Dream Careers – Interpreter/Translator


Would you like to help people understand each other? Interpreters and translators assist people who don’t speak the same language to understand each other. As the global marketplace continues to evolve, their role is becoming ever more vital to the economy.

What They Do

Interpreters work with people who don’t speak the same language, usually in a live conversation setting. They first listen in one language, and then communicate what was said to one or more listeners in another language. A translator does similar work, converting important documents from the language in which they are written to another.

Both interpreters and translators have superb English skills and a near-perfect understanding of another language. They find ways to communicate not just literal meanings, but ideas and figurative concepts that may be specific to a particular culture. Some interpreters specialize in converting spoken languages into sign language.

Some interpreters or translators are employed by multinational corporations, consulates, or other large companies that need them full time. Other interpreters and translators sign on with agencies that place them. One in five interpreters or translators is self-employed. As an interpreter or translator you will do some or all of the following:

  • Interpret statements after the speaker has finished
  • Interpret ongoing speech simultaneously (the speaker continues to talk)
  • Travel with clients to meetings, appointments, and even internationally
  • Listen to recorded speech in another language, and then explain it to listeners
  • Translate documents from one language into another
  • Testify in court about interpretations of language
  • Market your services or apply for assignments


Who is Likely to Succeed

Successful interpreters like to work with people in fast-paced environments, enjoy travel as part of their jobs, and have a genuine regard and sensitivity for other people’s cultures and customs and nuances of language. A good memory is also an asset.

Successful translators don’t have to be as proficient in people skills, but must be superb wordsmiths in both English and another language. Of course, the more languages you are proficient in, the better. Asian and Middle Eastern languages are particularly in demand at this time.

How to Learn It

Some people who have foreign-born parents have been interpreting and translating for them since childhood. This hands-on working knowledge helps many interpreters and translators even before they begin using their skills to make a living.

Begin by determining which language, other than English, you want to focus on. This will probably be easy to decide if you come from a bilingual family or already know a second language. Enroll in language classes that are appropriate to your level of skill.

It is generally agreed that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. Ideally, you should travel to the region where the language is spoken and stay there for several months. When you are forced to use the language daily, the learning process is fast-tracked. If you have a basic knowledge of the language, ask questions about words or phrases that have complex meanings.

If it’s not possible to travel, then listen to radio and TV programs in the foreign language in order to get used to the cadence of speech and accents. Read books that are familiar to you in foreign languages, and compare the texts to see what words are used. For a win-win exchange, you can also teach or volunteer to work with ESL (English as a Second Language) students or anyone who is new to the country.

Many interpreters and translators pursue college educations, and focus on one or several different languages. Also, don’t neglect your English skills.

You can learn more about careers in interpreting and translating from the American Translators Association (www.atanet.org) and you can find a list of Canadian organizations at the website for the Canadian Translators, Terminologists, and Interpreters Council.