First-time posters: please review the site's moderation policy

There's abundant literature about technical skills that you need to have as an interpreter. But in terms of soft skills, what do you need and how do you acquire them.

asked 05 Nov '11, 15:34

Marta%20Piera%20Marin's gravatar image

Marta Piera ...

edited 14 Mar '12, 20:23

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

12next »

This is my PhD research topic!

In summary, data collected from over 2000 signed language interpreters from 38 different countries indicated that

  • conscientiousness
  • emotional stability
  • and a high level of self esteem

were the main predictors of success as an interpreter.

A slightly less important (but still statistically significant) factor was

  • openness to experience (a personality trait akin to intellectual curiosity)

All makes sense when you think about our work. No reason to assume the results from signed language interpreters would be any different from spoken language interpreters, so I would expect to see the same kind of patterns in terms of personality predictors in successful spoken language interpreters too.

permanent link

answered 29 Mar '12, 06:57

KarenB's gravatar image


edited 29 Mar '12, 07:13

Angela's gravatar image



If interested in research regarding interpreter aptitude, see this John Benjamins special issue of the journal “Interpreting" from 2011, based on the proceedings of a symposium held in Belgium in 2009 -

(29 Mar '12, 07:00) KarenB

If anyone wants a list of references for further reading on the topic of interpreter personality, feel free to contact me on

(03 Apr '12, 19:00) KarenB

Sense of great Responsabilit and intellectual curiosity.

Dear PhD researcher, could you get in touch with me, I am doing a PhD on Interpreting and I would be happy if you could take part of my research too.

MY mail:

(11 Apr '12, 03:30) ZuzanaSvak

I would say empathy is a very useful soft skill for anyone, including interpreters, who needs to sense and infer what the speaker is saying/trying to say/about to say, when so much of the message is conveyed by more than just words.

permanent link

answered 14 Nov '11, 16:55

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

edited 14 Nov '11, 16:55

+1 for the excellent links!

(14 Nov '11, 17:15) Marta Piera ...

I talked about this in a recent post on my blog ("The Right Stuff?"). There, I said that the two qualities that unite all the professional conference interpreters I know are 1) intellectual curiosity and 2) an ability to deal with stress. Pretty much everything else is up for grabs.

permanent link

answered 15 Nov '11, 13:30

Michelle's gravatar image


...curiosity springs to mind as a soft skill interpreters should not be w/o, makes preparing for an assignment a lot easier... SOH (sense of humour) too, but that applies to well-rounded people and not just interpreters :-)

permanent link

answered 14 Nov '11, 20:42

msr's gravatar image


edited 14 Nov '11, 20:48

+1 since sense of humor imho is a survival skill:

Often we are expected to reconcile two apparently conflicting skills- Empathy and intuition on the one hand, enough ruggedness/stoicism on the other hand so as not to take things personally (which is not always easy, cf. recent youtube video posting (deleted) here on ii or colleagues whose adrenaline level is allegedly on a par with fighter pilots, {btw - can anybody reference this or is it one of those apocryphal tales?}) - anyway: humor appears to be the rosetta stone, capable of linking both seemingly contradictory properties: empathy and the all-essential "thick skin". Being German, and since I understand the potential benefit, I am "seriously" working on it (which admittedly is not always easy but definitely helps focus on the task at hand and makes life a lot easier;))

p.s.: My apologies for this slightly convoluted comment - I hope my next one will be a bit more structured again.

(08 Apr '12, 15:03) Tanja

I'd add that being pleasant also helps, especially when engaging with clients. This probably falls under the remit of 'conscientiousnes'.

permanent link

answered 11 Apr '12, 07:04

leesonl's gravatar image


Indeed! Wish I could upvote more than once

(11 Apr '12, 07:26) Vincent Buck

... intuition, flexibility, and creativity, since you do have to get into people's minds, and then out again.

permanent link

answered 15 Nov '11, 09:36

LiA's gravatar image



+1 for the "out again" !

(15 Nov '11, 10:12) Angela

I don't know where this falls on the hard/soft continuum, but I would add improvisation. What we have come to call "skills" are too often seen as defined entities, making them seem exact and rigid (perhaps that is why they're called "hard). I have come to see improvisation as a quality that underlies the skill set and brings everything together in the interpreting process.

permanent link

answered 17 Jan '12, 15:09

Luigi's gravatar image


All of the above are great qualities to have. How about a thick skin and dipolomacy.

Interpreters can sometimes find themselves in situations where they become the target of frustration, anger, panic, criticism, etc... through no fault of their own. You can't take these things personally and it's better to diffuse the situation by being agreeable (just grin and bear it) than to do/say something to worsen it, no matter how much you may want to.

permanent link

answered 29 Mar '12, 18:42

gkeller's gravatar image


I wonder whether we should not include 'perseverance'... we are always like dogs worrying a bone, until we find the appropriate term... we are impossible!

permanent link

answered 19 Jan '12, 10:38

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

I'd say one important quality is the ability to think on your feet!

permanent link

answered 19 Jan '12, 18:01

Sirpa's gravatar image


Your answer
toggle preview

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text]( "title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported

Question tags:


question asked: 05 Nov '11, 15:34

question was seen: 33,011 times

last updated: 23 Jun '13, 17:06 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

about | faq | terms of use | privacy policy | content policy | disclaimer | contact us

This collaborative website is sponsored and hosted by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters.