Interpreter Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

An Interpreter, or Foreign Language Interpreter, is responsible for using their knowledge of multiple languages to help people communicate with one another, despite language barriers. Their duties include traveling with clients to assist them in communicating with those who speak different languages, translating spoken presentations or speeches for multilingual audiences and helping translate spoken words into written messages.

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Interpreter Duties and Responsibilities

An Interpreter position carries the responsibility of conveying another individual’s thoughts and intentions. While the translation itself may not be exactly what the person is saying, the Interpreter has to discern how the comment is meant to be received while maintaining the integrity of the conversation. Interpreters are often expected to be able to:

  • Translate a question or request clearly and accurately, conveying phrasing and intention as it relates to the subject.
  • Convert dialogue and convey the intent of the original speaker, understanding that many idioms and slang terms do not translate exactly between languages.
  • Assist the company with written and oral communication as needed.
  • Submit translations to appropriate management for review as needed.

What Does an Interpreter Do?

Interpreters typically work for courtrooms, global corporations, schools, government agencies and hospitals, but they may also be self-employed. They use their expert knowledge of one or more languages to oversee effective communication between two or more individuals. Their job is to listen to spoken statements from one individual before processing that statement and translating it as accurately as possible to the other person(s) present. They may also provide comfort and familiarity to those from other countries who have a little-to-no understanding of the native language.

Interpreter Skills and Qualifications

An Interpreter should have a variety of skills and qualifications including:

  • Communication: Successful Interpreters will have a variety of skills and qualifications. Most important in this role is the ability to communicate across cultures in a variety of media. Communicating clearly in both written and verbal capacities is an important part of interpreting.
  • Fluency: An interpreter must have native-level proficiency in a minimum of two languages.
  • Technological proficiency: Familiarity with digital communication avenues, including live chat, email and text.
  • Sufficient education: A bachelor’s degree in a second language or linguistics is often a minimum requirement for this position.
  • Clarity: The ability to clearly relay ideas across cultures is integral to the role because phrasing can be interpreted differently between languages.

Interpreter Salary Expectations

The average Interpreter salary is $20.70 per hour.  Higher rates are standard with more technical positions and government jobs. Hourly rates may also depend on the scope of requirements for a specific position.

Interpreter Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is encouraged for anyone interested in becoming an Interpreter, but native-level language proficiency in at least two languages is sometimes an acceptable prerequisite. Fluency in written and verbal communication is also important in this role because communication in both areas is integral to the position. Federal and state positions require certification from a university or other accredited institution.

Interpreter Experience Requirements

Typical work experience requirements for the Interpreter role include previous positions involving verbal and written translations of business correspondence. Work history that includes email communication, explaining policies and regulations and business-specific jargon related to a company’s interests is often desired by employers.

Internships and volunteer positions with documented use of translation services in the desired industry are also recommended if other work history is not adequate.

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Frequently asked questions about Interpreters

 

What is the difference between an Interpreter and a Translator?

Although some people use the titles Interpreter and Translator interchangeably, there is a difference between these two roles. Interpreters typically work to translate verbal messages from one language to another. In contrast, Translators typically work to translate written messages from one language to another. For example, in a courtroom, an Interpreter helps translate a witness statement and ask the witness questions in their native language on the lawyer’s behalf. In contrast, a Translator works with a publishing company to translate a novel from French to English.

 

What are the daily duties of an Interpreter?

On a typical day, an Interpreter starts by checking their email and phone messages. They respond to clients and confirm their availability to assist their clients at a particular event. Throughout the day they attend one or more appointments to enlist their services. Within corporations or government agencies, Interpreters help company executives or government officials partake in meetings with international representatives. At schools, Interpreters work with one or more students who have little-to-no knowledge of the native language and remain with them for the day to help them learn and communicate. 

Interpreters employed by hospitals work closely with Doctors and Nurses to help communicate patient concerns, explain treatment options and update families on their loved one’s conditions.

 

What qualities make a good Interpreter?

A good Interpreter is someone who uses their foreign language skills and compassion for others to help enhance communication between people of different cultures. They should have a personable nature that allows them to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds. They should also be experts in the languages they speak to ensure they provide accurate translations between two or more people. 

A good Interpreter should also know not to discuss their clients and specific events outside of work. This is especially important when working in hospitals and courtrooms as it ensures the safety of confidential information. They demonstrate a commitment to continued education by participating in seminars and certification courses related to interpreting foreign languages and cultures. 

 

Who does an Interpreter report to?

Interpreters can report to a variety of roles, depending on their place of employment. For example, Interpreters working for a courthouse may report to the Courthouse Manager to assist in cases that involve foreign language speakers. In contrast, Interpreters who work for hospitals may report to the Patient Care Coordinator or the Family Liason.

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