Is a career as a public service interpreter right for you?

Published on 02 Mar 2020 | Posted In Interpreting careers - Interpreting skills.

As a public service interpreter you can, quite literally, give someone a voice. If you’re bilingual or multilingual and have been looking for a way to use your language skills professionally, or you’re curious about ways in which you can improve access to public services for non-English speakers in your community, a career in interpreting might be for you.

Public service interpreters enjoy an extremely varied and richly rewarding role. But you may be wondering – what does it involve?

Interpreting deals with the spoken word, converting the meaning of words spoken in a source language into a target language, and back again – a two-way communication. It differs from translation which deals with the written word (although sometimes interpreters do have to offer sight translations of texts) and is often one-way.

First and foremost, if you are lucky to have the ability to speak both English and a second language fluently as well as an understanding of both cultures, you have the foundations for a career in interpreting. However, the role of the interpreter is possibly more about listening than speaking – it’s not about relaying word for word but understanding the meaning of the words conveyed. If people say you’re a good listener, or if you’re good with people, these are skills that are essential to the interpreter.

Often the first step professionally is as a community interpreter.

No two days are the same for the community interpreter, as their skills are needed across a broad and diverse range of public services including education, healthcare, immigration, social services and more.

Due to the nature of the work, you need to be able to adapt your style to suit many different types of people and be able to work in a team which, at times, could be in a high-pressured environment. Many community interpreters find that it is being the voice for people in these emotional or stressful situations that brings them a feeling of fulfilment in making a difference.

Completing a Level 3 Certificate in Community Interpreting (CCI) is a valuable entry-point into the profession. It equips you with the specific skills you require, as well as an overview of the sectors in which you can work and an understanding of ethics and the business of interpreting.

For those considering the next steps, there is the option of gaining a Level 6 Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI)that meets the qualification standards for the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).

At the higher levels, the role requires an even more extensive range of skills. You would need a clear and confident voice to represent an individual in the courtroom, for example, and specialist skills like simultaneous interpreting often used in courts can take a long time to master and must be honed on an ongoing basis. Being able to remain calm in dealing with difficult situations, as well as using discretion, are essential in all public service interpretation roles.

Many interpreters are drawn to the profession because of the flexibility it offers. The majority of roles are on a freelance basis, and so your working hours are flexible, giving you the freedom to decide when and where you work. Sometimes assignments are in regular ‘office hours’ when working in the courts or routine GP appointments, for example. However, evening and weekend work is also needed to reflect the hours of the public services, such as emergency medical care.

If you think you fit the bill, find out more about starting, progressing and developing a career as a public service interpreter.