How Can I Work as an Interpreter?

As our world expands, it becomes more necessary to communicate with people of different cultures, and interpreters are vital to crossing those language barriers. Interpreters work in a wide array of settings, from court rooms to call centers, and help facilitate communication. If they’re working with language in written form, they’re called translators. An interpreter may do translations, or they may do only spoken or signed language interpretation.

If you have a passion for language, interpreting might be a perfect career choice. Interpreters do generally get paid fairly well for their services, with a median yearly salary of $43,300 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. In some cases, interpreters can be paid double this amount if they’re working in a specialized niche or speak a language that’s in high-demand.

What is Being an Interpreter Like?

Interpreting can be an exciting job because your services may be required in a variety of settings, no two days would be exactly the same. Some interpreters may choose to work specifically in a certain industry, such as government, but others offer freelance services to a wider variety of clients. There are some fields that have a higher demand for interpreters than others:

  • Healthcare and medical industries to facilitate communication between doctors and patients
  • Judiciary interpreters work in court rooms to interpret for people during hearings and trials
  • Escort interpreters travel with Americans into foreign countries to provide interpretation services among the native population, for example to facilitate business communications
  • Conference interpreters work at conferences attended by non-English speakers, such as international diplomacy hearings.

Interpreters who work in these industries may specialize in them because of the specific knowledge they require. For example, an interpreter in a medical or legal situation will need to know how to interpret specialized jargon into a foreign language. A background in the industry can help make this easier.

Interpreters can also often work from home or a call center setting to work for a language line. Through this type of work, one would be expected to help people make phone calls from one language to another. For example, you might help someone file an insurance claim in another language or answer banking questions. If you do this from home, you may be able to set your own hours and take phone calls on more of a flexible schedule.

How Do I Become an Interpreter?

The first step to becoming an interpreter is to develop a high proficiency in at least one language aside from you primary one. This usually comes as a result of a bachelor’s degree in language study, but it may not be strictly necessary to have a degree at all as long as you’re sufficiently fluent in the language. Many interpreters grew up speaking more than one language and gained fluency that way.

There’s a demand for interpreters in nearly every language imaginable, but the language you choose will have an impact on your future career. If you study a relatively common language, like Spanish, you might have lots of work but lower pay due to the prevalence of native speakers in any given community. On the other hand, rare languages are in lower demand. Some interpreters choose to develop proficiency in multiple languages. Also bear in mind that, in addition to spoken language, interpreters can learn American Sign Language and work as interpreters for the deaf community as well.

Depending on the type of work you plan to do, you may want to take college courses related to that field. For example, a few classes about law or medical practices would be useful in teaching you how these industries work and what jargon they utilize. It can also be helpful to specialize in something like finance, business or government depending on where you want to work.

After graduation, you can begin searching for work among various interpretation firms. There is no single certification process required to become an interpreter. Instead, any individual interpreter job will have its own proficiency exam. This exam will test not only your knowledge of both languages but also your ability to explain complex concepts.

The most difficult part of getting a career as an interpreter is building experience. Because language is so complex and always changing, training never completely ends. You never stop learning about the job while working as an interpreter, and interpreters with more experience will always be preferred to those with less experience.

If you want to work in a professional interpreter position, it will help you tremendously to start searching for work experience right away. This may mean that you’ll need to do volunteer work or other types of unpaid or low-paid interpreting early in your career in order to build up your resume and make you attractive to potential employers.

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