How can a translator become an interpreter?

June 19, 2019
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. 

Translation and interpretation 

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. 

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.  

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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