Language Interpreters: Everything You Wanted to Know to Become One

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Becoming a language interpreter is not as difficult as one might think. There are many different types of interpretation, and with the right training and experience, almost anyone can become a language interpreter. In this article, we will explore what language interpreters do, different interpretation techniques, the education and training required to become a successful interpreter, as well as the various setting in which interpreters work.

What is Interpretation?

Interpretation is defined as the oral or manual (American sign language interpreting) transfer of ideas from one language to another. It is the oral expression in the target language of what has been said in the source language, taking into account the context and the purpose of the interpretation.

It is important to note that interpretation is not a word-for-word translation. An interpreter must be able to accurately convey the meaning of what is being said, taking into account cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions.

Types of Interpretation

There are two common modes of interpretation: simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting.

Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation is the process of translating spoken language into another language in real-time. It is commonly used in international conferences and other events where people from different countries need to communicate with each other.

Simultaneous interpretation requires a high level of linguistic skills and knowledge of both cultures, as simultaneous interpreters need to be able to convey not only the literal meaning of what is being said but also the nuances and context.

The most important part of simultaneous interpretation is working as part of a team, as it is often too difficult for one person to interpret everything that is being said. This type of interpretation also requires a great deal of concentration, as interpreters need to be able to listen and speak at the same time.

Although it can be challenging, simultaneous interpretation is a fascinating and rewarding profession.

Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive interpretation is a type of interpretation in which the interpreter speaks after the speaker has finished a sentence or short phrase. This allows for a more literal translation of the original spoken words, as well as greater accuracy in terms of meaning.

Consecutive interpretation can be used in a variety of settings, including business meetings, court hearings, and conferences. It is often used in situations where there is a need for a high level of accuracy and understanding, such as when discussing complex legal or financial matters. While it can be slower than other types of interpretation, such as simultaneous interpretation, it can be invaluable in ensuring that everyone involved in a conversation is on the same page.

Consecutive interpretation is used in situations where expensive simultaneous interpretation equipment might not be available, or where there are relatively few people. Oftentimes talks between diplomats can take this form.

Interpretation Settings

The above two types of interpretation are often referred to as modes of interpretation. While interpreting can take place in any setting where there is a need for communication between people who speak different languages, there are some common settings in which interpreters work.


conference interpreting

One of the most common settings for interpreters is conferences. Conferences can be large or small, and they can be held for a variety of purposes, such as business meetings, academic symposiums, or political summits.

Interpreters who work in this setting need to be able to handle a wide range of topics, as well as have a good understanding of the culture and customs of the participants. They also need to be able to work well under pressure, as they may have to interpret for long periods.


Another common setting for interpreters is courtrooms. Court interpreters who do legal interpreting need to have a deep understanding of legal terminology, as well as the cultural norms of the country in which the court is located. They also need to be impartial and objective, as they may be called upon to interpret for both the prosecution and the defense.


Hospitals are another common setting for interpreters. Hospital interpreters need to have a good understanding of medical terms, as well as the cultural norms of the patients they are interpreting for. They also need to be able to maintain confidentiality, as they may interpret for patients who are discussing sensitive medical information such as the health services they receive.

How to Become an Interpreter

Becoming an interpreter requires a high level of linguistic skills and cultural knowledge. It also requires a great deal of concentration and focus.

If you are interested in becoming an interpreter, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of success.

Become Proficient in Two (or More) Languages

This should go without saying, but to be an interpreter, you need to be proficient in at least two foreign languages. Ideally, you should be fluent in both languages, as you will need to be able to understand spoken words and idiomatic expressions. It is also helpful to be familiar with the various dialects of both languages.

If you are not yet proficient in a second language, there are many resources available to help you learn. There are online courses, as well as language immersion programs.

What if you only know a single language? Well, then you’ll need to choose another one to go along with it to become a qualified interpreter. The best way to choose a language pair is to consider the languages you are interested in and the language combinations that are in demand.

Some common language combinations include:

  • English-Spanish
  • English-Mandarin Chinese
  • English-Japanese
  • French-Spanish
  • Arabic-English
  • Russian-English

If any of these language combinations interest you, then you should start learning one of the languages in the pair.

Sign Language Interpreter

sign language interpreting

If you know sign language, you can become a sign language interpreter. To become a sign language interpreter, you need to be proficient in the sign language you want to interpret, as well as have a good understanding of the culture of the deaf community.

There are many resources available to help you learn sign language. There are online courses, as well as in-person classes. You can also find several resources on the internet, such as signing dictionaries and phrasebooks.

Choose an Area of Focus

Once you have chosen your languages, you need to choose an area of focus. This is the topic or field that you will interpret for.

Some common areas of focus include:

  • Business
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Politics

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing an area of focus. The important thing is that you choose an area that interests you and that you are familiar with.

If you are interested in more than one area, you can choose to specialize in one or you can choose to interpret multiple areas. This is important because each area has its own terminology and customs.

Get a Certification

While there is no formal education required to become an interpreter, many interpreters choose to get a certification.

There are many different types of interpreter certifications, but the most common is the Certified Court Interpreter (CCI) certification. To earn this certification, you must pass an examination administered by the National Center for State Courts.

Other certifications include the American Translators Association’s Certified Translator (CT) certification and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators’ Certified Judicial Interpreter (CJI) certification.

These certifications are not required to become an interpreter, but they can help get started in your career.

Join a Professional Organization

There are many professional organizations for interpreters, such as the American Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. These organizations offer many benefits, such as networking opportunities, job listings, and continuing education.

Gain Interpreting Experience

You can study interpreting all you want but, at the end of the day, the best way to become an interpreter is to actually interpret.

There are many ways to gain interpreting experience. You can volunteer to interpret at your local hospital or court. Volunteering is great because it allows you to get experience without the pressure of being paid.

Even if you can’t find any volunteer opportunities, you can still practice interpreting. You can do this by recording yourself speaking in one language and then interpreting what you said into the other language.

You can also practice by listening to the news or movies in your target language and interpreting them into your native language.

Finding Work in Language Interpretation

Once you have gained some experience, you will be ready to start looking for work as an interpreter.

Many different places hire interpreters. Some common employers include:

The best way to find work is to network with other interpreters. You can do this by attending events or joining professional organizations (like the ones we mentioned earlier).

You can also search online job boards, such as or

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Work

Many interpreters start their careers working part-time. This is a great way to get your feet wet and to see if interpreting is the right career for you.

If you decide that you like interpreting, you can then start looking for full-time work. Keep in mind, though, that full-time interpreting jobs are very competitive.

The good news is that there is always a need for interpreters, so if you are willing to put in the work, you should be able to find a job that suits your needs.

Salary for Language Interpreters

Salaries for language interpreters vary depending on many factors, such as:


Where you live and where you work will have a big impact on your salary. For example, interpreters who work in major cities like New York or Los Angeles will usually earn more than interpreters who work in smaller towns because the cost of living is higher in these cities.


Interpreters with more experience usually earn more than interpreters who are just starting out since they have more skills and knowledge. As a language interpreter, you can gain experience by working in different settings or by taking on more complex assignments.

Type of interpreting

The type of interpreting you do will also affect your salary. For example, conference interpreters who interpret at international events usually earn more than court interpreters who interpret in legal proceedings or in medical settings. Not only that, but conference interpreters usually work on a freelance basis, which means they can set their own rates.


As we mentioned earlier, there are many certifications that interpreters can get. The more certifications you have, the more in-demand you will be, and the higher your salary will be. However, keep in mind that certifications can be costly, so you will need to weigh the cost vs. the benefit before you decide whether or not to get one.

Language combination

The languages you interpret also play a role in how much you can earn. For example, bilingual individuals who interpret English-Spanish will usually earn more than interpreters who interpret Spanish-English because English is the dominant language in the United States. In addition, languages that are less commonly spoken (like Mandarin Chinese or Arabic) tend to be more in demand, which means interpreters who interpret these languages can command higher rates.

In general, language interpreters in the United States earn an average salary of $50,000 per year. Interpreters who work in major cities or who have a lot of experience can earn up to $100,000 per year. For more information, see the article on how much interpreters make.

Language Interpreter Employers

Language Interpreter Employers

There are many different employers of interpreters. Here are some common places that hire interpreters:


When patients come to the hospital, they often need medical interpreters to help them communicate with the doctors and nurses. This is because many patients do not speak English, or they may have a limited understanding of the language.

Hospitals typically hire interpreters to do medical interpreting on an as-needed basis. This means that you may only work a few hours per week, or you may work full-time, depending on the needs of the hospital.


Schools also hire interpreters to help students who do not speak English or who have a limited understanding of the language. Interpreters typically work with students who are in the process of learning English.

Schools usually hire interpreters on a part-time basis, so you may only work a few hours per week.

Government Agencies

Government agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration, often hire interpreters to help people who do not speak English or who have a limited understanding of the language.

Government agencies typically hire interpreters on a part-time or full-time basis.

Language Services Companies

Translation companies hire language interpreters to help them with their projects. For example, if a company is translating a document from English to Spanish, they may need an interpreter to help them with the project.

Translation companies usually hire interpreters on a freelance basis. This means that you will be able to set your own hours and rates.

United Nations

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization that hires interpreters to help with their work. The UN typically hires interpreters who interpret English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.

The UN usually hires interpreters on a full-time basis. However, they also hire interpreters on a freelance basis for specific projects. The UN is one of the most popular employers of interpreters because it offers a lot of job security and good pay.

European Commission

The largest employer of language interpreters is the European Commission because they have a working need for all the official European languages. They employ freelance as well as staff interpreters. The United Nations is also a fairly large employer of interpreters, but because they only have six official languages the numbers are smaller than the European Commission.

Tips for Becoming a Language Interpreter

To make the most of your career as a language interpreter, follow these tips:

Join a professional association: Joining an interpreter association can help most interpreters network with other interpreters and stay up-to-date on the latest industry news.

Accurate interpretation is key: One of the most important things you can do as an interpreter is to be accurate in your interpretation. This means that you need to have a good understanding of both languages that you are interpreting.

Skilled interpreters are needed: Many businesses and organizations need interpreters, but they only want to hire the best. This means that you need to be skilled in your interpretation if you want to be successful in this career.


Interpreting is a great way to earn a good income while using your language skills. If you are fluent in more than one language, and you have good people skills, then you may want to consider becoming an interpreter.

There are many different employers of interpreters, so you will be able to find a job that fits your schedule and your lifestyle. And, if you work for the UN or the European Commission, you will be able to travel to different countries and see the world.

FAQ – Language Interpreters

Are there a lot of job openings for experienced interpreters?

There are many openings for experienced interpreters. The most common employers of interpreters are hospitals, schools, government agencies, language services companies, the United Nations, and the European Commission.

Where do consecutive interpreters work?

Most consecutive interpreters work for government agencies, but others work for large corporations, top industries, or during court procedures.

Do you need to know technical terms to work as an interpreter?

No, you do not need to know specifc technological terms to work as an interpreter. However, it is helpful if you are familiar with the subject matter that you will be interpreting. For example, if you are interpreting for a medical conference or medical staff, it would be helpful if you knew some medical terminology.

What is sight translation?

Sight translation is when an interpreter translates a written document from one language to another. Sight translation is different from regular interpretation because it is usually done without any preparation.