An interpreter’s job does exactly what it says on the tin. Basically, these guys listen to verbal remarks, comprehend them and then translate them into a different language for their client.
In an ideal world, we would all have universal translation devices implanted in our brains like in science fiction books. However, this technological solution has not quite been developed just yet.
Indeed, people with different mother tongues are often unable to understand one other. Consequently, the work of interpreters is incredibly important for the purposes of international communication.
Interpreters can work in a range of different situations. For instance, they are vital to public sector departments and also play an important role in the media, in international business meetings and in healthcare and legal settings.
The job of an interpreter should not be confused with that of a translator. Sure, both of these careers are designated for language specialists, but interpreters deal with the spoken word and translators work with written texts. However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that some people may offer both interpretation and translation services to their clients.
Interpreters can offer a range of verbal translation services, including simultaneous interpretation (i.e. ‘real-time’ translation while the speaker is still speaking) and consecutive interpretation (i.e. the stop-start approach to interpretative communication, where short bursts of conversation are translated while the speaker pauses).
Some translators might even use sign language as a way of communicating with their clients.
As you can imagine, it’s very important that an interpreter is completely fluent in the languages that they are translating. Consequently, these guys might be required to learn complex terminology, such as business jargon, legislative terms and other industry-specific lingo.
Even the slightest misunderstanding could change a whole piece of information and this could have negative implications on the success of the dialogue. Therefore, interpreters need to be sharp, talented and forever up-to-date on the evolution of dialects and specialist terms.
Salary & benefits
The average salary for an interpreter in an entry-level position is around £20,000 per annum. This can increase to around £50,000, based on your experience, the range of your skill-set and the kind of clients that you work with.
As you can probably guess, if you know more languages and have more experience, you will be more versatile and therefore more valuable to your clients.
Often, this will ‘translate’ into higher earnings (get it?). Consequently, if you are dedicated to your craft, you can definitely make a decent living.
The job of an interpreter is very unique. It can give you the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet lots of interesting people.
For instance, one week, you could be assisting a dignitary on a trip abroad; the next week you could be working for a celebrity at an international media function.
Working conditions vary from situation to situation, but for the most part you will be working very closely with one person or a group of people, either in an office, a conference centre or a meeting room.
It really goes without saying that you will need top notch language skills to work in this area. Most interpreters will have a degree in one or two modern languages. You may also be at a greater advantage of finding work if you can speak languages which are less widely spoken by other European people, such as Urdu, Pashto, Arabic or Mandarin.
It will also be useful if you have spent time abroad in the countries that speak the languages you specialise in. After all, interpretation is also about understanding cultural differences as well as linguistic variations.
You definitely have to be a ‘people person’ and must be able to work under pressure. High-levels of concentration are also required. Interpreting can sometimes be a stressful job, and it takes a level-headed person to do it.
Training & progression
There is very little formal training offered once you begin a career as an interpreter. Most of your skills will be developed whilst on the job. Indeed, practice makes perfect!
However, after you have gained a wealth of experience you can raise your profile by joining professional organisations, such as the Institute of Translation & Interpreting.
Some interpreters secure permanent positions with governmental organisations. However, the majority of interpreters usually work on a freelance basis.
Consequently, there is no formal career ladder. One way you can progress in the industry, however, is by learning more languages, thereby expanding your chances of finding interpretive work.