National Careers Week: Become an Interpreter

In honour of National Careers Week 2017, we’re profiling some of the latest jobs from Careers 2017.

Next in the list of roles is Interpreter – download a PDF of this job profile here:

Interpreter job profile

Qualifications and courses

Fluency in English and at least one foreign language is a prerequisite for those looking to work as an interpreter. Most entrants have a degree in either a modern language, translation and interpreting, or British Sign Language (BSL) and interpreting. Entry requirements for a degree usually include 2 A levels/H grades, including your chosen modern language, and 5 GCSEs/National 5s (A*–C/A–C). A postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in interpreting techniques is normally required.

Joint Honours degrees in science, engineering, the environment, business or politics with your chosen language can be useful for jobs where you will be expected to understand specialist vocabulary and concepts.

The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) offers vocational qualifications including the Level 3 Certificate in Bilingual Skills, the Level 6 Diploma in Public Service Interpreting and the Level 7 Diploma in Translation. Candidates are expected to have achieved the required level of competence in their language.

To become an accredited freelance interpreter for the EU you will have to pass an inter-institutional accreditation test, whilst a short training course is also available in conference interpreting from the European Commission in Brussels.

Qualified interpreters can work towards membership of the IoL or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). These professional bodies provide further training and development opportunities.

What the work involves

Interpreters convert words spoken in one language into conversation or speech in another language. Using your knowledge of foreign languages, you will enable speakers of different languages to communicate with each other.

You could interpret while a person speaks or make notes and then interpret their statements.

Interpreters provide services for international political conferences, court hearings, business meetings and public services.

Type of person suited to this work

  • You must be fluent in at least one, or preferably two, foreign languages.
  • It is also important to be aware of the culture and country of your chosen language.
  • You must have excellent listening skills and the ability to speak clearly.
  • Interpreting at courts and conferences requires a confident manner.
  • You should keep up to date with current affairs as you may interpret on subjects including business and law, or if you are in an alternative field, ensure you are up to date with the latest news in that field.
  • Dealing with confidential information may be part of your job so you will need discretion.

Working conditions

  • Interpreters have to concentrate continuously for long periods which can be physically demanding.
  • You will need to travel to different locations at fairly short notice, either abroad or within the UK.
  • Interpreters work in a range of environments, including highprofile conferences and formal meetings.
  • Hours vary according to clients’ needs and are likely to include evening and weekend work. Freelance interpreters may find the demand for work irregular.

Future prospects

This area of work is very competitive with a limited number of full-time opportunities. A small number of interpreters work for international or European agencies. Others are employed by
local governments and interpret in courts, hospitals and police stations.

You can choose to work within community organisations, helping people gain access to public services. Many interpreters work on a freelance basis.

There is a growing demand for Chinese, Urdu, Punjabi and eastern European languages.

Advantages/disadvantages

  • This type of work provides the opportunity to travel and live abroad.
  • Due to tight schedules and extensive travelling, this can be a pressured and demanding job.
  • Freelance interpreters often need to take on additional work to support themselves.

Money guide

  • Newly qualified interpreters can expect a salary of around £18,000–£21,000 per year.
  • With experience, your earnings can rise to around £30,000.
  • Senior interpreters working for international or European agencies can achieve up to £60,000.
  • Many interpreters work freelance and charge an hourly rate of between £30–£60 depending on their experience, the level of demand for the language they speak and the type of interpreting required.

Further information


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