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Career profile: Interpreter

Would a career as an interpreter make sense for you? Read on to find out more.

A what?

Interpreters are employed when a group of people speak different languages. They listen to what one person says in one language, and then repeat it in another language that others can understand.

On the job

Interpreters often work at international business conferences, or in political institutions like the European Union, United Nations or NATO. In situations like these, interpreters are often sat in booths listening to what speakers say, and repeating it in another language for others listening on headphones.

Interpreters are also used by the police, immigration, hospitals and social services. This work is normally more face-to-face, and involves the interpreter accompanying an official like a doctor or social worker to explain things to people who can’t speak English.

But wherever they work, interpreters will need many of the same skills. They must obviously be fluent in more than one language, be able to concentrate and think quickly, and have a clear and confident speaking voice. They must also keep up-to-date with any new words or terms in their chosen languages, as well as any specialist terminology if they work in a specialist area like business or politics.

Some interpreters are employed by conference centres or political departments, while others are freelance and find work through language agencies. There are often plenty of opportunities for interpreters to work abroad too. A freelance interpreter can expect to make between £20,000 to £25,000 a year, while a senior interpreter managing an interpretation department in somewhere like the EU could earn over £50,000 per year.

What does the training involve?

You will normally be expected to have a degree in a modern language, although some may be able to start without this if they are already bilingual. A postgraduate qualification in interpreting and translating would also be useful.

Interpreters can also gain additional qualifications and become professionally accredited by joining a body like the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) or Chartered Institute of Linguists (IOL). The IOL also sets exams for interpreters who wish to become members of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), which is required for anyone who wants to work in the public sector, such as for the police, health service or government.

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