What makes a good interpreter?

The professionalism and standards of the interpreting industry in South Africa have been under heavy scrutiny in recent times. The antics of the now infamous sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and the dismal quality of interpreting in the Oscar Pistorius trial have illustrated the obvious problems presented by poor interpreting services.


Achieving excellence in interpreting is a step-by-step process. Bangula has put together a collection of our most important points to being a good interpreter.

1) Train, qualify, practise

Training is a crucial stage in the career of any interpreter. An interpreter aspiring to a good career in this field has to learn their trade, obtain the necessary qualifications and hone their skills through regular practice.

2) Plan ahead

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the subject matter in which you will be required to interpret. When interpreting at a mining conference for example, it would be necessary for the interpreter to have an understanding of industry-specific terms.

3) Be involved

There are many ways of interpreting a speech, from a lifeless repetition to bringing the original meaning of the words to life. Communicating with your target audience depends largely upon your ability to engage your listener.

4) Keep up with your languages

Human language is a fluid entity. Languages are constantly evolving. If you miss a nuance or meaning, you risk misinterpreting the message.

5) Build the right skill set

Interpreting requires a certain mindset, paired with specialist skills. Skills to hone to perfection include research and analytical skills, mental dexterity and an excellent memory. A good concentration span and listening skills are also of the utmost importance.

6) It’s all about accuracy

The interpreter must convey the exact meaning of everything said in the source language. Literal interpreting and misunderstandings can lead to anger and frustrations all round. 

7) Identify your strengths

Some interpreters are better at simultaneous/conference interpreting and others at consecutive interpreting. Most interpreters can handle liaison interpreting, which is a more informal type of interpreting.


At Bangula we pride ourselves on delivering quality translations and interpreting services in all 11 official South African languages. We also have highly qualified translators, interpreters, editors and proofreaders eager and ready to tackle a job in any major international language of your choice. Contact us today.

Contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation.

Ballywoods Office Park, 33 Ballyclare Dr, Bryanston, Sandton, 2191, South Africa

295 Madison Ave, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10017, United States