Career Information

Thanks for your interest in the interpreting and translation profession. It’s a fascinating career full of options. Follow your skills and passions, and you’ll find the right fit.

Interpreting Vs. Translation

The basic difference between interpreting and translating is that interpreters render oral speech from one language into another while translators convert written text from one language into another.

However, the differences in the training, skills and talents needed for each job are vast. Interpreters should have excellent public speaking and interpersonal skills. Interpreters need to be very good listeners, quick at understanding what they are hearing and quick at rendering it into another language without much time to analyze. The interpreter must be able to work well under pressure and react quickly to solve complex linguistic, cultural and ethical problems as they arise.

Translators should have a strong analytical sense, as well as excellent writing and editing skills. Translators also need to be technologically savvy, because they rely on computer-based reference materials, such as electronic dictionaries and translation memory programs. Translators usually work best when translating into their native language. Many translators specialize in certain industries so they can become experts in specific issues, processes and vocabularies.

Interpreting Modes

There are two types of interpreting: consecutive and simultaneous. Consecutive interpreting requires the speaker to stop at the end of every sentence or complete thought so the interpreter can render what was said into the target language. A key skill involved in consecutive interpreting is good note taking, since few interpreters can memorize long sentences at a time without loss of detail. This form is commonly used for most legal and health care settings, including depositions, trials, arbitrations, medical evaluations and more.

Simultaneous interpretation requires the interpreter to listen and speak at the same time. One key skill of a simultaneous interpreter is vocabulary strength. Any delay caused by unknown words or phrases may cause the interpreter to lose a few words—and possibly an important thought. Because simultaneous interpreting requires a high level of concentration, interpreters usually work in teams of two and alternate every 30 minutes. This form is commonly used in a conference or event setting.

American Sign Language Interpreting

You can start learning American Sign Language by attending a sign language class. They’re available at community colleges, universities, libraries, churches, organizations and clubs of the deaf, and lots of other places. You can also expand your knowledge of ASL by practicing signs with people who are deaf or hard of hearing and also know ASL. Generally, people who know ASL are patient about showing new signers how to sign different things and will slow down their signing so that you can understand them too. They’re also willing to repeat words or statements if you don’t understand them the first—or even the second time. Learn more from the National Association of the Deaf.