Three Things to Remember when Looking for an Interpreter

Companies doing business in Japan or private individuals living here will sometimes find themselves in need of an interpreter.

If you have never bought interpreting services before, here are three points to bear in mind.

Book early!
Good interpreters are in high demand, their schedules often filling up weeks and months in advance. To be on the safe side, try to allow at least eight weeks for the process—that is, if you are going through an intermediary such as a languages services provider (LSP) or agency, contact them two months in advance, stipulating your requirements.
Some of the larger, more established, LSPs will simply reject out of hand requests for interpreting that come in too late in the day.

Provide as much detail as possible about the assignment
It will greatly help the LSP to find you a suitable interpreter if you can provide them with as much logistical information as possible from the get-go. Specifically, the LSP will need to know the answers to the following questions:
(1) On what date or dates will interpreting be required?
(2) Between which language pair(s) will interpreting be required?
(3) Where is the location of the meeting or event?
(4) What is the nature of the subject matter that will be discussed?
(5) On each day of the assignment, what will the start and end times be (in terms of the interpreting requirement)?
(6) Will simultaneous interpreting be needed, or just consecutive interpreting?
(7) Will any special equipment be required?
In particular, questions (1)–(4) are key information (and it is surprising how many potential clients omit one or more of these items of information when making contact).
Generally, interpreters are hired by the day or the half-day: one day being eight hours including a one-hour break, and half a day being three-and-a-half hours. If extra interpreting hours are required in excess of eight (or three-and-a-half hours), this is charged as overtime by the hour. Even if the interpreting assignment is shorter than half a day (e.g. only one or two hours), clients are still charged for half a day, in recognition of the fact that the interpreter must also spend time traveling to and from the venue.
For full days—or complete half days—of interpreting, the client is generally not charged for the interpreter’s travel time, but may be charged for his or her travel costs, if the interpreter must travel from a remote location (e.g. from another city).
Most interpreting requests are for “consecutive” interpreting, where the interpreter listens, then interprets into the other language. The other type of interpreting is “simultaneous” interpreting, where the interpreter listens and speaks simultaneously, so that the client does not have to stop mid-flow. Simultaneous interpreting is substantially more difficult (and tiring!) than consecutive, which is reflected in the relative pricing. Additionally, simultaneous interpreters cannot be expected to work for more than half an hour at a stretch without a break, so simultaneous interpreting assignments that exceed half an hour will require at least two interpreters, further increasing the cost.
Some assignments may require that the interpreter sit in a special booth and that the audience listen through multi-channel radio headsets. This should be established in advance with the LSP and will entail an additional cost for equipment rental.

Provide reference and background material
Interpreting is a difficult and demanding task, and anything that you can do to make the interpreter’s job easier will enable him or her to provide that much better a service. Any existing material that has been prepared in advance (such as a presentation or a speech) should be provided to the LSP in advance—preferably in electronic form. Meeting agendas, topic summaries, and glossaries of preferred technical terms can also be a godsend for the interpreter. The LSP will try to ensure that the interpreter is as fully briefed and prepared as possible, so copious reference from the client is always most welcome.

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