How to become an interpreter

Find out about the different types of interpreting and the skills and qualifications you need to make it your career.

Do you speak two languages fluently? That's a great start. However, to become a professional interpreter, as well as outstanding language skills in at least two languages, you also need to have a deep understanding of both cultures, and a broad range of interpreting skills.

Bath University

Find out more

What does interpreting involve?

Translation and interpreting are different disciplines. Interpreters work with the spoken word whereas translators work with the written word.

Official interpreters need to have outstanding language skills in at least two languages, be confident linguists, have a deep understanding of both cultures and, above all, master the art of interpreting.

Interpreting assignments can entail working under pressure, travelling a lot, last minute call-outs and working out of hours. But don't be put off by this, as you'll find the thrill of interpreting more than makes up for it.

In practical terms, no two days in an interpreter's life are ever the same. The variety of subjects is astonishing, assignments are often exciting, and you're always out and about and talking to people.

Interpreters make it possible for people to have a voice and be heard by rendering what is being said into another language. Helping people communicate is a truly rewarding experience.

In short, interpreting is a wonderful career, whether freelance or in-house.

Career options for interpreters and types of interpreting

If you are considering a career in interpreting, there are three main career areas for interpreters: Conference interpreting, Business interpreting and Public service interpreting.

Conference interpreters

Conference interpreters

Conference interpreters can be employed as in-house staff interpreters by large international organisations such as the UN and EU, or they can be freelancers working at large international events and conferences, at political events, European works council meetings or trade fairs.

The main type of interpreting used for conference interpreting is simultaneous interpreting.

The interpreter works with a colleague in an interpreting booth. The speaker at the meeting talks into a microphone and the interpreter instantaneously transfers the message via a microphone to the delegates in their target language.

In many simultaneous conferences, the interpreter will be interpreted onward by other booths (relay interpreting), e.g. Turkish speaker >> English booth >> Korean booth >> Korean delegates' headsets. Similarly, in many conferences, bilingual booths are used, with the interpreter working in more than one language.

Read more about the 'A', 'B' and 'C' languages used by conference interpreters.  

Business interpreters

Business interpreters interpret for business people, often at company meetings, training courses, business negotiations or any kind of company event. They are something of a hybrid form, as this work is sometimes undertaken by conference interpreters or public service interpreters.

The main type of interpreting used for business interpreting is consecutive interpreting. This is where the interpreter sits with the delegates and listens to the whole speech (which may last up to 20 or even 30 minutes) and then renders it into the participants' own language.

Notes may have been provided beforehand by the speaker(s), to give the interpreter background to the meeting. Note-taking skills (such as the Rozan method) are taught on interpreting courses and the interpreter's notes need to be standard so they can be deciphered easily by colleagues. 

Whispered interpreting (or chuchotage) is also used for business interpreting. This is where the interpreter stands or sits beside the delegate and interprets directly into their ear.

Public service interpreters

Public service interpreters

Public service interpreters work in a number of settings, which largely fall into two categories:

Police and Court interpreters work in a legal environment in a variety of situations: interpreting for police interviews, attending court cases and working with the prison service. This type of work often entails extensive training and rigorous screening.

Community interpreters work in the health and/or local government sectors (e.g. job centres, education, and housing), covering various situations including interpreting for hospital patients, helping people access essential educational services or assisting with housing issues.

Most public service interpreters choose to be listed on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), as well as being members of ITI.

Sight translation and telephone interpreting are also useful skills to have.

In public service interpreting, liaison (or ad hoc) interpreting is commonly used, whereby the interpreter renders the speaker's speech or live presentation into the target language a few phrases at a time. For one-to-one situations, whispered interpreting (chuchotage) can be used. 

Remote interpreting is sometimes used in public service interpreting, where one or more speakers are not in the same room as the interpreter and they communicate with him or her via telephone or Zoom, for example.

How can I become an interpreter?

Conference interpreters are expected to have an MA in Interpreting (sometimes called an MA in Interpreting and Translation, a European Masters in Interpreting, or similar).

These are offered by many universities in the UK and abroad. Many of the universities in the UK offering an MA in Interpreting or equivalent qualifications are Corporate Education members of ITI. On our Universities and courses page you can see a list of these universities, details of the courses they offer and links to their websites.

There is no specific university training for business interpreters, although they tend to have trained as conference and/or public service interpreters.

Public service interpreters generally obtain the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), an MA in Public Service Interpreting (offered by some universities) or a similar qualification from abroad.

Practising and keeping up to date

Practising and keeping your language skills up to date is vital. Professional development events in the UK and abroad are highly recommended.

Details of interpreting events are published on the ITI events calendar. Subscribing to and reading high-quality publications, as well as watching films, will ensure you are up to date with your languages.

Still have questions?

You can find out more about working as an interpreter in our online seminar, Starting Work as a Translator or Interpreter.

Explore these resources to help you get started in a career in interpreting. 

Universities and courses

Universities and courses

These universities are Corporate Education members of ITI offering postgraduate or equivalent qualifications in translation and/or interpreting


Launching your career as a professional translator or interpreter

An introduction to the profession for anyone considering a career in translation or interpreting.