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Becoming an interpreter: Everything you need to know

– Posted in: Interpreters
interpreting guide

Becoming an interpreter involves a lot more than fluently speaking another language. Although there are a number of ways to start working as an interpreter, and different types of interpretation involve different skills, interpretation agencies will look at certain qualifications and attributes before taking on a new member of their team.

All top interpreters share certain characteristics. In this guide we will identify and discuss those characteristics, as well as look at the types of interpretation services and jobs available, so aspiring interpreters can establish whether or not a career in interpretation is right for them.

What education and qualifications do interpreters need?

Qualifications and accreditation are not mandatory for interpreters, however, there are courses you can take that will benefit your career in the industry.

For conference and consecutive interpreting, a degree in languages or a related field, and/or a postgraduate degree in interpreting are highly desirable. For public service interpreting, you may need a professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), or a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI).

Although having a degree is advantageous, and is particularly important if you want to work for the government, it is not always required. There are other, equally important factors that employers will look for, such as experience and knowledge of a particular industry.

What experience do interpreters need?

There are plenty of ways you can gain relevant interpreting experience that will be appreciated by potential employers. Some interpretation agencies offer internships, which is a good way of finding out whether or not a career as an interpreter is for you.

If you want to further improve your language skills, consider studying and working abroad. There are exchanges and language assistant teacher roles offered by many universities that will help you immerse yourself in a language. Living and working in another country and using another language in daily life is an experience that is second to none, and can be just as beneficial to interpreters as studying for a degree. Why? Because it teaches you to recognise different accents, dialects and colloquialisms, in addition to helping you become familiar with the culture. This can be vital to securing a job as an interpreter, because localisation is hugely important when interpreting.

What are the different types of interpretation?

  • Whispering interpreters
  • This is where the interpreter sits next to a person who doesn’t speak the language in which they are being addressed. The interpreter then whispers what’s being said in their ear. This is particularly useful in business meetings. A whispering interpreter needs to be able to listen and interpret simultaneously.

  • Video or phone interpreting
  • This type of interpretation is performed via phone or video and is useful for conferences, conference calls, presentations, company global affiliate announcements, foreign investor briefings, and in cases where companies need emergency language assistance.

    A phone interpreter must be confident over the phone and in pressurised situations. They must also have excellent listening skills that contend with background noise and crackling lines.

  • Online Chat interpretation
  • Online Chat interpreters remove the language barrier by interpreting what each party types over an internet messaging service. This is useful for negotiations with oversea suppliers, multilingual technical support, and disaster recovery scenarios.

  • Consecutive interpreting
  • Consecutive interpreting is when a speaker pauses to allow an interpreter to repeat what has been said in the target language. Consecutive interpreting is used in a wide range of scenarios, from presentations to after-dinner speeches at corporate events.

  • Simultaneous interpreting
  • Simultaneous interpreters work in real-time, often sitting in sound-proof booths. This type of interpretation is particularly useful at conferences.

    Simultaneous interpreting is a strenuous exercise because it requires the ability to listen to and speak different languages in real time.

What are the best personal qualities to have?

In addition to being fluent in two or more languages,The National Career Service list a number of skills and qualities that interpreters needs. This includes a clear speaking voice, the ability to think quickly, and to maintain concentration and confidence for speaking and interpreting in public.

In our guide, to the difference between translation and interpretation, we listed a number of skills all interpreters need. This includes the fantastic listening skills, eloquence and accuracy of interpreting body language and tone, and the ability to translate language instantly and accurately in your head. These skills can be difficult to learn, and some, such as confidence and a clear speaking voice, sometimes just suit certain people, and certain personalities, more than others.

Similarly, interpreters are often hired to work in their mother tongue. So the more languages you know will not necessarily make you more in demand. It is generally better to be considered to be the master of one, than average in many.

What makes a good interpretation agency?

A number of different factors separate the best professional interpreters from the rest. The best interpretation agencies in the UK look for industry specific knowledge, so, for example, medical interpreters should have an in-depth knowledge of the medical industry and medical terminology. At London Translations, all of our interpreters have industry specific knowledge.

The best interpretation agencies hire interpreters to work in their mother tongue. This is because localised knowledge is an essential factor of interpretation, as that way you will be able to understand and converse effectively in colloquialisms if necessary.

In short, the best interpretation agencies hire the best interpreters, who have a mixture of industry knowledge, professionalism, experience, cultural awareness, good memory, language skills and confidence. If you believe you have all these skills, a career as an interpreter may well be for you.

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