32 translator interview questions (with sample answers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you apply to work as a translator, the interview stage gives you the chance to demonstrate your suitability for the job. Knowing the usual questions interviewers might ask is important, as it helps you understand your own experience and how this may help you in the role. As translation is a broad field, there are many potential questions hiring managers may ask. In this article, we list 32 possible translator interview questions, including some example answers to help you in your interview.

10 general translator interview questions

Although there's no shortage of potential translator interview questions, many of them are more general. This means they focus on the candidate themselves instead of their exact qualifications. They usually determine how a person's working style fits into the company culture and if they're likely to mesh well with the personalities there. These questions are about understanding the candidate beyond their application and might not specifically relate to the role of a translator at first glance. Some example questions include:

  1. What attracts you to the role of translator?

  2. What would you say is your biggest weakness?

  3. What's your communication style?

  4. What's your native language, and how is your fluency with other languages?

  5. When translating live, how important is rapport to you?

  6. What aspect or type of translation do you find most difficult?

  7. What is the biggest lesson you learned in a previous role?

  8. When did your interest in translation first begin?

  9. What makes you unique in your approach?

  10. Give an example of overcoming a difficulty at work.

Related: 31 common interview questions and answers

10 questions about translator experience and background

With any position, demonstrating experience is a core component of a successful interview. Even if this is your first translation job, you likely have some experience in the sector or skills you may easily give evidence for. This role relies on accuracy and precision, so experience is a priority for employers seeking new translators. These questions relate specifically to a candidate's background, how it demonstrates their suitability for this particular role and their overall proficiency:

  1. What experience do you have in translation?

  2. Do you have any formal translation qualifications or certifications?

  3. Do you find it easier to translate written or spoken language?

  4. Do you think becoming an interpreter is a possible career path?

  5. Is cultural fluency always necessary when translating?

  6. At what point in your life did you decide to become a translator?

  7. In which settings are you most comfortable translating spoken language?

  8. How do you hone your translation skills in your free time?

  9. Do you have any translation topics or areas that you specialise in?

  10. How many written words can you translate in an hour?

Related: How to become a translator (with salary info and FAQs)

10 in-depth questions

These questions are more specific, often needing some elaboration, and might involve specific scenarios that a hiring manager provides. This allows the interviewer to understand how you perform under pressure while working as a translator and how you navigate the job's difficulties. Ideally, your answers showcase your strengths and intuitive reasoning, demonstrating how you're able to solve any problem the position might pose. With these questions, interviewers are looking for answers which demonstrate you understand the complexity, and sometimes the difficulty, of the role:

  1. Do you have an understanding of the unique cultural differences that might impact the meaning of a phrase or term and how to preserve that meaning across different languages?

  2. Can you easily translate the same sentences into different regional or national accents?

  3. How would you respond in a situation where you aren't quite sure about what a person is saying, even after translating?

  4. How would you prepare people on either side of a language barrier who've never had a translation session before?

  5. How do you account for gestures and body language, which may give additional context to a person's spoken statements?

  6. In which situations do you think it's best to summarise a person's general meaning, and in which do you think it's better to repeat verbatim?

  7. How would you explain and correct a translation mistake upon realising it during a conversation?

  8. How would you proceed if someone you were working with said something upsetting or something you may not be able to translate ethically?

  9. Is there a past translation in a previous role that you're particularly proud of?

  10. Have you ever had to work with a difficult client before? How did you navigate this situation?

Related: Translator skills: definitions and examples

Interview questions with sample answers

Here are a few examples of translator questions that a hiring manager might ask a candidate during their interview:

How important is impartiality when translating?

Translators and interpreters work with a wide range of clients from many walks of life, which may result in them translating content and subject matter they don't agree with. The material may conflict with the translator's own beliefs, be ethically dubious or have profanity and slurs. Translators have a responsibility to the truth whether they recount statements in a speaker's exact words or instead focus on the general meaning or spirit of their speech. For this reason, many translators hold impartiality in high esteem, as accuracy, in any form, helps guarantee a productive translation.

Example answer: 'I believe it's always important to be impartial when translating. Our duty is to make communication easier for everyone, and we can only do this by being as accurate as possible when interpreting what a person says. Some situations might involve giving just the gist of a message for convenience, but it's always important to preserve meaning.'

Related: How to engage in empathic listening in 5 steps (with tips)

How would you begin to translate this sentence?

To confirm that a candidate has key translation skills, it's common for interviewers to give them a phrase or paragraph to interpret. This simulates the usual translator environment and allows the hiring manager to see how the candidate performs under pressure. It also demonstrates how proficient they are in the languages they know. In these instances, the hiring manager might provide the speech as audio or text, and they may expect you to pick up on multiple possible interpretations with different meanings. This is a chance to showcase your translation abilities and how you might approach a task.

Example answer: 'This means "Great to see you, I hope you're well", but there are different ways you can read it. It could be more formal or informal depending on the context, so it's important to match the phrase to the setting as closely as possible. A translation that's too formal might seem hostile, and one that's too informal might appear unprofessional.'

When translating live, how important is rapport to you?

Depending on the setting, you may translate face-to-face with live clients, in which case it helps to build a strong rapport. The actual words that someone speaks are just one part of a sentence and its meaning, so being able to understand the implicit tone of their speech is just as significant. A good rapport puts everyone at ease, allowing the intended meaning of a statement to become clear. This also encourages subjects to go into more detail or use specific language which better conveys their point.

Example answer: 'I think rapport is a big part of any productive conversation, but especially in translation, because we can only get so much from a subject that's tense or uncomfortable. Helping them understand the process, and our goals as translators, allows us to gather more accurate and specific information and gives us a chance to ask any follow-up questions.'

Related: How to build client relationships with these top tips

Is cultural fluency always necessary when translating?

Understanding the cultures behind each language you know is essential for translation work, as this may add more context to each sentence you translate. Translators work at their best when they really know the cultural and regional nuances of a language, which may include dialect-specific phrases or slang, the values of an ethnic group or the significance of certain concepts. By knowing these distinctions, a translator readily deciphers a text's implicit meanings and prevents any cultural clashes that might bring an inaccurate translation.

Example answer: 'Yes, I think it's crucial that we understand the culture behind the languages we're translating, as this is the only way to know the significance and implicit meaning of a text. Certain proverbs might not carry over well to English, or there could even be words we have no direct equivalent for. Translation isn't just about knowing the text, it's about understanding it and conveying the exact same meaning to others.'

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