5 reasons why being an interpreter is about more than the languages you speak

Published on 10 Mar 2020 | Posted In Interpreting careers - Interpreting skills.

If you are bilingual or multilingual, you might assume that the job of being an interpreter is an easy one. However, if you were to observe an interpreter at work, you would quickly see that the role is about so much more than the language they speak.

If you think about the environment in which a public service interpreter works – courtroom, hospital, police station – places that are often fast-paced and demanding, frequently dealing with sensitive situations, you quickly start to realise that the language skill is only one in a highly-skilled toolkit.

Here are five misconceptions of an interpreter’s role:

  1. It’s not just words
    An interpreter is transferring words spoken in a native language into a target language. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are interpreting precisely word-for-word. Sometimes subtleties of language can mean that exact translation loses the original sentiment. What is most important is that the interpreter transfers the true meaning behind the words. The interpreter listens, understands, memorises and relays the meaning of the speech into the target language.
  2. It’s not mediation
    Despite often working in emotionally-charged situations, the interpreter must act impartially. This means they must avoid offering advice or giving opinion and remain neutral to what is being said.
  3. It demands more than just a language skill
    Many public service situations call for strong people skills and emotional intelligence. If you think of how a doctor or police officer might be trained for this public-facing role, the interpreter has to work across many of these environments, being able to adapt their skillset and remain calm under pressure. Some assignments may call for long hours, and the interpreter has to use and manage their emotions in positive ways to be able to communicate effectively and overcome any challenges.
  4. It’s not just repetitive work
    The interpreter will work across different areas of public services, although may specialise in one or more, so they are required to understand the terminology and ‘jargon’ used in these environments. Often they may need to seek clarification or explanation of some terms, but an understanding of the ‘lingo’ used in different sectors is expected. In addition, the interpreter needs to understand different cultures and customs that may be relevant and also remain abreast of relevant current affairs and politics that may affect their assignments. Interpreting is a highly varied working environment.
  5. It’s not the ‘easy option’
    An interpreter often works on a freelance basis, so needs to be proactive in developing their career. They will require the motivation to be continually enhancing their skillset to suit the varied and changing nature of their work. To develop their reputation and credibility, the interpreter has to take personal responsibility for securing assignments and show reliability, commitment and professionalism in the delivery of them.

All of these reasons highlighting why being an interpreter is about more than the languages you speak, are what makes it such a rewarding and aspirational career choice. Find more about starting, progressing and developing a career as a public service interpreter.