How To Become An Interpreter: Degree & Career Requirements

Consider this article to be an expository one as we are going to be discussing everything you need to know about how to become an interpreter, their degree and career requirements, duties, and responsibilities as well as their work environment.

Keep reading to get all the details you need. 

How To Become An Interpreter – Explained

In this section, we will be looking at how to become an interpreter, keep reading to find out what it takes.

1. Obtain A Degree

If you must work in a government parastatal as an interpreter, obtaining a bachelor’s degree is important as it focuses on interpretation and translation. 

Aside from a degree, you need a major in foreign languages or in linguistics to be able to meet interpreter school requirements, and if you wish to become an interpreter for American sign language, then you need to undergo programs in sign language interpretations. 

Furthermore, there are interpreters who major in other areas like business administration, to gain expertise and possibly translate for this professional field.

The aim of getting a degree is to be fluent in at least two languages at the end.

2. Gain Entry-level Experience

Experience is key in every profession including in becoming an interpreter.

One of the ways to gain this experience, especially as an amateur, is by volunteering to interpret for deaf people at hospitals, organizations and companies to hone your skills. 

Another way to gather experience is by finding a paid or unpaid internship opportunity to obtain hands-on experience.

Interestingly, all of those can help create future opportunities for employment after graduation as well as help to build a resume after graduation.

3. Attend Formal Interpreter Training

You can find a lot of formal training for people who want to become interpreters, and your choice should depend on the industry you want to enter after school. 

Interestingly, most of these postsecondary schools provide a certificate or even an associate degree after the training as proof that the students are equipped with the necessary skills needed for a job.

4. Get Certified

Aside from excelling in the required court interpreting exams offered by most states, no universal certification is currently required of interpreters, however bear in mind that you can sit for different tests to prove that you are good at your job.

At the federal level, the court offers interpreter certification for Spanish language interpreters while at the state level, the courts offer certification in a minimum of 20 languages.

Additionally, if you are a general sign language interpreter, you can obtain a certificate from the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, and the registry offers specialty tests in legal interpreting, deaf-to-deaf interpreting, and speech reading.

Worthy of mention are The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters and The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.

The former offers two types of certifications for healthcare interpreters: Associate Healthcare Interpreter, for interpreters of languages other than Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin; and Certified Healthcare Interpreter, for interpreters of Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin while the latter offers certification for medical interpreters of Spanish.

Read Also: Become A Child Development Specialist: Education And Career Roadmap

5. Apply For Jobs

Having fulfilled all of the above, you can start searching for jobs.

Begin from looking for entry-level or associate-level openings for interpreters in your area, assess the levels of experience and education needed for each then update your resume to add the keywords if it doesn’t contain the necessary requirements, and apply.

This way, you can prove that you’re qualified for the position.

Skills Necessary For An Interpreter

Going forward, we will be looking at some of the skills you need as an interpreter:

1. Business Skills 

You need general business skills, especially if you are a self-employed interpreter so as to be able to manage your finances and careers successfully. 

A self-employed interpreter would need to bill customers, advertise their services, and keep records, so this skill is of great importance.

2. Concentration

An interpreter requires a high level of concentration while others are speaking to be able to interpret effectively.

3. Cultural Sensitivity

An interpreter must learn to put into consideration the cultural differences and expectations among the people whom he or she is helping to communicate. 

This is to say that the act of interpreting goes beyond knowing the words in different languages but also understanding  the culture of the people you are interpreting to.

4. Dexterity

The ability to make quick and coordinated hand, finger, and arm movements when interpreting is a key skill for every sign language interpreter.

5. Interpersonal skills

Interpreters must master the act of relating well with people, especially the self-employed ones as this skill will help them to not just retain clients but also attract new clients.

6. Listening Skills

Listening is a very important skill for Interpreters as they need to pay rapt attention so as to interpret correctly to the audiences.

7. Reading Skills

You can’t interpret what you can’t read, so reading is a great skill for interpreters as they need this skill to be able to read in all of the languages in which they are working.

8. Speaking Skills

Just as we saw about reading skills, Interpreters must be able to speak fluently in all of the languages in which they are working.

What Are The Duties Of An Interpreter? 

Generally, Interpreters are ideally known to convert messages or text from  one language into another language thereby making communication easier.

Below are some of the duties expected of an interpreter.

1. An interpreter speaks, reads, and writes fluently in a minimum of two languages, one of which is usually English

2. He or she convert concepts in the source language to equivalent concepts in the target language

3. He or she communicates the style and tone of the original language

4. He or she delivers spoken messages correctly, quickly, and clearly

5. He or she puts together information and technical terms into glossaries and terminology databases to be used in their oral renditions and translations

6. He or she applies their cultural knowledge to render a correct and meaningful interpretation or translation of the original message

Modes Of Interpreting

There are basically three modes of interpreting, and they include simultaneous, consecutive, and sight translation.

Let’s take a look at what each of them means.

1. Simultaneous

While someone is speaking or signing, a simultaneous interpreter passes a spoken or signed message into another language.

This means that he or she must be conversant  with the subject of discussion, and maintain a high level of concentration to be able to pass the message accurately and completely. 

Additionally, they usually work in teams, especially if they are interpreting for a long period like in court proceedings or in a conference.

2. Consecutive 

The difference between consecutive and the former is that this interpreter passes the speaker’s or signer’s message in another language after they have stopped to allow for the interpretation while the other one interprets while the speaker is talking. 

Of course, consecutive interpreters are expected to take notes while the speaker is speaking.

3. Sight Translation 

This involves interpreting what’s already written on a document into a spoken language, for immediate understanding.

Types Of Interpreters 

Below are types of interpreters and what they do.

1. Community Interpreters 

You can find this set of interpreters in community-based environments such as parent—teacher conferences, business and public meetings, social and government agencies, community events, new-home purchases, and any other kind of work that has a community setting.

2. Conference Interpreters 

At conferences with non-English speaking attendees, they primarily work in the area of international business or diplomacy. 

Conference interpreters can work for any business that interacts with foreign language speakers, but the work is less frequent. 

Employers typically favor more seasoned interpreters who can translate from two languages into their mother tongue, such as those who can translate from Spanish and French into English. 

This qualification is necessary for some employment, such as those with the United Nations.

Simultaneous interpretation is frequently done by conference interpreters. People who are present at a conference or meeting who do not speak the same language as the speaker use earphones tuned to the interpreter’s language

3. Health or Medical Interpreters 

Assisting patients in communicating with physicians, nurses, technicians, and other medical personnel, they frequently work in healthcare environments. 

Medical vocabulary and widely used medical terms in both languages must be familiar to interpreters and translators. 

They may translate from one language into another research documents, regulatory information, pharmaceutical and educational pamphlets, patient consent forms, website content, and patient records.

Healthcare or medical interpreters need to be considerate of their patients’ individual situations and uphold confidentiality and ethical norms. Remote interpretation can also be delivered via phone or video relay.

4. Legal Or Judicial Interpreters

They work in legal contexts such as courts. They assist those who struggle with English throughout hearings, arraignments, depositions, and trials. They must comprehend legal jargon as a result. 

Sight translation is the practice of having many court interpreters read papers aloud in a language other than the one in which they were written. 

Legal terminology must be thoroughly understood by translators and interpreters working in the legal or judicial fields.

5. Literary Translators 

They translate books, poems, short stories, and journal articles from one language into another. 

They make an effort to preserve the author’s intended tone, style, and meaning. 

When it’s possible, literary translators collaborate closely with writers to accurately convey the original work’s literary and cultural elements as well as its intended meaning.

6. Sign Language Interpreters 

They make it easier for hearing people and persons who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate. 

English and American Sign Language (ASL), which mixes signing, finger spelling, and specialized body language, are both required for sign language interpreters. 

Its distinctive syntax distinguishes ASL from English as a separate language.

Other types of translating for those who are deaf or hard of hearing is a specialty for certain interpreters.

Some deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals can lip-read English instead of signing ASL. 

When interpreting for these individuals, interpreters use “oral interpretation,” mouthing words slowly and precisely so that their lips can be read. transferring hand signals to a deaf or blind individual. 

Additionally, they might make gestures and use their faces to communicate with the lip reader.

Other methods of interpretation include tactile signing, which is interpreting for both the deaf and the blind by making hand signs into the deaf and blind person’s hand, cued speech, which uses hand shapes placed close to the mouth to give lip-readers more information, signing exact English, and cued speech.

7. Trilingual Interpreters

They make it easier for an ASL user, an English speaker, and a speaker of another language to communicate. 

They must be versatile, adaptable, and culturally aware in order to translate across all three languages without distorting the message’s core content.

Additionally,  they make it easier for an ASL user, an English speaker, and a speaker of another language to communicate. 

They must be versatile, adaptable, and culturally aware in order to translate across all three languages without distorting the message’s core content.

8. Liaison or Escort Interpreters 

They travel with either foreigners with weak English ability who are visiting the United States or Americans who are abroad. 

These professionals, who can interpret in both formal and informal contexts, make sure that the guests can communicate while they are there. 

The majority of liaison or escort interpreters travel frequently.

An Overview Of The Work Environment Of Interpreters

You can find at least one interpreter in every business, and organization as they are needed almost everywhere ranging from schools to hospitals, detention facilities, courtrooms, conference centers, and meeting rooms.

Some of them, especially judiciary and conference interpreters, may need to travel quite often.

With the invention of modern technologies, most interpreters do not need to be physically present before they can work, so most of them work remotely.

Additionally, I would like to state that interpreting is a stressful and sensitive job as they are expected to pass information accurately, so in some cases, they may need to work as a team depending on the setting and type of assignment.

Salaries Of An Interpreter

The salary of an interpreter depends on a number of factors such as experience, education, the language, specialty, and certification of the interpreter or translator.

Generally, the median annual wage for interpreters is $49,110 ( half the workers earned above $49,110 and half earned less). 

That being said, below are the median annual wages for interpreters and translators in the top industries, however, note that these wage data exclude self-employed workers.

1. Hospitals (State, local, and private): $54,940

2. Government : $62, 390

3. Educational Services (State, local, and private): $49,200

4. Professional, scientific, and technical services: $49,200


To be successful as an interpreter, you must be willing to volunteer at hospitals, organizations, and companies so as to get first-hand experience in the field.

You can also take advantage of study abroad opportunities as this will help you to learn a language around native speakers.

Finally, you must complete an internship which could be paid or unpaid to gather the needed work experience needed when seeking a job after graduation.

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