Is Being Bilingual Enough? How to Become An Interpreter
Updated: Mar 10
Who doesn’t dream of being the voice behind the voice or the voice echoing the voice? Being an interpreter looks like a fantastic job, and it is. If you have a love for languages, this might be the career path for you. But how? We have outlined below the steps to becoming a qualified professional interpreter, what they do, and some information on career prospects.
In a world made colorful by the abundance of languages, speaking more than one language is an asset that no one would deny. Whether you were fortunate to have grown up in a home where more than one language was spoken or you're a world traveler who picked up a couple of languages along the way - you are now bilingual.
Maybe you just love languages and have dedicated yourself to learning more than one. It’s a rewarding thing to do, but not easy at all. Communication is more than just the words we speak, and there are nuances to language that are much tougher to master.
If you’re reading this, your goal is to master foreign languages so that you can hear and understand them spoken by native speakers and respond intelligently and accurately.
Being an Interpreter
So what’s the difference between being bilingual and being a professional interpreter? The most significant difference is the level of fluency obtained by a professional interpreter is far higher than that of one who is bilingual. A professional interpreter has developed perfect fluency and may speak with a native speaker with a flawless exchange. They have not only learned the language, but they have also studied the culture. So they know the power of silences (and where to place them in conversation). They understand and use voice inflections and gestures.
A professional interpreter is trained to understand and convey a far more in-depth understanding of what one person has said to another. This brings us to some of the other skill-set that a professional interpreter must have or develop:
● Excellent listening skills
● Note Taking
● Stable under pressure
What Qualifications Are Required
While some say that a college degree, to begin with, is a must, others insist that certification is the most important thing. There are several certification boards that one may apply to deepen your knowledge beyond the language and get all of the training you need.
Basic Certification Requirements
The basic requirements for certification as an interpreter are:
● Applicants must be 18 years or older
● High School Diploma or GED
● 40 hours or more of training in their chosen field
● Fluent in English and another language
● Proof of language proficiency
Note that certification incurs fees for exams, tests, etc.
Before we go any further, you should know that there are many fields for a professional interpreter:
● Business Interpreter - Helping business executives to communicate or negotiate with one another.
● Court/Legal Interpreter - Especially requires accuracy and discretion, and a background in law could be an asset.
● Diplomacy Interpreter - For international meetings, i.e., the United Nations.
● Travel Interpreter - Assisting visitors to get along in foreign countries.
● Immigration Services Interpreter - Work with clients and government agencies.
● Health Care/Medical Interpreter - Working in hospitals and medical practices to ensure patients understand their diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.
Each field requires study and training to help you master the foreign language and industry-relevant language, laws, and procedures. Knowing what field you want to get into will determine your training.
Liberty Language Services offers specialized certification in a variety of fields for language interpreters. You may receive your training online or in-person, by licensed instructors. They provide quality services at an affordable cost.
It may be possible to obtain work without certification, but having it will significantly improve your career prospects.
Consecutive or Simultaneous?
We’ve all heard of these two methods, but we may not have realized it. You can be trained to interpret consecutively, which is when you listen to what is being said for a few seconds or moments and interpret what was said. You have to be listening carefully to remember all that they have communicated.
The other method is to interpret simultaneously, which is when you interpret at the exact same time as the person speaking. In this case, you’re interpreting their words as they speak them, so you are talking at the same time.
Commit to Ongoing Development
As with any field, professional interpreters must continue to grow and learn. Language is not stagnated, so anyone working with it must stay current with their languages (and cultures) of choice.
Look for opportunities to improve your listening skills. This may be accomplished by using hearing native content in movies, podcasts, or even the news. There are other methods for sharpening your listening skills, like online immersion platforms.
Consider finding a native speaker who may act as a language exchange partner. Conversations may help you improve your listening skills, stay current with the language, and improve your overall confidence.
Pay and Career Prospects
According to one source, interpreters made a median salary of $49,930 in 2018. The best-paid made $67,660 that year, and the lowest-paid interpreter made $36,470.
The five best-paying cities (in this order) for interpreters are,
● Washington, D.C.
● New York City
● Austen, Texas
● St. Louis, Missouri
● Virginia Beach, Virginia
The five best-paying states (in this order) for interpreters are,
● District of Columbia
● New Jersey
Being a professional interpreter can be a rewarding and well-paid career, but you must first devote yourself to excellence. Master one or more languages you love, while you figure out what kind of interpreter you would like to become. Then research professional certifications, recognizing that you must develop related skills and acquire knowledge about the field you want to enter. Finally, commit yourself to ongoing learning and professional development.
At Liberty Language Services, we have the experience and resources to make your dream of having a fulfilling career as a professional interpreter come true. Good luck!