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Those who are gifted with being able to speak several languages may find that being a freelance interpreter is an exciting career - especially if you have the appropriate interpreter contract.
An interpreter is a special niche, someone who can listen and understand the spoken word in one language, and then translate the meaning and speak it almost immediately in another language. A sign language interpreter is another example, someone who can translate the spoken word immediately into sign language to help the hearing impaired.
Interpreters may work simultaneously with the speaker, usually speaking through equipment such as headphones, or consecutively, where the speaker stays silent while the interpreter does the translation. Sign language interpreters usually work simultaneously with the speaker.
Interpreters are in demand for conferences, workshops, and international meetings, to name a few, and often have to travel to work.
But an interpreter contract may not be as simple and straightforward as other types of freelance agreements. It’s even different than translation services. Where a writer or language translator can charge by the word, for instance, or a designer can charge per design or project, there are nuances in an interpreter contract.
Whether you use an existing template or create your own, let’s look at 8 things you need to include in an interpreter contract.
One of the unique aspects of being an interpreter is placing a value on your work. It’s impossible to charge per word, for instance. So you may want to consider establishing a pricing model based on a per-hour, per-day or even by a partial day’s work.
For a conference, you could charge per session. Just be sure you know how long each session will be before setting your price. And there are even instances when an interpreter is needed for court proceedings, which have an indeterminate length. Each situation could be very different.
Make sure your interpreter contract clearly covers your pricing, with an explanation if necessary. Your model may vary depending on the job, so put some time into determining what works best in every situation.
An interpreter contract should include a clause that clearly outlines the work to be performed. That will protect you and the client from any misunderstandings.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say your experience is to work simultaneously, with equipment like headphones that allows you to hear the speaker, and lets those requiring translation services to hear you. You arrive at an event to find out the client expects you to work consecutively, where you listen to the speaker, who then pauses while you do the interpretation. If you’re not accustomed to this, you’re not setting yourself up for success.
So be sure your interpreter contract clearly details what work will be performed and how it will be performed.
This step can be skipped if you’re working for a client on a one-time basis, also known as a job contract. In this instance, you’ll be doing a specific piece of work on a one-time basis and your pricing model and work outline should cover the time frame.
But there are instances when you will enter into a services agreement with a client, which could cover multiple assignments, jobs, conferences or sessions. Perhaps a local government authority needs ongoing sign language interpretation for a weekly meeting.
In cases such as these, you’ll need to determine a time frame for the contract, with review periods for the contract such as on a bi-annual or annual basis. You’ll also have to stipulate milestones for payment, so that you receive a regular stipend from the client.
Since interpreters often work at conferences or summits, there will be instances where you will have to travel for work. Your interpreter contract should include all your costs of travel. That includes airline tickets and taxis, or mileage to get you to and from the event, and parking at the event. It includes any accommodations, and meals, and any other out-of-pocket expenses you may incur.
As you get more experienced and more in demand, you can even require first-class air tickets, or certain types of accommodations. If you don’t want to eat the meals at the conference, be sure to stipulate some kind of meal allowance or per diem as part of your interpreter contract. You can even build in compensation for the travel time getting to and from the event.
Be sure to protect yourself in the event of a cancellation. For instance, if you’re hired for a conference and will be paid per session, there are times that sessions get cancelled for unforeseen reasons. Perhaps the attendance for that session was not high enough. Or maybe the presenter backs out of the event. You need to be sure you are compensated, since you may give up other work in the same time frame.
Examples of cancellation clauses are those based on number of days and a percentage of the fee. For instance, a cancellation 90 days in advance could require payment of 35% of the fee, but a cancellation only 10 days in advance would require payment of 75% of fees.
Depending on your client, they may require that you have a confidentiality clause in your interpreter contract. That could be true if the event you’ll be interpreting is closed, like a court proceeding, a company event, a pre-release marketing event, a health conference, and more.
It will save you time and hassle if you have a confidentiality clause either included in your interpreter contract or at the ready if the client requests it.
Similar to how a designer would create a portfolio to demonstrate their skills, an interpreter needs to have a way to show prospective clients their abilities. One way to do this is to ask clients if you can use them as a referral after the conclusion of a successful job. That can even be built into your interpreter contract if you like.
If you’ve created your own interpreter contract template, consider having it reviewed by a lawyer to ensure it will protect both you and the client. Once you have the appropriate clauses ready, this should be a one-time review, and will help you ensure you’ve covered all the bases with your interpreter contract.