In our globalized world, language is what connects us. Interpreters interpret speeches by foreign leaders in the evening news, they ensure that international politicians understand each other during negotiations and conferences, interpreters can also be present during court hearings or they work for TV and radio stations, in short: international communication in these areas is highly dependent on interpreters.
You always had a passion for languages and cultures, you have a quick comprehension and like working in dynamic and fast pace environments? Then you have probably found yourself asking how to become an interpreter?
Interpreter job description
To many people translation and interpretation kind of feels like the same thing and while both professions work with languages, they differ greatly when it comes to where and how they work.
While a translator translates a source text via writing into a target language, an interpreter translates the spoken word orally into another language. Apart from, this is usually taking place on site, for example at a meeting, a conference or in court.
Another thing that sets the interpreter apart from a translator is that he often translates simultaneously, which makes it a demanding profession that requires a deep level of concentration.
What skills do you need to be an interpreter?
It takes way more than just the fluency in two or more languages for a successful interpreter career. Languages are always loaded with cultural context so the interpreter needs to know both cultures very well to retain the meaning and avoid misunderstandings while interpreting.
Furthermore, the interpreter needs to remain impartial throughout interpreting. When it comes to interpreting, even seemingly small details, like the tone of voice, can matter. The interpreter, almost like a voice actor, needs to be able to adjust his tone of voice to the message he is interpreting to make sure it is understood in the right way.
Overview of skills an interpreter needs to have
- Perfect knowledge of at least one foreign language
- cultural knowledge and cultural sensitivity
- Excellent listening and concentration skills
- Resistance to stress
- Time flexibility (can require work on weekends and the need to travel to conferences etc.)
How to become an interpreter?
Even though, you can call yourself an interpreter without a certificate or a university degree, it is advisable to seek further education, because as mentioned above there is way more to the work of an interpreter than the proficiency in two or more languages.
Which leads us to the question: How much and what kind education do you need?
This partly depends on the type of interpreter you want to become and where you live. In this If you want to read more about working as an interpreter in Germany check out our article “Wie wird man Dolmetscher?”
Before we dive deeper into the different types of interpreting and the special qualifications you might need for that, we will first take a more general look at how to become an interpreter.
What qualifications do you need to be an interpreter?
Although a Bachelor’s degree is not mandatory to work as an interpreter, it is oftentimes required.
Generally speaking, there are two approaches to consider:
- You enroll in a course at university or college that is relevant to interpreting
- Perusing a degree in the field you like to specialize in, for example, if you would like to work as a court interpreter a Bachelor’s degree in law could be an option.
Depending on your field of specialization an additional certificate or job training program is recommended or required. For example, to work as a court interpreter in the US you need to pass court interpreting exams.
Interpreters in the US can acquire a variety of certificates to show their proficiency. These are for example provided by the American Translators Association.
In the UK the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) is popular. It is available through various UK universities as well as the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
It is a qualification for interpreters, who already work, or would like to work, in one of the following areas:
- Local Government
The DPSI tests:
- linguistic skills
- specialist knowledge
- interpreting techniques
- ethical approach
To talk in more detail about the qualifications that are advisable for interpreters, we need to take a look at the questions: What types of interpreters are there? And what are the most common interpreting techniques?
Types of interpreters
Examples for different types of interpreters:
- Health care/medical interpreters
- Court interpreters
- Conference interpreters
- Diplomatic interpreter
- Travel interpreter
- Immigration services interpreter
Let’s talk about some of these in more detail.
Court interpreter jobs are highly complex. The interpreter needs to be familiar with legal terminology and a background in law can be very beneficial in order to understand and interpret courtroom events. Making mistakes while interpreting in court can have serious real live consequences for the client, therefore, it is crucial to work with a professional interpreter.
Apart from a university or college degree there are further qualifications that can or need to be acquired, to work as an interpreter in court.
How to become a court interpreter?
Court interpretation in the US: In the United States a court interpreter certification can be acquired from National Center for State Courts. The courts offer certification in more than 20 languages at state level. Court interpreters can also qualify as certified federal interpreters.
Court interpretation in the UK: In the UK you can get the already mentioned Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI).
Just like court interpreters, medical interpreters work in a field where mistakes can have serious consequences. Therefore, it is essential that the interpreter has in in-depth knowledge of medical terminology in both the source and the target language.
But what does a medical interpreter do? Medical interpreters often interpret for patients, who are travelers or immigrants and are not fluent in the local language. Interpreters enable communication between medical staff and the patient to talk about things, such as diagnoses, treatment options and prognoses.
How to become a medical interpreter?
Medical interpretation in the US:
In order to get a certificate from the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) or the National Board for Certified Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) interpreters need to fulfill certain requirements before they are eligible to take the exam (details on their websites). Some of the requirements are:
- at least 40 hours of medical interpreting training
- 18 years or older
- Highschool diploma or GED level
Medical Interpretation in the UK:
No particular qualification is mandatory, but highly recommended. Those qualifications could be a Bachelor`s degree or postgraduate degree in languages or interpreting. Furthermore, you can strive for the already mentioned Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) as an additional qualification and evidence of your skills.
Conference interpreters are often needed in international diplomacy or business, when there are non-English-speaking attendees at a conference. But of course, conference interpreters also work for other organizations that require their service. In these areas experienced interpreters tend to be preferred as well as those, who can convert two source languages into one target language. For example, an interpreter, who can interpret from German to English and from Spanish to English. Some positions require qualifications like this, such as the United Nations.
Apart from the types of interpretation there are also different interpreting techniques. The most important ones are:
Simultaneous interpreters usually work from a soundproof booth for example during a conference. The interpreter talks into a microphone and the audience is able to hear it through their headphones. The interpretation happens simultaneously.
Consecutive interpreters take notes while someone is speaking. After the speaker has finished, they sum up the content. Because the interpretation has a time delay, meetings etc. also take up more time than when working with simultaneous interpreters.
Sign Language interpretation
Sign language interpreters either translate from phonetic language to a sigh language or from one sign language to another.
We only work with qualified translators and interpreters around the globe, offering services in more than 100 languages and over 800 language combinations. If you have a translation project or you are in need of an interpreter, contact our experienced project managers for further assistance with your project.
If you are a translator or interpreter yourself and want to join our international team of qualified are looking forward to hearing from you!
Job opportunities – Where can an interpreter work?
Interpreters are needed in many different areas, from hospitals over court rooms to international conferences, everything is possible. Therefore, interpreters can work for a wide range of clients, such as:
- translation and interpreting agencies such as EHLION
- in hospitals, translating for patients
- in court, translating during a hearing
- at TV and radio
- individual or political organizations
- large employers from the most diverse economic sectors
- in the tourism industry
Interpreter Salary in the UK and the US
Interpretation is a competitive field and no matter, if in the US or in the UK, salaries vary depending on different factors. To name the most important ones:
- Field of specialization
- Language pair (uncommon language pairs are often better-paid)
- The size of the company/organization you work for
- Experience (the more experience you have the more you earn)
- Region/country you are working in
In general, a lot of interpreters work on a freelance base and either get paid per hour or per day.
UK: It is more likely to get a better paying job outside of the UK or working for an international organization instead of working for a UK-based organization. The entry wage for a UK-based organization is between £18,000 to £26,000 per year.
USA: the annual salary for translators and interpreters in the US tends to range somewhere between $36,000 and $67,000.
The medical interpreter salary for example is $45,680 in 2020. That education can make a difference, when it comes to salary can be seen when taking a look at the United States Courts website. The court interpreter salary tends to be higher, if you have an interpreter certification. The website lists fees for court interpreters as follows: “Certified and Professionally Qualified Interpreters: Full Day: $418” while the fee for “Language Skilled (Non-Certified) Interpreters” for a full day is $202.
Job prospects and tips for landing your first job
The employment of interpreters is projected to grow, both, in the US as well as in the UK. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the UK predicts that employment of interpreters will grow by 18% through 2026. Numbers that reflect the increasing globalization and with it the increasing demand for interpreters and translators
Interpreters, who have at least a Bachelor’s degree or/and have a special certification usually have the best job prospects. Job prospects can also depend on the specialty and language. Due to the high number of Spanish speakers in the US, Spanish interpreters should usually have no problem finding work. It is also expected that the demand for other frequently translated languages like German, Portuguese and French will remain strong.
When it comes to a successful career as an interpreter, experience is king. Therefore, it makes sense to do internships while still at university or look for part-time jobs to gain experience. After university starting out with an agency is an idea you should consider. Here you can gain more experience and knowledge for your career.
In this job networking is key. Start to build your own network, the bigger your network, the easier it will get to find new jobs. Also, directories might be helpful, for example ProZ the “online community and workplace for language professionals”. EHLION can also be found at ProZ.
Conclusion – interpreter, a challenging yet very interesting job with an increasing demand in a globalized world
Working as an interpreter is demanding yet versatile and very interesting profession that requires a lot more than just the proficiency of two or more languages. Interpreters are needed in many different areas, from hospitals over court room to TV and radio stations. This way each interpreter can find a specialty that suits him best.
While a degree or certificate is not always needed to work as an interpreter, it is highly recommended not only to enhance your possibilities on the job market, but also to ensure quality. This is why we here at EHLION only work with qualified translators and interpreters, because quality is always our top priority.
Apart from interpretation, we offer a wide range of language services across all industries, such as website localization, notarized translation or subtitling. If you have a translation project feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation.
If you are a translator or interpreter and interested to collaborate with EHLION, we are looking forward to hearing from you.