You speak two languages well, so that makes you an ideal interpreter...right? Actually this couldn't be further from the truth or the reality of professional interpreting!
Official interpreters need to have outstanding language skills in at least two languages, be confident linguists, have a deep understanding of both cultures and, above all, master the art of interpreting.
Interpreting assignments can entail working under pressure, travelling a lot, last minute call-outs and working out of hours. But don't be put off by this, as you'll find the thrill of interpreting more than makes up for it.
In practical terms, no two days in an interpreter's life are ever the same. The variety of subjects is astonishing, assignments are often exciting, and you're always out and about and talking to people. Interpreters make it possible for people to have a voice and be heard — by merely rendering what is being said in another language. Helping people communicate is a truly rewarding experience.
In short, interpreting is a wonderful career, whether freelance or in-house.
Career options for interpreters and types of interpreting
There are three main career areas for interpreters: Conference, Business and Public Service.
Conference interpreters can be hired as in-house staff interpreters by large international organisations such as the UN and EU, or they can be freelancers working at large international events and conferences, at political events, European works council meetings or trade fairs. Many join the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC).
The main type of interpreting used for Conference Interpreting is Simultaneous Interpreting. The interpreter works with a colleague in an interpreting booth. The speaker at the meeting talks into a microphone and the interpreter instantaneously transfers the message via a microphone to the delegates in their target language. In many Simultaneous Conferences, the Interpreter will be interpreted onward by other booths (relay interpreting), e.g. Turkish Speaker >> English Booth>> Korean Booth>> Korean delegates' headsets. Similarly, in many Simultaneous Conferences, bilingual booths are used, with the interpreter working in more than one language. For more information about the 'A', 'B' and 'C' languages used by Conference Interpreters, please click here.
Business Interpreters interpret for business people, often at company meetings, training courses, business negotiations or any kind of company event. They are something of a hybrid form, as this work is sometimes undertaken by conference interpreters or public service interpreters.
The main type of interpreting used for Business Interpreting is Consecutive Interpreting. This is where the interpreter sits with the delegates and listens to the whole speech (which may last up to 20 or even 30 minutes) and then renders it in to the participants' own language. Notes may have been provided beforehand by the speaker(s), to give the Interpreter background to the meeting. Note-taking skills (such as the Rozan method) are taught on e.g. MA Interpreting courses, over several months, and the interpreter's notes need to be standard and thus decipherable by colleagues. Whispered interpreting (or Chuchotage) is also used for Business Interpreting. This is where the interpreter stands or sits beside the delegate and interprets directly into their ear.
Public Service Interpreters work in a whole array of settings, which largely fall into two categories:
work in a legal environment in a variety of situations: interpreting for police interviews, attending court cases and working with the prison service. This type of work often entails extensive training and rigorous screening.
work in the health and/or local government (e.g. job centres, education and housing) sectors, covering various situations including interpreting for hospital patients, helping people access essential educational services or assisting with housing issues. Most Public Service Interpreters choose to be listed on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), as well as being members of ITI. Sight translation and telephone interpreting are also useful skills to have.
In Public Service interpreting, Liaison (or Ad hoc) interpreting is commonly used, whereby the interpreter renders the speaker's speech or live presentation into the target language a few phrases at a time; for one-to-one situations, Whispered Interpreting (Chuchotage) can be used. Remote interpreting is also sometimes used in Public Service interpreting, where one or more speakers are not in the same room as the interpreter and they communicate with him or her via telephone or Skype, for example.
How can you become an interpreter?
Conference interpreters are expected to have an MA in interpreting (sometimes called an MA in Interpreting & Translation, a European Masters in interpreting, or similar). These are offered by many universities in the UK and abroad. Some of those offering an MA in interpreting or equivalent qualifications are Corporate Education Members of ITI. Please click here for the list of ITI Corporate Education Members and links to their websites.
There is no specific university training for business interpreters, although they tend to have trained as conference and/or public service interpreters.
Public Service Interpreters generally obtain the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), an MA in Public Service Interpreting (offered by some universities) or a similar qualification from abroad.
Practising and keeping up to date
Practising and keeping your language skills up to date is vital. CPD events in the UK and abroad are highly recommended.
Details of interpreting events are published on the ITI Events Calendar and in the ITI Bulletin. Subscribing to other high-quality publications, reading, listening to music, as well as watching films will ensure you are up to date with your languages.
Check out these videos on working as an interpreter:
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