The goal of our ‘Language in the Workplace’ series is not just to share stories from people who practice their languages in their respective workplaces, but to illustrate to our community where and how you can apply what you’ve learned and perhaps find meaningful work or even a successful career using your multiple languages. In this post, Gio Donatelli of the Virginia Institute of Interpreting, outlines what it takes to be an interpreter.
by Gio Donatelli
Imagine that your doctor walks into your hospital room, looks at a clipboard, furrows his brow, looks at you and starts talking. But you have no idea what he’s saying. Or, perhaps you are calling your bank because you see an error in your account but the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t understand what you are asking. For many immigrants around the world, language barriers lead to difficulties communicating, and become a frustrating way of life. An increasing variety of linguistic minorities has created a growing niche for education and careers for those who speak more than one language.
As a Livemocha community member, you may have started your language pursuits for hobby or travel, but these new-found skills hold value you may not have considered. With your bilingualism, you have the opportunity to earn a second income or even change your career path altogether by becoming an interpreter.
So, what does an interpreter do? It may seem simple but a professional interpreter plays a key role in facilitating communication in all kinds of multilingual settings, where speakers want to express themselves in their own language and still understand one another. For example, professional interpreters are frequently used at conferences, during negotiations, press briefings, seminars, depositions, medical encounters, and in government services, you name it!
Interpreting: A Hot Career Field
Is your current career fulfilling? Does your family need extra income? Are you looking for a new career path? While other industries have been on a hiring freeze, the world of language services is booming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpreters and translators can expect much faster than average employment growth. They predict employment of interpreters and translators to increase 22 percent over the 2008–18 decade, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations.
The hot job market for interpreters shows no signs of cooling. With many areas of the country currently experiencing shortages of interpreters and translators, government agencies and companies are trying to fill in the gaps by hiring people with high-level language skills. This could be you! Within the interpreting industry there are a range of career options available. Some examples might include:
- Working for national and international corporations
- Working for language services providers, on-site or remotely
- Assisting individuals and families with their social services interviews in order to qualify for Food Stamps and Medicaid
- Interpreting in foster care appointments or housing assistance appointments
- Helping refugee status seekers complete their application process
- Assisting in law enforcement situations
Does Interpreting Fit Your Personality?
Have you always dreamed of helping others? Do you find it rewarding when you can help someone else achieve a goal? Are you patient? Do you like people? These are basic questions, but important to know about yourself if you want to consider being an interpreter. Here are some of the key skills that interpreters make use of at one time or another. See if you can answer yes to most of these:
- a polished command of your own native language
- a complete mastery of your non-native languages
- a familiarity with the cultures in the countries where your working languages are spoken
- a commitment to helping others communicate
- completion of good, professional training
- the ability to concentrate and focus as a discussion unfolds
- a friendly attitude
- calm nerves, tact, fair judgment, and a sense of humor
- a willingness to adhere to rules of conduct (e.g. confidentiality)
How to Get Started
Being bilingual is an excellent skill, but there is much more to being an interpreter than just speaking the language. Fluency in another language means being able to comprehend and speak at the level of an educated native speaker. As a LiveMocha graduate, you have completed this first step in becoming fluent. However, interpreting, like any other profession, requires practice, experience, and training. If you want to start down the path of becoming an interpreter, here are some tips to get you started:
Step 1: Get Trained – The first thing we encourage people interested in becoming an interpreter is to get some sort of training. Interpreting requires very specific skills, starting with effective listening and an enhanced capacity for concentration, short-term memory retention, sight translation, note-taking, techniques like consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, and delivery modes like on-site, telephone, and video. Specialized knowledge is also required, including accepted standards of professional conduct for interpreters, how the language industry works, and what to expect when getting an assignment. All of these skills and knowledge are best acquired through formal training.
Step 2: Get Tested – Another resume builder is to take language proficiency tests such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) or other language proficiency tests to show potential clients that you are indeed fluent in your specific language.
Step 3: Gain Experience – The next step is to gain experience. Start seeking volunteer opportunities to act as an interpreter and gain experience. Make sure to write these down and track them in order to show samples of your work to potential clients and get recommendations.
Step 4: Market Yourself – After getting credentials and some experience, it’s time to market yourself to law firms, police stations, government agencies, and language agencies that may need interpreters. Most interpreters work on a contract basis, not as full time employees. A great way to market your services is to start a website or blog and join the active community of online language professionals. Become a member of professional associations like the American Translators Association and list yourself on online professional directories.
Step 5: Get Specialized Credentials - Once you have learned the skills and knowledge that will turn you into a professional interpreter, you have the opportunity to train in specific subject matters and/or techniques. You may also be able to take a test to become certified. For instance, legal and medical interpreting certifications are available in several countries for a few language combinations. But even if certification is not available in your language combination, getting a credential that shows that you have had formal specialized training will help you open many doors.
Becoming an interpreter is extremely rewarding and whether you choose to take this path as a part time or full time career, you will love it. Good luck!
About the author:
Giovanni Donatelli is President and co-founder of the Virginia Institute of Interpreting. Mr. Donatelli has also owned a successful language services firm since 1999. In his work servicing national companies as well as government entities, he discovered a need not simply for interpreters, but for the far more important need of well-trained, qualified interpreters. That discovery became the inspiration for him to co-found V.I.I. A frequent national speaker, Mr. Donatelli currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Association of Language Companies (ALC). Mr. Donatelli has a degree in finance from Virginia Tech and speaks Italian and English fluently. For more information, please visit http://www.viied.com or www.facebook.com/interpretereducation.