The last one hundred years have been a period of mass globalisation. There has been an increasing need for cultural bridging to enhance economic, cultural, social, and political interdependence. The role of interpreters in this setting cannot be overlooked.
Interpreters change the spoken word from one language to another in order to facilitate communication between two parties, who might otherwise be unable to understand each other. They possess the ability to converse back and forth in two or more languages. A good interpreter manages to preserve the meaning, tone, and emotional value of the original speech.
To achieve this, one must have a firm grasp of both the source and the target languages, including all idioms and colloquialisms. The job sometimes requires the interpreter to be familiar with the culture of the target party.
For certain types of interpreter jobs, it is necessary that the interpreter be well-versed in the subject matter.
Types of Interpreter Jobs
There are many paths you can branch into as an interpreter, and while these all have the same basic goal, they each have different methods, types of training, and entry requirements.
Depending on your abilities, you can be a medical, conference, business, guide, legal, community, or sign language interpreter.
Here are 7 jobs interpreters can perform, their pros, cons, and requirements.
1. Conference Interpreter
Conference interpreters work in business and diplomacy settings such as international conferences, conventions, sales meetings, board meetings, training sessions, etc., where people with different languages and cultures need to communicate. The role of a conference interpreter is not to change original speech word by word, but to extract the meaning and put it in the target language in a manner that the recipient will understand fully.
As a conference interpreter you can expect to work in one of two settings:
Consecutive: Where the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish a piece of speech before relaying it. This form of interpretation is usually used in negotiations and small group discussions.
Simultaneous: This requires the interpreter to transpose the message while the source speaker speaks. Simultaneous interpreting is mostly employed in conferences where interpreters transpose speech for delegates, usually through electronic audio equipment.
Simultaneous interpretation can also be made through whispers.
- The type of jobs that come the way of conference interpreters can be high-paying.
- Ability to choose from full-time, part-time, and freelance options.
- They usually work in conducive and exclusive environments.
- Conference interpreting can be hectic and stressful at times.
- You need a degree to qualify for training.
Where can You Work?
Work is available in international organisations such as the United Nations, major international companies, and other organisations. You also have the option to join an agency which will expose you to different job opportunities.
2. Medical Interpreter
Medical interpreters work in health care institutions. They fall under ‘public sector interpreters’ along with those in the judicial department. Their role is to bridge the language gap between doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers; and their patients.
Although this task can be performed by any bilingual person, for example, a member of staff or someone from the patient’s family, some laws now require a trained professional to fill the position. This is to curb the number of medical mishaps that arise from miscommunication between patients and their healthcare providers.
To effectively do this, the interpreter needs to know the workings of the medical facility, be familiar with medical procedures, conversant with medical language. It is also important for the interpreter to be familiar with and adhere to the code of ethics of medicine concerning such issues as confidentiality.
- A current high demand as the world realises their importance.
- Intense emotional reward knowing you are helping save people’s lives.
- In big medical facilities, work can be hectic. Sometimes, medical interpreters may be required to work in the ER where a mistake might mean life or death.
- Interpreters may also have to deal with unique issues related to working in mental health facilities, substance abuse clinics, forensic services, and domestic violence programmes.
Where can you work?
The services of a health care interpreter are needed in hospitals, private offices, clinics, rehabilitation centres, and nursing homes. In most cases they are required to work during the day but night shifts are also possible. Some even work on call.
Considering the sheer amount of concentration that is needed to perform a good job, medical interpreters are sometimes required to take breaks after a specific number of hours. However, this does not usually happen due to the low supply of these professionals.
3. Escort/Business Interpreter Jobs
Escort interpreters accompany visitors who are unable to communicate in the host country’s language. Their job is to facilitate communication throughout the client’s stay. An escort interpreter’s work session may run for days, weeks, or even months, depending on the period of the client’s visit.
Business interpreters help with communication between business people of different languages. They work in business presentations, investor meetings, and business negotiations. As such, this type of interpreter needs to be equipped with some business and financial knowledge in order to best understand and convey messages back and forth.
Both escort and business interpreters are in the category of liaison interpreters who work with one person or a small group.
- There is a lot of travel to be enjoyed. Considering the nature of the job, most travels are of a high-class nature.
- The working conditions are far less hectic than those of medical and conference interpreters.
- Although the working conditions are good, it may be hard to find work.
- Business interpreters have to work long sessions at once.
- You need to have a firm grasp of business concepts.
Where can you work?
As a business interpreter, you can work with different business organisations or individuals with an interest in international investments. This is usually done through established agencies and may be hard to accomplish as a freelancer.
4. Sign Language Interpreter
It can be hard to communicate with people who have impaired speech or hearing. This is where sign language interpreters come in. They transform audible speech spoken by one person into sign language to be understood by those with impaired hearing, and vice-versa.
Among all interpreters, signers work in the widest range of fields. This includes education, health care, media, community, religion, business, and the legal fields.
As a communication instrument for deaf and mute people, sign language interpreters may have access to confidential and intimate details about their clients. This calls for strict confidentiality ethics.
- You get exposed to different situations which can give you all sorts of experiences.
- If you are certified, you will have access to a lot of work.
Interpreting can be mentally taxing. Sign language adds physical involvement to that.
Where can you work?
There are job slots in the education sector where you can get a chance to work with kindergarten students through high school and beyond. You can also work in the health sector, judiciary, or even as a community worker. Other places include international organisation like the UN and some non-governmental organisations, especially those that reach out to different communities globally.
5. Community Interpreter
A community interpreter works for groups of minority people who cannot understand the language of their host community. They are the communication link between authorities and immigrant worker communities. Their service enables government authorities to make sound decisions concerning the welfare of such groups.
Community interpreters need not be trained, although the services of a certified professional can be more accurate and efficient. Some of them are merely bilingual volunteers picked from the community itself. Their working conditions are more relaxed and informal than those of, say, a conference interpreter.
- Easy entry
- Less formal working conditions and, therefore, less tiresome.
- The interpretation itself may not have to be sentence-for-sentence. It only has to convey ideas. This is at a much less strict level than for other types of interpreters
- The community interpreter works with two parties from completely different cultural backgrounds and economic statuses, making it hard to stand between such parties. These are people living in foreign environments. They are scared and uncertain, and most of them are illiterate. Professionals, on the other and, like doctors, legal personnel, and government officials, have schedules to meet and are usually in a hurry. This leaves the interpreter with little time to do their job fully.
- You have to take the time to understand the community intimately to be their mouth and earpiece.
Where can you work?
Work is available in immigrant communities. Even if the immigrants have spent a long time in a foreign land, they usually do so in separate close-knit communities where they maintain their language and culture. For example, China town in the US.
6. Media Interpreter
Media interpreters are not exactly a different category of interpreters. They have merely developed the ability to use their skills in television and radio settings. As a media interpreter, you need to be able to capture the speaker’s message and emotions in real time. You should have the ability to match your sentence length with the speaker so as not to have overlaps, and to have a sense of synchronicity between audio and video.
- Media interpreters get exposed to all sorts of exciting experiences first-hand.
- There is potential for lots of free travelling.
- Working conditions can be gruelling.
Where can you work?
You can work in media houses including news stations for both radio and television.
7. Court Interpreter
In places where more than one language is popular, judicial interpreters are employed for all sorts of legal proceedings. They provide a communication vessel between judicial institutions and the linguistically challenged public. Court interpreters fall under public sector interpreters along with the medical type.
Legal interpreters are not only required to be exceptionally able to converse back and forth between two languages but also need to undergo formal training. They should also be familiar with legal terminologies, the legal process, and be able to abide by the judicial code of ethics.
Any mistake on the side of a legal interpreter may result in grave consequences for the parties involved.
- There is stable demand for legal interpreters
- You need serious training to be a qualified legal interpreter.
- There is pressure to avoid mistakes for the fact that someone’s case is hanging on you.
- You will be subjected to all sorts of cases in detail, including those you may not be comfortable to handle.
Where can you Work?
Work is available in the government’s judicial arms. Private legal firms may not employ legal interpreters but usually use the services of an agency when one is needed.
Qualities You Need to Be an Interpreter
Certain traits are necessary for a successful career as an interpreter. However, most of these can be learned and developed.
- A sharp ear is necessary as you will be listening and talking at the same time. Sometimes, you will be required to speak concurrently with the speaker.
- The ability to think fast will help you to choose the best way the message can be conveyed on the go.
- The ability to read body language will help you to get the speaker’s message in its full context.
- Ability to sense and interpret emotion is vital. Emotions change the meaning and depth of a message.
- A sharp eye (for sign language interpreters) is necessary to pick all sign language gestures.
- You have to pronounce your words clearly and audibly.
Training and Qualification
Training methods and durations vary for different interpreter jobs. For most, the minimum requirement is a high-school diploma before you can be accepted into training. However, others may need at least a bachelor’s degree.
Qualifications obtained range from certificates, diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees.
Conference interpreting can be sophisticated. It is not an art but a science that should be learned. The training is offered at postgraduate level, meaning you have to have a bachelor’s degree to be eligible. The first degree does not have to be in languages.
The training is offered by different institutions and students can enrol for full or part-time learning.
Business interpreters can be eligible for training with a high school diploma. For most institutions, the training is offered at a certificate level. The same applies for guide or community interpreting.
A medical interpreter can be accepted for training with a high school diploma. The training itself is usually at certificate level and requires each candidate to be fluent in one or more languages.
The course equips the student with medical terminologies and competent handling of different situations in ER and other hospital settings.
Sign Language Interpreter
Certificates, diplomas, and degrees are available. You need to be able to sign well to be eligible for training as a sign language interpreter. These courses do not teach sign language but equip you with the knowledge to use your sign language skills for interpreting.
Salary Expectations for Interpreters Jobs
In Europe, interpreters can earn anything from 13 to 35 Euros per hour on average. In some cases, the rate can go as low as 4 Euros per hour to 50 Euros per hour.
However, how much one makes depends on the establishment they work for. Organisations like the UN and the EU have better pay plus other allowances and incentives.
As a freelancer working with a translate service, you can make anything from 0 to $10,000 per month. It all comes down to how established you are, and the fluctuating demand for interpreters.
USA Annual Pay for Interpreters
According to Payscale, USA Interpreters working in Professional, scientific, and technical services earned the most, making $54,110 per year. Government interpreters followed closely behind with an annual income of $52, 740. While the education sector paid its interpreters $43,260 per year.
Health care and social assistance interpreters earned the least, making $40,130 per year.
UK Annual Pay for Interpreters
In the UK, annual salaries start at £18,000 to £21,000 while experienced interpreters can make up to £50,000. The pay considerably goes up if one works for an international organisation.
Tips for a Successful Career in Interpreting
- Always strive to get better. Never get comfortable with your abilities. Keep on attending workshops and seminars, learning everything you can.
- Connect with others in your field. Networking will expose you to new industry practices and job opportunities.
- Challenge yourself by taking more and more complex projects.
- Always go above and beyond in the way you offer your service to secure long-term clients and referrals.