Career as an Interpreter

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Barry Smith is an interpreter who helps people whose first language is not English. He makes sure they can understand and be understood when communicating with professionals on important issues.

How would you outline your career as an interpreter?

I am a self-employed interpreter and translator and work mainly for hospitals, doctors' surgeries, courts and solicitors. I get quite a lot of my interpreting and translating jobs through an agency – Alpha-Omega Language Services.

I speak English, Farsi and Arabic. I listen to a conversation in one language and translate into another.

What is your main work routine?

A lot of my work is carried out for professional practices who have a client that doesn't speak or understand English very well.

On arrival, I would be introduced to my client or clients and have a short conversation with them, to make sure that we clearly understand each other. The solicitor, clients and I then to into the office and I would translate one side of the conversation into English for the solicitor and the other side into Arabic or Farsi for the client.

What hours do you work?

My work depends on the jobs that come up, so I have to very flexible. My working week could be anything from two to seven days. Normally, my work is in office hours, although some evening work may be involved.

What's your working environment like?

My work involves a lot of travelling, and I am usually in offices or hospital settings. I am often needed to interpret for someone in less than pleasurable circumstances, though.

Who do you work with?

I work on my own, but interpreting always involves at least another two people.

What special skills do you need for your career as an interpreter?

It is very important to be patient and not lose concentration. You also need to gain the trust of the clients so that they feel they can confide in you. You also have to look and act professionally in this line of work.

Why did you choose this career as an interpreter?

I had the advantage of speaking three languages, so I made some enquiries and found I enjoyed the work. I consider my work to be important for communication. Speaking to so many people from so many places in the world has increased my knowledge.

What training have you done?

I arrived in the UK when I was 12 and studied English. At the same time I improved my Arabic and Farsi language skills by talking to people and studying.

What do you like about your career as an interpreter?

I feel that I help a lot of people, which makes me feel good. The wages can be quite good too.

How do you see your future?

I don't really know at this stage, but I have gained so much information about legal subjects that I am thinking of looking into the possibilities of studying law.

Barry's route to his career as an interpreter

  • GCSEs
  • GNVQ in language skills
  • raining and interpreting skills

Barry's interpreter tip

  • As a freelance you are providing a service in competition with commercial companies, so you must be prepared to act professionally and adopt a business-like approach.

Interpreter related jobs

Salary of an nterpreter

  • Newly qualified interpreters might earn between £17,000 and £20,000, rising to £30,000 with experience.
  • Skilled interpreters working for an international institution such as the European Commission, World Bank or United Nations may earn between £50,000 and £60,000 or more.
  • Freelance interpreters negotiate daily rates with their clients, usually between £250 and £450.
  • Rates vary according to language combinations, subject and interpreting environment.

How to become an interpreter

  • Most interpreters hold a degree in languages or in translation and interpreting, or a combined degree of languages with another subject, such as business or law.
  • Native speakers, like Barry, may not need a formal qualification in their mother-tongues, but may still need qualifications in English.
  • A postgraduate degree course in interpreting opens up more job opportunities and the chance of better pay.
  • The Institute of Linguists' exams validate skills in a range of languages. These include a Certificate in Bilingual Skills, a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting and a Diploma in Languages for International Communications. The Diploma may offer an alternative to a degree course.
  • The National Centre for Languages (CILT) has developed National Language Standards for professional Linguists. The standards consist of a range of units, such as prepare for interpreting assignments or 'develop your performance as an interpreter'. The standards can lead to NVQ/SVQ Level 4 in Interpreting.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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