Speaking the same language: A career as an interpreter

Female interpreter translating for clients

Being fluent in at least two languages, an interpreter listens to a speaker in one language and repeats what has been said, for someone else, in a second language.

What’s this career about?

Interpreters work with live speech. They usually work either as guides and escorts or as conference or court interpreters. Often, they also use their knowledge of cultural backgrounds to read and interpret the meaning of gestures and other non-verbal cues such as body language in order to convey the full intended meaning of the communication.

Foreign Language Interpreters usually specialize in a particular language and may also specialize in a particular subject area, such as the legal, medical, technical or welfare fields. They may interpret consecutively, waiting for the speaker to pause to translate what has been said, or simultaneously, in which case they translate continuously while the speaker is talking.

The latter is a more difficult type of interpreting, but it is required of court and international conference interpreters. It requires such an intuitive knowledge of the source language and the subject matter that the interpreter must be able to anticipate what the speaker will say as well as have the ability to talk and listen at the same time.

Court Interpreters interpret simultaneously except when the non-English speaking person is on the stand testifying, in which case they interpret consecutively.

Sign language Interpreters provide translation between spoken and sign language communication. The job of sign language Interpreters is very similar to the job of foreign language Interpreters. In sign language interpreting, however, the hands rather than a foreign language are used to communicate. Sign language Interpreters translate a speaker’s words into sign language, using their hands, fingers, and facial expressions. They also repeat the deaf person’s signed response to the speaker.

Interpreters must be proficient in both the languages. In addition, they should be well-versed with the culture of that country. Keeping up to date with current developments in English, the foreign language and specialist terminology is also important. They must have a high degree of fluency in the languages they translate and an understanding of the subject matter. In addition they should have excellent research and public speaking skills.

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Dr Vibha Gupta

Dr Vibha Gupta

Dr Vibha Gupta, a feature writer, is a Ph.D. in Mathematics from IIT Roorkee. Her book Careers: A Pathfinder and articles in various publications are an attempt to guide students in choosing a career according to their natural strengths, talents and skills.