How can a translator become an interpreter?

February 28, 2024
How can a translator become an interpreter?

Translators and interpreters both spend their lives converting words in one language into words in another language. However, it’s not very common to find individuals who provide both translation and interpretation services. As such, we’ve set out to explore the key similarities and differences between translation services and interpretation services, and to provide useful advice for any translators who are considering trying their hand at interpretation. 

Difference between interpreter and translator

Translation work takes a written file in one language and converts it to another language. In this day and age, translation can also involve converting video and audio files into other languages.

Interpretation work, meanwhile, focuses on converting spoken words from one language to another. Common uses of interpretation services include delivering conference speeches in other languages and facilitating business meetings where participants don’t speak each other’s languages fluently. 

The mechanics of language processing

Whether we read or hear language, it is processed by the cerebrum – the large, outer part of the human brain. However, reading is associated with left-lateralized activation, while listening comprehension is associated more with extensive bilateral temporal cortex activation. Essentially, this means that translators and interpreters are using their brains in different ways when they work.

Read more: How to Become a Certified Medical Interpreter

Do translators make good interpreters? 

In practical terms, there’s a vast difference between translating written copy, where you have time to consider the best phrasing and revisit previous word choices, and interpreting somebody’s speech, where you have to convert the language in real time and keep up with what the speaker is saying, even as you repeat their last sentence in another language. These tasks require very different skill sets, which is why translation and interpretation are different career choices, despite the fact that both deal with language processing.

As such, not all those who translate for a living are suited to a career as an interpreter (nor vice versa). However, some individuals do have the ability to interpret as well as translate. If that sounds like you, and you would like to know more about exploring a career in interpretation services, read on! 

What qualifications do interpreters need? 

If you want to work as an interpreter, you will need to train and, most likely, gain a qualification to prove your skills. It’s not impossible to find interpretation work without a relevant qualification, but it does make the task much harder.

A Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, MA in Public Service Interpreting or an MA in Interpreting and Translation is the ideal way to launch your interpretation services career in the UK. These qualifications are available through a large number of universities, including the Open University. In the US, a bachelor’s degree with a major in a foreign language is the ideal route. 

How to establish a career in interpretation services

Once qualified, it’s time to build up your experience. Just as with providing professional translation services, this can be tough to do initially, but will become easier with time as you can demonstrate your experience and provide testimonials from satisfied customers.

There are a couple of routes to building up your interpretation experience. Volunteering your services to a charity or not-for-profit organisation is a great way to gain experience while also doing your bit to make the world a better place. Remember to make a glowing testimonial that you have permission to use for marketing purposes a condition of your involvement!

Applying to work for an agency that provides professional interpretation services is also a great way to gain experience, as agencies are often happy to test out new interpreters. They are also an excellent source of work, as the agency will be actively seeking out clients at every opportunity, essentially doing some of your marketing for you.  

How to become a good interpreter

Transitioning from a translator to a proficient interpreter requires a unique set of skills and a dedicated approach. Beyond language fluency, interpreters must possess strong listening abilities, cultural knowledge, stress resilience, ethical integrity, and a commitment to ongoing professional development.

Master Listening and Comprehension

To excel as an interpreter, it's crucial to develop exceptional listening skills and the ability to quickly comprehend complex information. This involves training your mind to capture nuances and intentions behind spoken words, enabling accurate and effective interpretation.

Continuous Language and Cultural Learning

Interpreters must continuously expand their linguistic capabilities and deepen their cultural understanding. Engaging with native speakers, consuming media in the target languages, and studying cultural contexts can significantly enhance interpretation accuracy and relevance.

Stress Management

The high-pressure nature of interpreting demands effective stress management techniques. Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, or even engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain mental clarity and focus during interpreting sessions.

Ethical Standards

Adherence to strict ethical standards, including confidentiality and impartiality, is fundamental in building trust and professionalism in the interpreting field. Understanding and committing to these principles is essential for a successful career as an interpreter.

Professional Development

Pursuing ongoing professional development through specialized training, certifications, and networking with other professionals is vital for staying current with industry standards and enhancing your skill set.

Final thoughts

Are you a translator who is considering a career as an interpreter? If so, we would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below to share your experiences with your fellow translators and interpreters. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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