hand.

Professional interpreters are simply much better equipped to do what is in fact their job. An untrained consecutive interpreter will probably interrupt speakers more often and have more trouble remembering the speaker’s utterances, hence rendering an incomplete or incorrect translation. A bilingual employee will also be more prone to get involved in the conversation with one of the speakers, which is not really what is supposed to happen. And vice versa. Speakers might try to use their colleague as a spokesperson, or to rally them to their cause.

Imagine: you have hired people who speak a foreign language and they have a conflict or are faced with some sort of problem that has to be solved. Will you have this handled by a bilingual employee who may pick sides? They may purposefully mistranslate to the benefit of one of the parties or have whole conversations unrelated to the topic at hand.

The same goes for important business deals and international collaboration or mergers. Best not to make mistakes there either. Apart from the fact that making a bilingual employee privy to confidential conversations may not be the wisest thing to do, you need to be sure that everything is translated accurately.

To sum up: interpreting involves much more than rendering words in another language. There are a number of ethical and cultural matters, not to mention confidentiality, that have to be taken into account. This is something that can only be expected from a professional interpreter . So, even if you only require interpretation very occasionally, work with a professional. It might be enough to include an interpreter in a conference call. For more intricate conversations, an on-site interpreter is probably the better option. And none of these options will be very expensive. They are in fact a lot cheaper than having to pay the (financial) damage resulting from mistranslations.

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