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Why EQ Matters in Interpreting and How to Improve Yours

Boostlingo provides free on-demand interpretation minutes to Nations Ministry

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Interpreters aren’t strangers to stress. From medical emergencies to police investigations, they frequently navigate emotionally charged situations. Even events such as business meetings or parent-teacher conferences can become contentious. However, remaining calm is only part of the equation. Interpreters need a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ) to ensure that they’re accurately conveying information between parties.

What Is Emotional Intelligence (EQ?)  

Simply put, EQ is the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. For interpreters, that means evaluating tone of voice, hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions—in addition to language. And while this is true for many professions, interpreters face the additional challenge of evaluating this information within different cultural contexts. A smile, for example, often indicates friendliness in North America, but may be a sign of pain or embarrassment in some Asian societies.

EQ and the Challenges of Remote Interpreting

Correctly interpreting emotions takes practice regardless of the setting, but remote interpreting adds another layer of difficulty. The increasing popularity of over-the-phone (OPI) and video remote (VRI) interpreting, while convenient, does lead to the loss of nonverbal information. With OPI, you lose the ability to interpret body language and facial expressions. And although VRI allows parties to see each other, it’s still more difficult to build trust and understanding between speakers. That means interpreters need an even higher EQ to successfully interpret remotely.

How to Improve EQ in Interpreting

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your EQ.

It all starts with self-awareness. As you interpret, be aware of which emotions come up during stressful sessions and take note of how you respond. This will help you improve your self-regulation, which is your ability to manage these emotions. Be aware that interpreters can and do experience vicarious trauma, so make sure you take steps to combat it when you feel overwhelmed.

Social awareness, or the ability to understand the emotions of others, is another essential component. Given how self-expression can vary across cultures, it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the behavioral norms among people who speak your target language. Reading literature in the language can help you boost EQ and give you deeper insight into the culture.

Lastly, improving your social skills can increase your EQ. While interpreters have always needed strong social skills, they’re especially important in remote settings because it’s easier to miss nonverbal cues. Practicing your intonation and tone, taking voice acting lessons, and interpreting video and audio, are just a few ways to strengthen your remote interpreting skills.

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As technological innovations emerge at a rapid pace, we’re living in an increasingly interconnected world. Breakthroughs in transportation and telecommunications have allowed us to engage with people from different corners of the world and this newfound interconnectedness has revolutionized global interactions. But as the world gets smaller, language barriers bring an additional layer of challenges to cross-cultural engagements.