How To Choose the Right Spoken Word Interpreter

Three business people shaking hands in agreement

Just two generations ago, my great-grandparents came to America through the Port of New Orleans, with next to nothing, including no knowledge of the English language. My grandmother was born in the States and was fluent in both English and Italian – although she didn’t teach it to her grandchildren so she and her sisters could have “private” conversations in Italian when we were around. (How smart is that?)

Today, as immigrants are entering our nation at staggering rates, our schools, hospitals, and communities are looking for ways to overcome the language barriers that keeps individuals from receiving an education, getting a job, or receiving proper healthcare.

When hiring a language services provider or choosing a translation app, there are important factors to consider:

  • Use a language services agency that screens interpreters for experience, conducts background checks, and only hires interpreters who translate into their mother tongue – or as my Venezuelan friend calls it, the “language of the heart” – so they have natural ability to capture colloquialisms and cultural nuances.
  • If you need an interpreter for a school or hospital, the provider should offer interpreters with experience for your setting, including knowledge about following guidelines such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA). Additionally, a good language services agency will have a roster of interpreters with specific experience within an industry. For example, if you need interpreters for a K-12 school, the language service provider you choose should offer interpreters who not only have experience interpreting in an educational setting, but
    interpreters who specialize in certain grade levels. After all, high school math courses are much more challenging than elementary-level math - and the interpreter shouldn’t be learning along with the student, but already be familiar with the concepts being taught.
  • Interpreters should be sensitive to cultural differences and have great people skills. And on a similar note, they should be trained to maintain confidentiality even if FERPA and HIPAA guidelines aren’t required for the setting. Because, regardless of the situation, interpreting conversations opens a window into intimate places in ones’ life and should never be shared
    outside the circle of conversation.
  • Apps are handy for on-the-spot interpretation but are not completely without interpretation errors. ILA, or Instant Language Assistant, offers voice-to-text in real-time in more than 120 languages and can populate terminology. Since information from the app isn’t saved on the Cloud, it’s also more secure than other apps on the market. ILA is also HIPAA compliant, so it could be convenient for doctor’s offices or hospitals in rural areas that may need interpretation services infrequently.

And most importantly, use a language provider with a team of people who truly care about other people, whose mission is to be a communications bridge, with ethical practices and sensitivity to the thousands of different cultures that make our world so interesting. After all, the language services industry isn’t just a business – it’s a vital people connector for today’s world.


Rachel Simons is the RFP and Proposal Administrator for ASLI, Inc., ... meaning she reads hundreds of requests from businesses, schools, and corporations who sometimes may not know exactly what they need or the specific terminology. ASLI is a language service company under the New Language Capital umbrella, which has provided spoken language and sign language interpretation for more than 30 years.

Reliable. Ethical. Just Plain Nice. is not just a motto – it’s the hallmark for all we do.




Go back