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Hola! Como esta? Quiere bailar conmigo esta noche? Si? Que bueno! Estoy muy feliz!

Hmm...I think that was Spanish....Do you know? If you do, maybe you'd like to work as an interpreter!

Interpreters are experts in at least two languages. In the US, they are fluent in either English or Spanish as well as one other of the world's many languages. They work for government agencies, court systems, individuals and businesses, either as full-time employees, freelancers, or as representatives of a interpretation agency. They translate spoken word from one language into another, trying to get the translation as accurate and quickly as possible.

Interpreters work in one of two ways. Some work as simultaneous interpreters. They listen to the speaker and translate the language at the same time it is being spoken. This requires extreme fluidity between languages, and excellent concentration skills. This is used at conferences when attendees want to follow discussion as it happens. It may also be used in some court proceedings or during debates or speeches, or situations when time is of the essence.

The other type of interpretation involves pauses--the interpreter waits for the speaker to break, and quickly translates what has just been said. Either that, or the two have pre-planned set pauses in which to translate. This is called consecutive interpretation, and comes up in most situations when the exact interpretation is crucial. This type of interpretation is used when witnesses and victims testify in court. It requires good note-taking and a good memory.

As well as having excellent language skills, interpreters must have a good understanding of other cultures' traditions, expectations, and signals. They often travel and live in the places where their second language originates, in order to have a good understanding of the people and their behaviors. This helps with their interactions during their interpretation work, as they can interpret not only their words, but their ideas, their body language, and their gestures. By understanding their background and the cultural environment in which they were nurtured, it becomes easier to understand what it is they are saying.
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in working as an interpreter? Interpreters need to be intelligent, and interested in linguistics, the formation of languages, and the cultural use of languages. They need to be fluent in at least two languages. They also need to be flexible, adaptable, and think well on their feet. Interpreters must be able to work well independently and with others., Interpreters need to have a good memory and concentration abilities. They also require good diction, a clear speaking voice, and good social skills. Translators need to be open and understanding of other cultures and beliefs, and should be a patient, empathetic person by nature. They should also have a good head for business, as they may have to work as a freelance interpreter.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Translate speakers' words into English, either during a pause or simultaneously
  • Study and practice languages constantly
  • Research cultural differences
  • Interpret these cultural identifiers and behaviors
  • Analyze and resolve conflicts related to the meaning of words and concepts
  • There is no such thing as a typical day for an interpreter. Each day will involve some translation, but the circumstances and locations change all the time. The interpreter must spend some time promoting their services if they are freelancers, or they must meet with supervisors and other interpreters if they work for an agency or a business or organization. Interpreters may travel, especially if they work with a tour group, a traveling dignitary, or a government official.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Interpreters can freelance or work by contract, either independently or as part of an agency. They offer their services to conference organizers, court systems, tourism boards, and tour groups. Some work as personal escorts or guides, for government departments, international businesses, and international agencies and non-profit organizations. Those interpreters with less common languages, like Farsi, might have slower work schedules than interpreters who speak fluent Spanish or French. Those interpreters with popular language skills may even find themselves in salaried, full-time work.
  • Interpreters work wherever they are needed. They can work in office buildings, attend parties, visit jail cells and government events. They may work alone, unless they work as simultaneous interpreters. These interpreters must translate as the speaker talks. This is hard work, so these interpreters work in teams, switching off every 20 minutes. All interpreters sometimes find themselves at work in the evenings and on weekends. They may also work as translators.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Interpreters can work as translators, or open their own interpreting agency. They can become English as a second language teachers, they can become high school, university, and college language instructors. They can become immigration advocates, lawyers, diplomats, tour guides, linguists, or journalists. They can become creative writers, editors, literary translators, and travel writers. They can find work in any field that involves working closely with language, as well as other people.

  Educational Paths  
Interpreters must have a mastery of both English or Spanish and another language. Fluency isn't enough, either, they need to understand things like root words, slang, dialects, intonation, and grammar rules for both languages. Therefore, they need to get a Bachelor of Arts in the language they choose to interpret, rounded off by a few courses in current affairs, linguistics, politics, business, law, psychology, and social science. They may then choose to take a specialized translation course. People wanting to work as tranlators may also consider completing a graduate program in translation and interpretation. Interpreters who want to work for the United Nations must be skilled in three of the six official United Nations languages, so get started soon!

It is a good idea to get in as much practice as possible. Travel, or live abroad for a while, to gain a good understanding of the language. Volunteer to interpret or translate for non-profit organizations in your community.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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