Interpreting is an ancient profession; it has been around for thousands of years and started way back in Ancient Egypt. This idea of building bridges in communication between cultures continues today, nearly 30 centuries later. Since then, people have been studying and trying to understand the work of interpreters from many points of view. Physically, psychologically, in matters of experience and personality.
There has always been a discussion about the psychological characteristics a perfect interpreter should have, always bringing up the different personality traits that are necessary for them. Usually, this is based on different beliefs, intuitions, and stereotypes people might have heard, but never based on scientific research.
When people get asked about how they think an interpreter’s personality might be, there are a few common words that come up: smart, skillful, bilingual… and extroverted. This last word on the list is the one that is the most frequent when talking about language professionals. That is what students in interpreting courses are taught as well, that the perfect interpreter is extroverted, because they get to speak for hours, dealing with clients and taking part in important meetings with different people all the time, engaging in tasks and duties for people that have no problem with social interaction.
According to Anita Mackie there is a set of characteristics that all professional interpreters and students should have so as to perform in an efficient way.
1. Passionate: It is stated that interpreters do not mind working extra hours if that means they are improving their cognitive understanding of a language and making meaningful connections with their clients. They are devoted to learning more and more each day.
2. Ethical: Interpreters do not take part in any conversation; their main and only function is to enable communication between people with different cultures. They often hear confidential information, and it is of crucial importance to guarantee privacy and security to the client.
3. Working well under pressure: Interpreters can adapt to any work environment. Noisy, quiet, boring, too fast, etc. They are able to find solutions to problems and carry on with their jobs.
4. Culturally diverse: They need to understand references – spoken or physical – so as to make communication efficient. Understanding that there are people with different beliefs, culture, and a different language usage is essential so deliver a quality service.
5. Social skills: An interpreter needs to be a good communicator. They often need to have the best social abilities which are acquired through social interaction.
Personally, I agree with almost all those traits. However, this left me thinking if those different qualities are exclusive of an interpreter, or maybe a translator could fit in this profile. In that case, the idea of having certain qualities for interpreters and translators – because they are career paths for different personalities – might be wrong.
Having social skills might be a plus for some interpreters, as mentioned, they deal with clients all the time, and their tasks consist of speaking and being heard by others. Having social skills would also be helpful when trying to feel confident. In most cases, having this quality enables the interpreter to not feel any awkwardness when performing for others, in fact, according to Henderson, interpreters can be compared to actors, because they need to appear in public and they need to have the ability to engage in public speaking.
Now, the question would be, is that right? Is the word “extroverted” the adjective that belongs to interpreters?
Interpreters need to be focused for long periods of time, prepare carefully for meetings, read and learn about all topics, not only the ones that could be interesting for them, avoid expressing their own opinion if it’s not asked, avoid speaking and expressing emotions while interpreting (for example, they can’t sound bored if they are interpreting about a topic that they don’t like), they need to be paying attention to detail in all occasions. Just like Longley states: This does not usually go hand in hand with a bohemian nature.
With that being said, could an introverted person be an interpreter? I think the answer could be yes. An introverted person could also fit in the few characteristics mentioned before, they tend to think about things more, they can work well under pressure, be passionate about things, etc. It is well known that people can have different personalities when working and when they are at home or with friends. Let’s say, a lawyer is not always formal, or a musician is not always happy and motivating people.
But why is that? How come some introverted people can be interpreters, and some extrovert people cannot work in this career?
The answer is simple. Nobody is 100% introvert or extrovert. The majority of human beings belong to the third group called Ambiverts, as proposed by Carl Jung. There is just a minority that are only introvert or extroverted. In this group, in which most people fall under, people have balanced, nuanced personalities, and not a fixed mindset. Therefore, they would be able to perform all types of activities. This would explain why there are extroverted people working as translators, or introverted people in the interpreting field. Ambiverts still recognize certain traits – and activities – as exhausting. Hence, the stereotype of people belonging to one of the personality groups.
After all this information you might still have one question: How come all interpreters seem extrovert? Well, personality has nothing to do with it. Most interpreters have professional training, in which they learn how to control their voice – so as to not sound nervous or shy – they also learn how to manage emotions, and different techniques that makes them feel more confident when speaking. Just like any other person, if they enjoy what they are doing, they are not going to do it wrong, and probably, will have a different personality compared to when they are at home, simply because they are experts in the field, and excellence is required.
/By Catalina Belen Tapia// Intern, TRANSLIT//