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Interpreter: job description

Interpreter: job description

Interpreters convert speech in one language to another, while translators perform a similar function with written text.
Interpreters often work freelance and can be hired to translate at international conferences, in hospitals or in business meetings.

What does an interpreter do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Interpretation divides into three main types: simultaneous, consecutive and liaison. Simultaneous interpretation occurs while the speaker is still talking and it is usually used in large conferences. Consecutive interpretation occurs after the speaker has paused, usually sentence by sentence, and is more suitable for business settings and smaller meetings. Liaison is usually used for public service, such as in a hospital or legal setting, and the interpreter will check the listener understands after each sentence.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • attending meetings or conferences
  • listening carefully
  • comprehending languages
  • accurate and succinct reproduction in the specified language
  • using technology where appropriate, such as microphones, headphones, telephones, video and the internet

The work involves a considerable amount of travel and your hours will be organised to suit your client.

Typical employers of interpreters

  • Translation and interpretation agencies
  • Multi-national businesses
  • News services
  • The European Commission
  • The Civil Service
  • International bodies such as the United Nations

Most interpreters work freelance via agencies or accredited lists used by the European Union and The Civil Service, although it can be difficult to become established.

Most positions occur in major international cities including London, New York, Paris and Brussels, and attract strong competition. Advertisements appear in newspapers and publications such as The Linguist, both online and in print. Employers such as the EU or MI5 also advertise job openings on their websites. Directories and members lists published by professional institutions can provide useful contact information for networking and speculative applications.

Qualifications and training required

A good degree in any subject (particularly languages) and proficiency in two or more foreign languages are normally the minimum entrance requirements. A postgraduate interpreting qualification is also frequently necessary. Areas of expertise, such as scientific, economic, technical or legal knowledge can be beneficial, as can fluency in minority and high demand languages.

Key skills

Interpreters need complete fluency in their working languages and the ability to instantly comprehend and convert one language into another. Interpreters also need a good understanding of spoken and colloquial language. In liaison and consecutive translation, a good memory is particularly helpful. Equally, excellent concentration and the ability to think quickly are essential. Those working in international conferences should have good political and current affairs awareness. IT skills are also beneficial.