Learning a second language is hard work.

Bilingualism brings with it a level of language proficiency that is sufficient for most standard, everyday situations and conversations.

Unfortunately, many organizations feel they have their language needs covered because they have a bilingual person on staff. This is typically not the case for several reasons.

First, there are more than 300 languages spoken in the United States. Qualified bilingual employees may be able to interpret one or two, but they are unlikely to cover the full spectrum.

Second, many industries require that a professional interpreter – and not simply a bilingual employee – provide interpretation or translation to customers and patients. In other words, failing to use professional interpreters leaves these organizations exposed from a legal standpoint.

Most importantly, professional interpreters have accomplished a level of fluency far beyond what the average bilingual individual would ever need.

Key Differences Between Being Bilingual and Being an Interpreter

People often think of interpretation as transactional – a simple exchanging of words, much as one would exchange one currency for another. The reality is much different.

Professional interpreters not only learn to speak and understand a language with perfect fluency, but they also delve deep into the culture behind it. They understand the deep meaning of silences surrounding the words, the hints to meaning hidden in voice inflection, and the importance of other non-verbal cues that the average bilingual individual will overlook.

Professional interpreters are trained to provide more than just a basic explanation of what someone is saying. They deliver a complete and accurate interpretation of exactly what the individual is communicating, meaning for meaning, with all the flavor and emotion of the original statement. Doing so requires exceptional listening skills, concentration, note-taking, multitasking ability, and a profound empathy for the other parties involved in the session.

Many professional interpreters are also trained to handle highly specialized interpreting situations that require complex vocabulary with nuanced meanings. For example, the medical, legal, and financial industries all have a unique set of industry terms. The average bilingual would never need to know these words.

Why Does it Matter?

Professional interpretation exists to provide high value experiences at the moment of need. It is about empowering all parties involved in a conversation.

If you trust an average bilingual individual to interpret on behalf of your customers, guests, or patients, you’re simply not offering the best possible service and care available. This could cause you to lose business or impact the care or service that you’re offering.

LanguageLine® Can Help

LanguageLine has been the world leader in innovative language-access solutions since 1982. The company sets the global standard for phone, video, and onsite interpreting, as well as translation of the written word. LanguageLine is trusted by more than 30,000 clients to enable communication with the limited English proficient, Deaf, and Hard of Hearing communities. LanguageLine provides the industry’s fastest and most dependable access to more than 35,000 professional linguists in 290-plus languages — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

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