[A collaboration post – all thoughts are my own.]
Becoming an interpreter is not as easy as becoming a translator. If you’ve been working hard to learn a language, you know how irritating it may be when you find yourself unable to completely communicate yourself to the other person. In a career that gives you a sense of purpose, you may help others solve that particular issue as an interpreter.
But, what’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?
A translator works with written languages and must be exceptionally good at reading and writing, whereas an interpreter works with oral languages and needs to have great listening and speaking skills. Typically, both professions call for a bachelor’s degree. Languages other than English, communications, and linguistics are also helpful, as are specialist courses in business, law, engineering, or medicine.
How to Become an Interpreter
Work with your language skill
Almost everyone can learn a second language given enough time, effort, and effective learning methods. Of course, there’s a difference between learning Japanese well enough to order sushi in Tokyo and having the professional competency to interpret for Kōrō-shō (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare).
Do not give up on your dream of being an interpreter if you are unsure of your abilities. I used to act as a liaison between my Russian supervisor and the staff, who were from Indonesia. I had to deliver my director’s message to the Indonesian staff directly because he only speaks English. This comes from my experience when talking with native speakers as well. Others only need to put in a little more effort and practice in the right areas; while some people may have a natural ability for learning and understanding languages.
Determine your language strengths and weaknesses to help you become more at ease with grammar rules, learn vocabulary, understand native speakers, and master the native accent.
Commit to learning languages
Achieving professional-level fluency to work as an interpreter, unless you were born bilingual, is not a feat for the weak of heart. There are various ways to learn and develop your target language, but getting to the point where you can do professional interpretation is undoubtedly going to take some time.
Being a professional interpreter requires far more advanced language study than being a hobbyist. The challenges that appear impossible and the times when you want to give up must be overcome. And, even when you’re fluent, you can’t stop learning.
Understand the cultural contexts
As a translator, I understand that it is not always necessary to understand grammar and vocabulary when translating documents. Those are the only two aspects of language. The many aspects of a language’s structure and function reveal the ideas, values, perspectives, and history of the language and its speakers. You must learn your target language in the context of its constantly changing cultural environment if you want to understand the people who speak it.
Although reading newspapers and books is a fantastic way to stay updated, keep in mind that print media isn’t the best source for interpreters because their major roles are speaking and listening. A convenient method for learning both the language and the people who speak it is through movies and TV shows. You can learn to listen, speak, and think like the locals by watching videos from around the world.
Stay up to date with all of your languages
Being updated in your native language is generally not something you think about, yet it is essential if you want to be a successful interpreter. Your ability to keep up with language changes and growth will determine how successful you are as an interpreter. Even if you reside halfway around the world from where it is most generally spoken, you can easily find modern information in just about any language thanks to the power of the internet.
Learn to be confidential
Instead of the interpreters, the speakers must be the main focus of interpretation. You must simply express what the speaker is saying without adding or removing facts, regardless of how strongly you may feel about a certain topic. It should also go without saying that all conversations you interpret are private and confidential, regardless of how entertaining they may be.
Choose your type of interpretation
There are two types of interpretation. They are:
- Simultaneous interpretation: where you interpret the words as the speaker talks.
- Consecutive interpretation: where you interpret once the speaker pauses.
The conditions and environment of your chosen field will frequently determine the type of interpretation required. I am personally comfortable with consecutive interpretations. Both simultaneous and consecutive interpretation training are available, and some schools provide combined programs that teach students both.
Interpreters can work in a wide range of professions and specialize in specific subjects of interpretation. Here are some of the career options available to interpreters:
- Medical interpretation
- Legal interpretation
- Conference interpretation
- Tourism interpretation
Research certifications for your field
Although certifications aren’t always required, they might be quite helpful to your work as an interpreter. The majority of certifications are specific to the area of interpretation and evaluate your proficiency in both general language usage and subject-specific knowledge. Having official certifications can improve your job prospects and help you increase your earnings. Naturally, it requires time and money to get and maintain your certification, which often needs to be renewed every few years.
Personalize your education
Most professional interpreters will require a high school diploma as a minimum. A bachelor’s degree is frequently a requirement for becoming an interpreter. Of course, the type of interpreter you want to become will also influence your educational needs.
There are numerous ways to proceed if you want to get your bachelor’s degree and become a paid interpreter. A good place to start is to check whether your college or institution offers an interpretation course or degree program. If not, finding specialized interpretation programs all over the world can be done using this list as a starting point.
Practice with real language resources
We’ve all had amusing and humiliating moments of misinterpreting someone in our native language as well as our target language. I got that so many times! Naturally, you’ll want to minimize the chances of this happening, especially in a professional situation.
You could watch movies, listen to audiobooks, or listen to podcasts in your target language. Through practical and realistic situations, you can improve your listening skills while brushing up on written language, cultural nuances, and more with the help of such tools.
An interpreter can benefit greatly from having a language exchange partner who is a native speaker of their target language. This is one of the reasons I’d like to meet native speakers on Tinder. Your conversations will keep you up to date on the language, boost your speaking confidence, and improve your listening skills, regardless of the topic. Use a video chat service like Skype to virtually meet a language exchange partner if you can’t find a native speaker in your area.
Another tip from me is to consider joining an association of professional interpreters. I joined the Association of Indonesian Translators, and this is a fantastic way to keep up with the latest professional news, meet colleagues, and learn from their experiences. They also offer their members formal training, and some even list members in a professional directory that may lead to greater job chances. You might join a broad group such as the American Translators Association.
Whatever path you take, use these resources as a road map to becoming an interpreter. You can achieve your goals of interpretation with proper planning and effort!