Interpreters use their in depth knowledge of a second language to help people communicate in a variety of settings including political, business and public service environments

As an interpreter, you'll need to listen to, understand and memorise content in the original source language and then reproduce it in the target language. All interpreting work relates to verbal communication rather than the written word.

Interpreting is usually done in only one direction, normally into your native tongue, but you may be required to interpret on a two-way basis.

You may carry out interpreting in person or by telephone, video conferencing and internet-based technologies (remote interpreting). Interpreting can be done in different ways:

  • simultaneous interpretation (SI) - you'll typically sit in a soundproof booth and immediately convert what's being said. Listeners hear the interpretation though an earpiece while the speaker is still speaking. Bilingual booths are used at many large conferences. A variation of this is chuchotage (whispered interpretation), where you will sit near one person or a small group and interpret straight into their ear as the speaker carries on. This may be used at formal dinners, business meetings or political settings.
  • consecutive interpretation (CI) - you'll listen to the speaker talking for typically five minutes or more (possibly up to 30 minutes) and then interpret what's been said into the target language. You may need to take notes to help during long speeches. This is mainly used in smaller meetings such as business meetings, training and presentations.
  • liaison interpretation - also known as ad hoc and relay, you'll typically interpret into and out of the target language a few phrases at a time. You may also use chuchotage in one-to-one situations. Liaison interpretation is common in public service interpreting and at smaller meetings or negotiations.
  • sign language interpretation - you'll convert spoken statements into sign language and vice versa. Interpreting from one sign language to another is also an option. Sign language interpreting is usually simultaneous and you'll typically take turns with other interpreters of about 30 minutes each, as this method demands such high levels of concentration.

Types of interpreter

There are three main areas of interpreting:

  • conference - where simultaneous interpreting is the main form of interpretation used. You could work in-house for a large international organisation or as a freelancer working within large international conferences and events, European council meetings, political events, lectures and trade fairs.
  • business - smaller functions such as company meetings, negotiations, business discussions, training, business/factory tours, or formal dinners. This work could be undertaken by either conference or public service interpreters.
  • public service interpreting (PSI) - includes the criminal justice system, police and probation service interviews, court hearings, solicitor interviews, arbitration hearings, immigration tribunals and local government meetings. PSI can also include community assignments within social services, housing, work, health and education.

You may work across all areas of interpreting, but specialising in a certain area, such as conferencing or legal work, is common.


As an interpreter, you'll need to:

  • listen carefully to what the speaker is saying
  • assimilate speakers' words quickly, including jargon and acronyms
  • build up specialist vocabulary banks
  • reproduce what has been said in the relevant language
  • write notes to aid memory
  • use equipment such as microphones and headsets where appropriate
  • prepare paperwork - reviewing agendas or notes before meetings, or lectures and speeches when received in advance
  • conduct research to make sure you're fully informed on topics before assignments
  • organise workload and liaise with internal departments, agencies and employers
  • work to a professional code of ethics covering confidentiality and impartiality.


  • The majority of roles are freelance, and rates can vary widely depending on your experience and qualifications, type of interpreting, location and level of demand for the combination of languages you're offering. You will need to consider what you set as your hourly, half day and full day rate.
  • The highest paid jobs tend to be based outside the UK. Working conditions and pay are considerably better in the private market sector for conference interpreting than in the UK's PSI/commercial agency sector.

It may be difficult to sustain a stable income from interpreting unless you're employed by one organisation as a conference interpreter or by several agencies. You may need to take on additional employment, for example in translation, teaching or training.

Working hours

As a freelance interpreter, your working hours will be flexible. Business, routine medical and court-related assignments tend to take place during office hours. However, evening and weekend work is not uncommon, especially for police interviews and emergency medical care, where you may be called upon to work at short notice.

Interpretation assignments vary in length. You may be needed for anything from a couple of hours to a whole day. In some instances you may be asked to travel with the party for which you’re interpreting.

What to expect

  • You can be based in a variety of settings depending on the area of interpreting you work in. This may include a conference centre, office or business premises, at a police station, court, prison or hospital. In some roles, you could spend a lot of time working on the telephone.
  • You're likely to find work through networking and registration with professional directories or language agencies. It can take time to become established and build a regular client base.
  • Opportunities for employment may arise anywhere, especially for community-based assignments and telephone work. The main centres for international conferences include Brussels, London, New York, Geneva and Paris.
  • Business or smart casual dress is usually required, with the exception of telephone interpreting, which is normally done from home.
  • The role requires a huge amount of concentration and sometimes working under pressure, which can be tiring. However, helping people to communicate is often very rewarding.
  • You may be required to be away from home overnight or to be abroad for long periods depending on your assignment.


As well as being fluent in two or more languages, you're expected to have a relevant qualification either at a degree level or, preferably, at a Masters level.

Undergraduate degrees that help to demonstrate your skills and knowledge include:

  • interpreting and translation
  • modern languages
  • British Sign Language (BSL) and interpreting
  • deaf studies.

An MA in Interpreting is available and many employers will look for this qualification particularly in conference interpreting. If you want to work within the public sector, the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), or an MA in public service interpreting is usually needed. Business interpreting doesn't have specific training requirements but interpreters in this field have typically come from either conference or public service interpreting and so are likely to have one of the above qualifications.

Some universities that offer relevant postgraduate qualifications are Corporate Education Members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). You can see a full list of them at ITI Universities and Courses.

You can also search postgraduate courses in interpreting.

To work as a sign language interpreter, you'll usually need as a minimum a level 6 Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting, or a postgraduate degree in interpreting or translation. To join the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD), you must complete one of their approved courses. For Scotland, see The Scottish Register of Language Professionals with the Deaf Community (SRLPDC).

Having specialist knowledge of a certain area in which you'd like to carry out interpreting work, such as science, engineering, the environment, business, economics, law or politics, can be helpful, as this shows employers that you understand the specific terms and vocabulary.

If you have a languages HND or foundation degree, you'll usually need to progress to degree-level study in order to secure an interpreting position.

Getting an interpreting job with no formal qualifications is unlikely unless you have substantial language skills and proven experience through, for example, a bilingual upbringing, residence abroad or regular work with speakers of a second language.


You'll need to have:

  • an excellent command of English and the other language(s) you'll use
  • knowledge of at least one additional language for freelance interpreting, and two or more for a staff position in conference interpreting
  • excellent communication skills in order to reproduce accurately what the speaker has said
  • a good memory and the ability to learn fast
  • active listening skills
  • analytical skills so that you can quickly and accurately analyse a message
  • the skills to interact well with people and work as part of a team
  • resilience and the ability to work well under pressure
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods of time
  • time management and organisation skills
  • the ability to use discretion and maintain confidentiality on the matters you're interpreting
  • flexibility to deal calmly with unexpected and difficult situations
  • reliability, dedication and commitment to projects
  • note taking skills (for consecutive interpreting)
  • knowledge of and interest in current affairs, politics and different cultures and customs.

In addition, if you're carrying out conference and court interpreting, you must be a confident public speaker and have a clear speaking voice.

Work experience

It is possible to get an internship with an interpreting agency, which will help you gain experience and find out whether you would enjoy the career.

Some Corporate members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) offer internships to students and graduates. These are with language service providers (LSPs) and may be remote or office-based opportunities that can last from one to six months. They are available throughout the year but are most common in the summer. See ITI Internships for a list of organisations that offer internships. You will need to contact the company directly to apply.

You may also be able to get work experience, either paid or voluntary, with local councils or other organisations that provide community interpreting services.

Other useful experience includes language and interpreting projects from your undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications, examples of how you've used your other language(s) in practice, or any other work you've carried out in a foreign language.

Living or working in another country can also be beneficial as you will get a feel for different accents, colloquialisms and dialects, as well as an understanding of the culture of a place. These are useful skills to have when interpreting.

Experience that demonstrates your skills and knowledge in a particular area in which you'd like to interpret are also useful, for instance community work, attendance at business meetings and conferences or legal practice.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


In all sectors and settings the profession is dominated by freelance interpreters, with few full-time jobs advertised each year. It may take a while to build up regular assignments and to begin with you might need to supplement your work with other employment.

When jobs do arise, typical employers include:

  • national and international governments and institutions
  • international organisations, such as UNESCO and NATO
  • private sector businesses, such as larger multinational companies, legal firms or media, although most interpreting work here is arranged through agencies
  • academic institutions, for international conferences
  • language agencies
  • public services - police, courts, local authorities, social services departments
  • NHS
  • charities and non-governmental organisations
  • international exhibitions.

Look for job vacancies at:

Only a small number of roles are advertised through these sources. You can advertise your freelance interpreting services on databases held by professional bodies and networks, such as:

Business and public sector organisations are increasingly outsourcing their interpreting requirements to specialist language agencies. You should use speculative applications in order to approach agencies when seeking work.

Specialist interpreting and translation companies include:

Competition is fierce, particularly amongst the major European languages. Despite this, demand for interpreters continues to grow as public services regard the use of community languages as an issue of equality and diversity.

Professional development

While your degree or postgraduate qualification may have given you the required academic training, many of the core practical skills needed in interpreting are gained on the job.

It is extremely useful to get membership with a relevant professional body as they can provide access to training and networking opportunities. You will also need to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career and they can also support with this. Get more information at:

Keeping up to date with developments in your particular area of work is vital, especially in business and politics. You must also practise and keep your language skills up to date.

Once you have built up some experience you may want to consider becoming a chartered linguist. This provides you with enhanced professional and public recognition which can help with securing work.

Career prospects

Career development can be quite varied, depending on the sort of work/life balance you would like.

Developing a successful career as a freelance interpreter requires a proactive approach to networking. This means keeping in touch with key professional bodies, interpreters' groups and potential employers, both nationally and internationally. You should also try to attend workshops and seminars to find out more about sources of work and work providers.

It's possible to move into training or management roles within your particular sector once you've built up a good level of experience. This can involve training other interpreters or, as a conference interpreter, recruiting teams of interpreters for private employers.

For many freelancers, career development means the ability to select more interesting or better-paid assignments.

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page