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Interpreters convert the spoken word from one language into another, either face-to-face or remotely.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: Variable average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 35 to 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll need to be fluent in English and at least one other language. This means that in all your languages you’ll:

  • be able to communicate quickly, smoothly and accurately
  • know and understand informal speech and slang
  • know and understand regional differences in language
  • know the culture of the country where the language is spoken

You’ll usually need:

  • a degree in languages or interpreting
  • a postgraduate qualification in interpreting

UCAS has information on degree courses and entry requirements. 

If you’ve got a non-language degree you may still be able to get into this role if you have excellent language skills.

You may be able to get in without a degree if you have a high level of fluency from living and working alongside native speakers for a number of years. You could then take a Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) course. This may help you to get a role in public service interpreting.

If you want to work in the community and don’t have a degree, you could take a community interpreting qualification. Local colleges and some universities have details of these. This could help you to find voluntary or paid work through councils or other organisations offering community interpreting services.

You can find out more  about becoming an interpreter from the CIOL and the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • a clear speaking voice
  • confidence for interpreting in public
  • excellent concentration and the ability to think quickly
  • knowledge of the field in which you are interpreting

3. What you'll do

In conference interpreting, you’ll:

  • work at national and international conferences, lectures and meetings
  • sit in a soundproof booth listening to the speaker through headphones
  • interpret speeches at the same time as the speaker and pass on the interpreted version through headsets

In consecutive interpreting, you’ll:

  • work at smaller business meetings with 2 or more people
  • interpret after each sentence or passage of speech

In public service interpreting, you’ll:

  • interpret for people using legal, health and local government services
  • check their understanding after each sentence

You may also use telephone, video or internet-based equipment.

4. Salary

Most translators are paid by the hour.

Hourly rates can be between £30 to £60. This will depend on your experience, who you’re working for and how in demand the language is. 

Pay is better in conference interpreting than in areas like public service interpreting. 

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You may have to attend conferences and meetings in the evening or at weekends. Telephone and video-conferencing work with clients in other countries may require flexible hours due to time differences.

Many interpreters work on a freelance basis. Working from home and part-time contract work is common.

Conference interpreting usually involves a lot of travelling. In public service interpreting you’ll work in local government offices, hospitals, immigration centres, law courts, police stations and prisons. You may be called out at short notice for emergency medical or police interviews.

6. Career path and progression

You could become a member of a professional association like CIOL, Institute of Translation and Interpreting, or the International Association of Conference Interpreters.

If you're working in the public sector, you could join the NRPSI.

You could combine interpreting with translating or teaching. You could also move into management. 

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Last updated: 02 April 2018