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Fake Interpreters: How to Avoid Them

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 13, 2014

If the fake interpreter scandal has done nothing else, it has alerted interpreting clients to the possibility that cutting costs could lead to irreversible damage. This is why I have taken the time to compile a short list of tips to make sure that it isn’t your name and face in the headlines beside a picture of a fake interpreter.

Check their identity

If it wasn’t bad enough that people with no interpreting skills are calling themselves interpreters, there is currently a rash of CV scamming where people steal the CV of a real translator or interpreter and then pass it off as their own. The first stage of avoiding fakes is therefore to check the identity of the person you are talking to. There are several simple ways to do this.

1)    Who wrote the CV?

If you are sent a CV, your first job is to verify that it is actually the CV of the person who sent it. As well as checking for obvious errors such a telephone numbers with the wrong country code, glaring grammar and spelling errors, date mismatches, etc, it is always worth running one quick check. If the CV is in a Word format, and you are running Windows, right-click the file and open the “Properties” box. Under the “details” tab, check that the names listed next to “Author” and “Last Saved by” are the same as the name of the person who is claiming to send you the CV.  If they don’t match, delete the CV and ignore the person sending the email. You might also want to report them to a good CV scam reporting website.

On this point, it is useful to note that traditional checks, such as asking for passport scans or social security numbers are just not up to the job. Many professionals object to these checks as, while they look like they give you useful information to verify their identity, they also give you information that would allow you to steal their identity. Add to this the fact that passport scan can easily be faked with good editing software and they quickly become a waste of time.

2)    Google them

Once you are confident about their CV, it is worth googling the person. While you aren’t likely to find snapshots of them at previous assignments due to privacy agreements, you should be able to find some kind of digital trace of them. If they are contributing to blogs, being mentioned on websites and getting listed on the websites of professional associations (see a later point), you can start to build up a picture of their attitude to work and their level of experience. You can also use this stage to verify that their contact details (email addresses, phone numbers, etc) are consistent everywhere

3)    Pick up the phone

If they give you a phone number and it is right for their country, giving them a phone is a great idea. Not only will you get to hear what their voice sounds like (a vital part of interpreting into spoken languages) but you will be able to chat to them about the assignment and give them some of the details they will need to work well. This goes for working with agencies too. A five minute phone call with some intelligent questions can tell you more than a lifetime of google searches.

Check they are qualified

Again, this is where the old checks fall flat. Asking for copies of diplomas is not, in itself, enough to check someone’s qualifications. In addition, unless you really know the world of interpreting qualifications well, knowing that someone has a Diploma in Interpreting from the University of Mutebutton won’t tell you a lot. Add to this the fact that diploma scans, like passport scans, are easily faked by people who know what you are doing and they quickly become useless.

It is much better to check their membership status with a professional organisations. Worldwide, AIIC is the number one organisation for conference interpreters, although not all excellent interpreters are AIIC members, for various reasons. In the UK, ITI is your reference organsation for spoken languages and , ASLI, SASLI and NRCPD are your reference organisations for sign languages. Not all members will be listed publicly on their websites for various reasons but again, it is a useful check to run. Ideally, membership should be dependent on the criteria that will matter to you: experience, client feedback and some form of proof that they know what they are doing.

While organisations might differ in whether they will welcome phone calls to check membership status, at very least, you can use their websites to check what membership actually means.

Check they are good

Sad to say, checking qualifications is not enough. In some areas of interpreting, not all qualified interpreters are good and not all good interpreters are qualified. The best way to check competence is to ask for references, especially where these come from people who have actually heard or seen the interpreter working and can measure the results. However, since not all clients are happy to give feedback to other clients, this is where a good phone call works wonders, as does a test, if you can run one.

On the phone, you might want to ask them some questions about previous experience, taking into account that non-disclosure agreements might prevent some information from being shared. Still, all interpreters love to share their “war stories” and all interpreters will have at least one project they are proud of that they are happy to tell you about.

You might also want to ask about their Continued Professional Development, if they have preferred boothmates or interpreting partners and how they plan to develop their careers. In short, the more they care about their job, the more likely it is they will do a good job for you. The more important the assignment is going to be, the more vital these sorts of questions should be for you.

As for testing, if you have the chance, running a small-scale (paid!) trial of a few interpreters with people who speak the language involved will give you the best idea of what the interpreter can do. Remember, however, that word-for-word accuracy might actually be a sign of a lazy interpreter, rather than a good one. Ask people how comfortable they would be hearing the interpreter for the length of the assignment and whether they are confident in the interpreter’s ability.

Too long; didn’t read?

If all that seems a lot of work, it could well be. On the other hand, it could well be a lot more work to clean up after an interpreting disaster. If you have worked with interpreters before, you can skip a lot of stages by simply asking them who they would recommend. One general rule still applies: the more important the assignment, the more time you should spend making sure you get an excellent interpreter.

4 comments on “Fake Interpreters: How to Avoid Them

  1. A very good and thorough text, although I’m on the other side! :)
    The only point I totally disagree with is Memberships – probably it is a peculiarity of my home country (which is Russia). Neither myself, nor any of my colleagues or “boothmates” ever considered a possibility of becoming members of any “association” or “League”. It usually implies tons of red tape, significant fees and no practical help whatsoever! (IMHO)

  2. Thank you, Jonathan, for your kind words and referral to my Translator Scammers Directory.
    I suggest that, before deleting the fake CV, we should always send an appropriate and creative message to the scammer’s email addresses..

  3. Loved the post! It’s sad that it takes fake interpreters to bring attention to the importance of good quality interpreting. That’s the problem you see, that’s why bad people get recruited in the first place: hardly anyone cares about quality, very few clients are educated in that respect. They want someone cheap and they think it’s an easy job that anyone can do, so they never bother.

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