An interpreter


Interpreters understand and convert spoken communication from one language to another. They retain considerable amounts of information, often with note-taking, and communicate it immediately after while keeping the nuances and stress of the message in the recipient language.

Interpreters typically do the following duties:

  • Listen to spoken words in one language and accurately convey the meaning in another.
  • Interpret after the speaker has finished a speech segment, providing the translation in segments.
  • Provide real-time interpretation while the speaker is talking, often used in conferences or large events.
  • Understand and convey cultural nuances, idioms, and expressions to bridge language and cultural gaps.
  • Some interpreters specialize in specific fields such as legal, medical, technical, diplomatic, or conference interpretation.
  • Prepare for assignments by researching relevant terminology, industry-specific jargon, or background information.
  • Remain neutral and impartial, refraining from adding personal opinions or biases to the interpretation.
  • Work closely with clients, speakers, and other stakeholders to communicate effectively.
  • Adapt to different accents, speaking styles, and regional variations in languages.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to interpreter:

sworn interpreter
telephone interpreter
business interpreter
advocate interpreter
television interpreter
remote interpreter
bilingual health advocate
consecutive interpreter
medical interpreter
conference interpreter
bilateral interpreter
community interpreter
guide interpreter
court interpreter
social interpreter
police interpreter
simultaneous interpreter
public service interpreter

Working conditions

Interpreters may work in various settings, including conference venues, courtrooms, hospitals, international organizations, or remotely via virtual platforms. The nature of the job often involves irregular hours, especially for interpreters covering events or conferences in different time zones.

Minimum qualifications

A bachelor’s degree in interpretation, languages, or a related field is common for interpreter positions. Fluency in at least two languages, including a deep understanding of the cultures involved, is essential. Specialized training or certifications in interpretation methods and techniques are valuable. Practical experience gained through internships, volunteer work, or entry-level positions contributes to the development of interpreters. Continuous professional development, staying updated on language developments, and networking within the language services community contribute to the ongoing success of professionals in this dynamic field.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Interpreter is a Skill level 4 occupation.

Interpreter career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to interpreter.

sign language interpreter
interpretation agency manager
translation agency manager
lawyer linguist

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of interpreter.

  • Interpreting modes: The various ways of translating a language orally, such as simultaneous, consecutive, relay, whispered or liaison.
  • Spelling: The rules concerning the way words are spelled.
  • Grammar: The set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of interpreter.

  • Speak different languages: Master foreign languages to be able to communicate in one or more foreign languages.
  • Translate spoken language consecutively: Translate what a speaker says when the speaker pauses after two or more sentences, accurately and completely and based upon your notes. The speaker will wait until the interpreter finishes before proceeding.
  • Perceive the context: Use situations and contexts to more fully grasp the meaning of what is said. Understanding the people involved and the situation, such as mood and setting, will allow for a more accurate interpretation because the interpreter will be acquainted with the speaker’s position.
  • Master language rules: Master the techniques and practices of the languages to be translated. This includes both your own native language, as well as foreign languages. Be familiar with applicable standards and rules and identify the proper expressions and words to use.
  • Follow interpreting quality standards: Follow the agreed-upon standards to ensure that the requirements for interpreters are met and to guarantee unity. This may include such standards as the European standard EN 15038 for translation.
  • Work analytically: Analyse information flows to reconstruct messages quickly and precisely. Navigate a language to explain the same sense or feeling in situations with no definite word or literal translation.
  • Develop a translation strategy: Perform research to understand the subject material better and formulate the right questions to get the information needed.
  • Follow an ethical code of conduct for translation activities: Carry out translation activities according to accepted principles of right and wrong. This includes fairness, transparency, and impartiality. Do not use judgment or allow personal opinions to affect the quality of the translation or interpretation.
  • Interpret spoken language between two parties: Convert one spoken language to another in order to ensure communication between two parties who do not speak a common language.
  • Observe confidentiality: Observe the set of rules establishing the nondisclosure of information except to another authorised person.
  • Translate spoken language simultaneously: Translate what a speaker says accurately and completely at the same rate of speech without any lag time.
  • Manage a good diction: Speak clearly and precisely so that others understand exactly what is being said. Pronounce words accurately so as not to make mistakes or unintentionally say something incorrect.
  • Memorise large amounts of information: Retain large amounts of information and take notes for accurate interpretation.
  • Preserve meaning of original speech: Translate speech without adding, changing or omitting anything. Make sure the original message is conveyed and do not express your own feelings or opinions. Work to keep the intended meaning.
  • Update language skills: Research or practice language skills to stay current with language changes in order to translate best or interpret.
  • Perform bilateral interpretation: Understand and interpret oral statements in both directions of a language pair, while maintaining the speaker’s communicative intent.
  • Translate language concepts: Translate one language into another language. Match words and expressions with their corresponding brothers in other languages, while preserving the original text’s message and nuances.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of interpreter. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Medical terminology: The meaning of medical terms and abbreviations, of medical prescriptions and various medical specialties and when to use it correctly.
  • Court interpreting: The form of interpreting where it is mandatory to accurately translate everything the source says in order not to mislead the people who have to make judgments on the cases.
  • Chuchotage interpreting: The act of providing individual simultaneous interpreting in a low voice to a small audience. This type of interpreting entails no specialised equipment and it is targeted to the few who do not understand the language spoken.
  • Tape transcription: The act of translating spoken utterances into written text format.
  • Linguistics: The scientific study of language and its three aspects, language form, language meaning, and language in context.
  • Technical terminology: Type of language used in a certain context, containing terms that have a meaning specific to a particular group or activity, such as in industry, medicine, or law.
  • Phonetics: The physical properties of speech sounds, such as how they are produced, their acoustic properties and neurophysiological status.
  • Semantics: The branch of linguistics that studies meaning; it analyses of words, phrases, signs, and symbols and the relation between them.
  • Scientific research methodology: The theoretical methodology used in scientific research involving doing background research, constructing a hypothesis, testing it, analysing data and concluding the results.
  • Unseen translation: The translation technique whereby unseen extracts from Latin and Greek prose or verse are presented to translators for them to translate the excerpts perfectly in a determined language, for instance English. It aims to evaluate vocabulary, grammar, and style and increase linguistic knowledge.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of interpreter. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Write research proposals: Synthetise and write proposals aiming to solve research problems. Draft the proposal baseline and objectives, the estimated budget, risks and impact. Document the advances and new developments on the relevant subject and field of study.
  • Interpret languages in conferences: Put into practice techniques for interpreting information, either written or spoken, at conferences. Maintain accuracy and nuances of the message from one language to the other.
  • Type texts from audio sources: Listen to, understand, and type content from audio sources into written format. Keep the overall idea and understanding of the message together with relevant details. Type and listen to audio simultaneously.
  • Use consulting techniques: Advise clients in different personal or professional matters.
  • Provide advocacy interpreting services: Provide language interpretation services aimed at helping people belonging to minority communities get their message across, irrespective of the language.
  • Translate texts: Translate text from one language to another, conserving the meaning and the nuances of the original text, without adding, changing or omitting anything and avoiding expressing personal feelings and opinions.
  • Conduct scholarly research: Plan scholarly research by formulating the research question and conducting empirical or literature research to investigate the research question’s truth.
  • Liaise with government officials: Consult and cooperate with government officials who handle matters that is relevant to you or your business.
  • Answer incoming calls: Respond to customers’ inquiries and provide customers with appropriate information.
  • Interpret languages in live broadcasting shows: Interpret spoken information in live broadcasting outlets whether in a consecutive or simultaneous fashion for interviews, political speeches, and public announcements.
  • Perform sworn interpretations: Interpret discussions and legal trials under the oath that the interpreting activities are performed by somebody endorsed by the local or national authorities.
  • Consult information sources: Consult relevant information sources to find inspiration, to educate yourself on certain topics and to acquire background information.
  • Show intercultural awareness: Show sensibility towards cultural differences by taking actions that facilitate positive interaction between international organisations, between groups or individuals of different cultures, and to promote integration in a community.
  • Communicate with target community: Identify and implement the best communication channels for the community you are looking to work with.
  • Provide interpreting services in tours: Interpret information imparted by guides during tours in other languages.
  • Develop technical glossaries: Organise technical terms used e.g. in scientific and legal settings into terminology databases and glossaries to aid future translations.
  • Perform sight translation: Read documents aloud in a language different from the language in which the document is written.
  • Create subtitles: Create and write subtitles to ensure they synchronize with the dialogue.
  • Operate audio equipment: Apply technologies for re-creation or recording of sounds, such as speaking, and sound of instruments in electrical or mechanical form.
  • Preserve original text: Translate texts without adding, changing or omitting anything. Make sure the original message is conveyed. Don’t express your own feelings and opinions.
  • Write scientific papers: Present the hypothesis, findings, and conclusions of your scientific research in your field of expertise in a professional publication.
  • Communicate by telephone: Liaise via telephone by making and answering calls in a timely, professional and polite manner.

ISCO group and title

2643 – Translators, interpreters and other linguists

  1. Interpreter – ESCO
  2. Featured image: Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
Last updated on December 31, 2023