What does an interpreter actually do?
Interpreters convert one language to another, by listening to the words in the ‘source’ language and repeating them aloud in the new ‘target’ language.
Interpreting may be performed in person, by phone or by video conferencing e.g. Skype. Interpreting is used in a number of different settings such as
business and public services i.e. court hearings and police interviews, education and social services. This is not an exhaustive list.
There are several different types of interpreting. These include:
Consecutive Interpretation: The interpreter sits in close proximity to the speaker. The speaker pauses after each sentence to allow the interpreter to
interpret into the target language. This is often used in smaller meetings.
Liaison Interpretation: Words are relayed after a short speech, or consecutively, to one, between two or between many people.
Simultaneous Interpretation: In a large group setting, an interpreter will interpret simultaneously as the speaker is speaking. This is normally
facilitated by a soundproofed area for the interpreter, who will listen to the source language speaker through earphones and translate into the target
language though a microphone. The interpreter’s words are then transmitted to the audience through earphones. Simultaneous interpretation is also the
method most often used for interpreting sign language.
Interpreters are required to:
- convert the words of the speaker quickly
- review paperwork, received in advance
- provide further explanation of words being translated to aid further understanding, if necessary
- make notes if necessary
- conduct web research
- maintain confidentiality, impartiality & professional behaviour at all times
- organise workload efficiently
Can anyone be an interpreter?
Ideally, interpreters should have qualifications in one of the following: Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting, Deaf Studies, British Sign
Language & Interpreting. However, we will accept other forms of qualifications e.g. a non-language degree together with a high level of language skill.
Degrees in specific sectors can be especially useful e.g. business, medicine, law etc. Specialist knowledge and vocabulary is highly valued when
interpreting in these sectors.
Degree-level qualification or equivalent upon entry is preferred, however exceptions will be made in some cases i.e. if a potential interpreter is
bilingual through living for an extended period in another country or having parents that speak a different native language. BSL interpreters may develop
their language proficiency through vocational qualifications such as NVQs.
If you would like to find work as an interpreter, you will need to provide evidence of:
- an excellent command of English and at least one other language
- a good memory and the ability to learn fast
- team work
- discretion and the ability to maintain confidentiality
- reliability, dedication and commitment
- knowledge of current affairs, politics, cultures and customs relating to the non-English language you will be using
- confidence in public speaking, where appropriate.
Offering voluntary interpreting services may help you to build up a network of contacts. Rates of pay are lower for unqualified interpreters, though you
may still find work depending on the languages you offer and how sought after they are. There are short courses in Community Interpreting offered by many
What about training & development?
An interpreting qualification may provide the required academic training, but many of the necessary practical skills are acquired on the job.
We recommend gaining membership of a related professional body. This requires references, successful completion of tests and specific levels of experience.
- National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)
- Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL)
- Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC)
- Institute of Translating & Interpreting
- National Registers of Communication Professionals Working with Deaf & Deafblind People (NRCPD)
- Register of Sign Language Interpreters (MRSLI)
- Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI)
- Scottish Association for Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI)
Networking is key to freelance career development. You should be in regular contact with professional bodies and potential employers. You should also
consider joining interpreter groups and seeking voluntary work. These are both good ways to gain experience and find new sources of work.
There are alternatives to freelance work, though you will often be required to build up experience through freelance work first. There are administrative,
recruitment or in-house freelancer posts available in many sectors. Interpreting could be a rewarding and lucrative career for you.