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How to Become an Interpreter

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

This is a question I get a lot. Although there are many different paths one can follow to become an interpreter, I am going to share some tips based on my experience and the most common pathway followed by other colleagues.


Before we dive in, please take this into consideration:

  • The information shared is from personal experience based on how the majority of practicing interpreters I know, including myself, have become interpreters.

  • There are many different ways one can become an interpreter. This is just one of them.

  • Based on where you are located, this may or may not apply to you. Different countries have different regulations for practicing translation and interpretation.

1. Develop linguistic proficiency in at least two languages


Linguistic proficiency in at least two languages is the core skill needed to work as an interpreter. You can develop linguistic proficiency in many different ways:

  • Native speaker: Learning a language in the place where you were born and/or raised as a child, rather than learning it as a foreign language.

  • Heritage speaker: Learning a language informally by being exposed to it at home but this language often becomes secondary to the language in which you are receiving formal education and mostly used outside the home.

  • Language immersion: Living in countries where they speak the language.

  • Foreign language learning: Attending formal foreign language classes.

  • Self-taught: Learning the language by exposing yourself to TV, books, songs, and native speakers of the language.


2. Prove linguistic proficiency


"I think I can speak the language, but how do I know if it's enough to interpret?" This is another question I get often.


To prove to yourself and future clients or employers that you have sufficient linguistic proficiency to work as an interpreter in your language pair, you can take a language proficiency test.


In my case, for example, I have a Bachelor's Degree from an institution of higher education from a Spanish-speaking country. That alone can serve as proof of my proficiency in Spanish for most employers or clients.


However, I never took formal English classes and I had never lived in an English-speaking country. So, to prove proficiency in English I had to take the TOEFL exam.


The NBCMI and CCHI, which are the two certification programs available for interpreters in the healthcare field have established the minimum scores required in various language proficiency tests accepted by these institutions.


You can check out that list for reference to decide which language proficiency test to take and to have an idea of what scores would be acceptable.


Even if you don't plan on becoming certified right now, it may be a good idea to take a language proficiency test so you can provide a numeric reference of how well you can speak your languages.


3. Take some classes.


This step is a must and it's best to do it sooner rather than later. While it's not mandatory to have a degree in translation and interpretation (T&I) to work in the field, you will soon realize that being bilingual alone is not enough to succeed.


The T&I industry is booming but with that comes increased competition for job openings. Having some formal training will give you a competitive advantage.


Once you decide what is the field of expertise where you want to start (community, medical, legal, etc.) you can look for classes or courses tailored to that. Nowadays, there are many options for classes online both self-paced and live, as well as in-person classes in colleagues and universities.


If you are having a hard time deciding how to choose the right interpreter training for you, you can check out this video I made on my YouTube channel with some tips.



4. Create a resume.


It's important to start working on your resume as soon as possible, even if you feel you don't have enough experience (or no experience at all) working as an interpreter. Without a resume, you can’t even begin to opt for opportunities.


Preparing a resume force you to assess your skills and to dig deep into your background to pinpoint what experience may be relevant in the interpreting world.


You may be wondering, what in the world am I going to put in that resume? Well, you may be surprised by the amount of transferable experience and skills that most likely you have and that you can use to create a resume for a career change.


I highly suggest you check out this article with great resume writing tips for changing careers.


5. Create a LinkedIn profile


Once you create your resume, it will be easy to start working on your LinkedIn profile.


I can tell you that I found most of my clients through LinkedIn. To learn more about how to make the best use of LinkedIn as a translator or interpreter, check out this video I made on YouTube.


6. Learn about the industry


This is something they don't usually teach you in school, but it's very important to learn from the beginning, is who's who in the language services industry.


You can use this shortlist as a guide to starting your research about key players in the interpreting world:

  • Professional associations: You can start by looking up local interpreter associations in your state or your city and then expand your search at a national level where there are large associations for interpreters in different fields (IMIA, NAJIT, AAITE, etc.)

  • Credentialing organizations: Find out what credentials or certifications are available in the field where you want to specialize and visit their website, sign up to their email list and follow them on social media to stay informed of industry events and free workshops.

  • Fellow interpreters: Many interpreters have professional blogs, websites, and social media where you can learn a lot about the interpreting career from the information and experiences they share.

  • Language services providers: Learn about the leading companies that provide language services. Find out what is the main type of interpreting services they offer (telephonic, video, in-person), what industry they serve (medical, legal, government, customer service, etc), what type of positions they offer (employees, contractors, both), etc. It's important to know this because these are your potential employers or clients.


7. Join a professional association


Joining a professional organization or association offers a lot of advantages to new interpreters. It shows you are seriously committed to the profession and that you are actively engaged in your professional development.


They offer unique opportunities to connect with other professionals in the industry and definitely enhance your business profile. Plus, most professional associations offer regular continuing education opportunities at no additional cost or at least at a reduced cost for their members so that's another advantage of becoming a member of one.


8. Start networking


Once you become familiar with who's who and what's what, it's time to start networking. You can start posting about your new career change on social media so colleagues and potential recruiters can start noticing you.


Another way to engage with others is by reaching out asking for advice and asking questions.


Participating in industry events (online and in-person) is another great way to grow your network and get leads to potential opportunities.


9. Volunteer


It's undeniable that across all industries having some volunteer work in your resume looks good, and the language services industry is no exception.


Volunteering offers great advantages because it gives you the opportunity to meet new people who can become potential clients, it helps you develop and refine interpreting skills, and it obviously gives you the chance of gaining work experience in your field (yes, volunteer work is still work) which in turn will make you more employable.


10. Apply for jobs


If you've followed the steps suggested, you should be ready to start applying for jobs. One thing you should know is that in the T&I industry many opportunities are not what is considered traditional employment but rather contract work on an as-needed basis. Either way, the application process is very similar.


You can find out about open positions on mainstream job search websites such as Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, LinkedIn (of course), and others.


Also, visit language services providers' websites because many times they have special links where you can upload your resume and create a profile and you might be surprised by an offer even if there was no active listing for a position.


What about certifications?


Since this post is intended to be a simple roadmap on how to get started, I have not included certifications as one of the recommended steps for a few reasons.


This is just a general reference for those interested in becoming an interpreter and depending on which field you may be interested in, there may not be a formal certification. For instance, there is no certification available for those who interpret in the immigration field.


However, I do promote and encourage certifications as part of your career path and that's why I have suggested you do your research about that. Ultimately each one of us is responsible for creating our own path so it's totally up to you if you want to become certified before you apply for your first job.

 

Remember that patience and perseverance are key in this process. It took me weeks and weeks of research, emails, filling out forms, and tweaking my resume before I landed my first opportunity.


I hope this helps bring some clarity as you embark on this new career field and don't forget to have fun and enjoy the whole process!












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Hello Rosa! I started university this year with my study subject being German for translating and interpreting. Today I found your youtube channel when searching for some tips and tricks about said interpreting... gotta say, I love it! The videos are very straight to the point and even though the languages I am doing are different from yours, (the being Czech <-> German) and only doing theory so far at the university, I still find your pieces of advice about being better at taking notes and much more really helpful. Much love from Czechia, Europe! :)

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