Professional interpreter v bilingual person

In the translation and interpreting business we are often asked the reason why professional translators and interpreters are needed. For example, Mr Zverev’s 14-year-old niece speaks both Croatian and English fluently. Why wouldn’t she be able to attend the doctor’s appointment with her uncle and interpret for him? There are many reasons why she shouldn’t – including considerations of her age and sensitivities. The bottom line is that if you are a bilingual speaker, you are not automatically an interpreter.

An article by Lucy Justina, writing for the Translation Journal, explains the need for professional translators and interpreters when running a professional translation business:

5 Reasons you may not hire bilingual person instead of professional interpreter

A bilingual person is the one who knows both the languages involved in the conversation and is able to understand as well as translate the same. So, the question will come to anybody’s mind that why such bilingual person cannot work as the interpreter! The logic is correct but practically a bilingual person would not be the right alternative for professional interpreter. Here are the reasons!

Lack of subject specific knowledge
A bilingual person may have learnt these languages in different circumstances. He may have used both these languages over years but yet the knowledge or vocabulary of either of the languages may be limited. They may not have the knowledge of technical terms to be used in the professional situation. Some may have learnt these languages at different ages, which would also make the understanding of the language vary.
Professional touch missing
Interpretation requires professional touch as it is done in real time. When the communication is taking place, the interpreter should translate what is being communicated without taking unnecessary pauses to maintain the flow of data. When there are too many pauses, the idea of interpretation is defeated. Bilingual person would face a problem in doing this due to lack of practice and professional training.
Connecting two languages
Certain communications are beyond literal interpretation. When sitting in a conference, the interpreter would come across highly specialized subjects. Even when he would not have detailed knowledge of the subject, the professional training helps him to establish a connection between both the languages. The basic terms used in different subjects are taught at the time of training and the rest comes with experience. They specialize in understanding the body language, accent, and local terminology.
Voice modulation
Professional interpreters also learn voice modulation. They undergo formal training to acquire speaking skills and voice training. When they interpret the given statement, the voice modulation, speaking methodology, and inclusion of pauses ensure that the other person understands exactly what is being said without any ambiguity. There are no repeats in case of interpretation and hence they have to speak the language in the accent that other people understand. Bilingual person will fail on this as for him interpretation is about translating from one language to another without any voice modulation.
Critical issues
Certain issues are highly critical and would require high-level expertise to avoid any discrepancy. For example, court proceedings and medical appointments are very critical subjects. Here the person not just requires professional interpretation expertise, but he also needs the experience of handling such issues. Usually the professional interpreters for legal and medical issues fall under specialized category. They acquire detailed knowledge of the subject to ensure that no wrong interpretation takes place. Bilingual person would try to put in his best, however he won’t be able to do justice to the issue due to missing expertise.
Bilingual person may work during informal chitchat, but when it comes to professional interpretation, you need only professional interpreter for flawless results.