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What to look for in interpreting agencies?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 4, 2019

There are times when approaching an interpreting agency will be the best option for your event. They offer convenience, a single point of contact and already have lots of interpreters on their books. But not all interpreting agencies offer good value for money, in fact some have built such a poor reputation that they will struggle to deliver the quality you need. So what should you look for? Here is my list:

  • Good interpreting agencies are members of professional associations

This is similar to one of the most important signs of a good interpreter but it is even more important for agencies. At least in the EU, there are professional associations in most countries that cover interpreting agencies. If they have been accepted for membership, you can at least know that someone is watching their ethics and you have a cheap and effective way to deal with any complaints.

Conversely, if they have no memberships and the only thing they can boast is adherence to some random ISO standard, steer clear! They might be good but it is just as likely that they are a fly-by-night operation whose actual knowledge of the industry and the required standards is very light.

Where there isn’t a relevant local association, check that the agency requires its interpreters to be members of an association or, even better, that they have association member interpreters on staff permanently.

  • Can you contact a named person?

This might seem a little odd but if an agency’s website doesn’t actually contain the names of anyone working for the company, it should be a red flag. For interpreting to work, it takes real teamwork between the client, the person managing the interpreting and the interpreters. If you have no idea who the project manager is or worse, get bundled to a different person each time, there is little chance that the event will go well. Good companies are happy to at least mention some key staff. If they don’t, it might mean that they have high turnover or just shovel every job around.

  • Are they interested in your event?

While it’s good to have systems and automation in place, if you feel that the agency are treating you as just another number, it’s time to look elsewhere. Sadly, this is pretty common with very large agencies who tend not to reward staff for paying particular attention to specific clients, unless that client comes with a huge budget. A good agency, no matter how busy, will show interest in what you want to achieve from your specific event and will build your interpreting team around that. If they seem not to care, take your cash elsewhere.

  • Will they tell you the names of the interpreters?

I know this might be controversial but if an agency cares more about ensuring that their interpreters can’t be poached than they do about clear communication, dump them. If they can’t trust their own interpreters to work professionally and so want to keep everything under wraps, then those interpreters should be nowhere near your international event.

Good agencies are proud of the teams they build and should be happy to tell you just how great those interpreters are. They should also know that great interpreting starts with great communication and sometimes, it’s quicker for the interpreters just to ask you some questions directly.

 

Ideal interpreting agencies get all these things right. They are members of professional associations, are open about their own staff team and the interpreters they use and they care about your event. To get the right agency, it helps to make all four of those criteria non-negotiable.

But are there more? Which criteria would you add to this list?

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