Does personality matter? An international study of sign language interpreter disposition.

Karen Bontempo, Jemina Napier, Laurence Hayes, Vicki Brashear


This article describes the results of an international research collaboration. The aim of the study was to identify the dispositional traits of interpreters that may be predictive of occupational performance. Empirically, general cognitive ability has been shown to be highly predictive of job performance across most occupations and is considerably more predictive than non-cognitive factors. The cognitive complexity of the task of interpreting is irrefutable, and it is likely there is a strong link between an interpreter’s level of competence and his or her general cognitive ability across a number of important cognitive domains. The personality-performance link is more ambiguous in an organisational context however, although intuitively dispositional traits are likely to play a role in interpreter education and training, and in interpreting practice. Drawing on literature from organisational psychology, personality psychology, interpreting and translation, and applied linguistics, an online survey methodology was developed to explore interpreter disposition and competence. The questionnaire incorporated reliable and valid tests of personality constructs including ‘The Big Five’ (openness to experience; conscientiousness; extraversion; agreeableness; and neuroticism), as well as constructs of perfectionism and self-esteem. The survey received 2193 responses from interpreters residing in 38 different countries, and is the largest international study of sign language interpreter personality ever undertaken. The results reveal clear patterns in regard to personality factors that predict interpreter performance. Based on the data collected in this global study, and the growing body of scholarly work in this area, the personality factors that appear to have predictive value for interpreters will be outlined, addressing possible implications for both pedagogy and practice in the profession.


interpreter; personality; sign language; disposition; international

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