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Interpreting is the transfer of one spoken or signed language to another. Interpreters work in a wide range or different settings – from international conferences and business meetings to courts and doctors’ surgeries.
Interpreting is not the same thing as translation, although they require some of the same skills. Interpreting is a close to immediate transfer of something that has been written or signed, while translation involves producing a written text from a ‘source text’ in a different language, over a longer period of time. It is a very demanding occupation but it can also be fun and exciting. Like any occupation it has pros and cons, but some of the things interpreters love about the job are the chance to hear and speak several languages, very varied work, having to think on their feet, the opportunity to travel and gain an insight into other cultures, working with different colleagues every day, and being able to help people who otherwise could not communicate.
Most interpreters enjoy a great deal of variety in their day-to-day work, and if they are self-employed they can combine interpreting with any number of other activities. Many self-employed interpreters also work as translators, proof-readers or teachers. You will find interpreters helping people to communicate during GP appointments or police interviews, in war zones, in company meetings, or at summit meetings involving heads of state and government.
Most interpreters have a degree. Conference interpreters generally have a degree in languages or interpreting as well as postgraduate training. For other interpreters, the degree may be in languages or a different subject.
Public service interpreters need to gain the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, offered by the Institute of Linguists Educational Trust (IoLET). They can then join the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. All interpreters need to keep up to date with changes in their subject fields. Several professional associations offer training courses, conferences and networking opportunities.
Salaries for in-house interpreters start from between £18,000 and £26,000 a year.
Senior interpreters working for major institutions, such as the European Union or United Nations, may earn up to £60,000.
Most interpreters work freelance, agreeing set fees with employers. A national agreement sets guideline rates for interpreters working in the criminal justice system. Otherwise rates depend on the language combinations and the sector, but may range from £200 to £700 per day.