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Languages Work

The national information resource on careers with languages


Interpreting is the transfer of one spoken or signed languages to another. Working as a professional Interpreter is challenging and requires a special combination of skills and experience but in return it offers opportunities for uniquely interesting experiences and can be hugely rewarding.

This career path opens up global job opportunities and continues to be in demand, especially as public services in the UK increasingly see the use of community languages as an equality and diversity issue.

Interpreters work in a wide range of different settings – from international conferences and business meetings to courts and doctors’ surgeries. Some interpreters work both ways between their mother tongue and other language(s), in which case they must speak or sign their other language(s) very well.  Others, such as conference interpreters, usually only work into their mother tongue so the most important thing for them is to have a very good understanding of their other language(s).

Interpreting is a specialist skill. In most cases, you need specialist training and qualifications to work at a professional level. There are various alternative routes open, depending on existing language skills and work experience. A qualification in Interpreting (or an equivalent level of professional experience) is normally required in order to become a member of one or both of the professional associations for individuals, the Institute of Linguists and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

There are two types of interpreting – simultaneous interpreting requires the interpreter to work in a soundproof booth translating instantaneously so that delegates at a meeting or conference receive a real-time account of what is being said in a language they understand. Consecutive interpreting is used for smaller meetings, discussions between individuals, politicians or journalists and the interpreter gives an accurate account of what a speaker has said immediately after they have spoken. A refinement of consecutive interpreting is whispered interpreting where there is perhaps only one person at a meeting who does not speak the same language as everyone else and the interpreter gives a whispered translation to that person.

Because of the very different nature of contact, interpreters can expect to travel frequently. They need to work well with people in groups and on a one-to-one level, be presentable and quick-thinking.  Interpreters need confidence in public speaking, a good memory and concentration and the ability to stay calm under pressure.

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