One of the most important qualities of a good interpreter is being studious – that is, a good interpreter is always looking for ways to learn new things and improve their skills.

When first entering the field, new interpreters and translators are often overwhelmed by the vast amount of specialized vocabulary and jargon that are present in their fields. Many fields – like the medical and legal fields, for example – have such a high level of speech that interpreting within them can be a great challenge. Luckily, there are resources everywhere that can help us interpreters improve and expand our vocabulary, especially for these specific fields. You just have to know where to look, which is what we’ll be discussing today.

Dictionaries and Glossaries


For finding specific words and their equivalents, specialized bilingual glossaries and dictionaries are among the most useful resources for interpreters. Glossaries provide a wealth of specific terms, but do not include the same amount of information of dictionaries – often they omit definitions, usage, etymology, etc. Because bilingual glossaries only provide words and their equivalents, interpreters must be wary of selecting the first things that appears to work. It is important to double-check context and usage in order to verify that the equivalent provided in the glossary is the term you need for your interpretation.

There are a litany of specific glossaries and dictionaries for just about every field you can think of – legal, medical, technical, business, you name it. They do not even have to be bilingual for them to be useful, as often monolingual dictionaries and glossaries can provide more specific information and usages that you’re looking for. If you want to learn a bunch of new specialized vocabulary, picking up a glossary or dictionary for that field should be your first step.


TV Programs


If think of any given concept, chances are someone has made a TV show about it. Why not use it to your advantage? Try to find TV shows that relate to your interpretation career and address gaps in your knowledge. Personally, I find medical shows like House to be incredibly useful (albeit dramatic, of course) and informational. Try to take note of concepts and words that you are unfamiliar with, and by the end of the program you should have a list of things to research, find equivalents and learn how to use.

Even better would be to find a program in your second language, which allows you to kill two birds with one stone. You’re getting regular native input which familiarizes your brain with the nuances and rhythm of that language, and every time you come across terms you are unfamiliar with you can use the same process as listed above. You’ll find this can be useful from the very first time you try it, as you’ll always be learning something!


Flashcards (Anki)


If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve heard me talk about Anki before and how much I love it as a learning tool. It is a flashcard program that allows you to download and create personalized decks, create study goals and track your progress. The fact that the decks are all user created is especially useful, as you can find highly specialized decks to cover very specific material that you might need to review. There are apps for Iphone and Android, and you can even use it on the web from your computer!

I’ve used the program mainly for learning languages and vocabulary, but it’s uses extend far beyond that. You can read more about the program and download it here:


Specialized Documentaries


Like TV Shows without all the unnecessary drama! There are just as many – if not more – specialized documentaries covering specific events or fields. In general, documentaries are going to be a lot more “technical” than your average cable TV show, which makes them far more useful for our purposes.

Some examples of really powerful and useful documentaries are Hot Coffee (2011), a legal documentary about the infamous McDonald’s Coffee lawsuit, The E-team (2014), a human rights documentary about a team which travels the world addressing human rights violations, and The English Surgeon (2009), a medical documentary about a neurosurgeon looking to improve hospitals and healthcare in rural Ukraine. These are just a few examples of the vast amount of informational and captivating documentaries that can used to supplement learning and improve specialized vocabulary. If you find a hole in your knowledge of a certain field, just googling for documentaries related to that gap will spit out tons of films. It’s important to take notes just as you do for TV shows however – you’re watching to learn and improve vocabulary after all!



What are some other ways you go about learning new vocabulary? What techniques have you found that work for you, and which techniques did not? Leave a comment below, and check back next week for another edition of Links Interpreters Love.

– William Cerkoney