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How to Become an Interpreter

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Interpreters translate spoken words from one language into another in various employment settings. Fluency in at least two languages along with a bachelor's degree are primary requirements for this career. If you have multilingual abilities and excellent communication skills, you can find interpreting jobs in fields like law, medicine, government and business.

Educational Requirements

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Educational paths to becoming an interpreter vary. During high school, you can get a head start by taking four years of a foreign language. Other classes in English and communication are helpful as well. A bachelor's degree is useful, but you have options. A business or communications degree is a good fit. Another approach is to get a degree in a particular sector or field of interest, such as business or science, and take foreign language classes to strengthen fluency. Technical knowledge combined with language skills can propel you into a specific industry. American sign language courses are critical if you want to become an ASL interpreter.

Advanced Education and Training

A master's degree in interpreting or ASL is a tremendous boost to your career options. As an alternative, take training courses during college or after college that teach you professional interpreting skills. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates you can take technical training programs in many fields, such as medicine. Medical interpreters perform a vital role in translating dialogue between patients and doctors when language barriers exist. If you want to become a medical interpreter, a job-specific program teaches you skills necessary for this field. Conferences and seminars are also available to polish industry-specific interpreting skills.


You don't need a license or certification for interpreting, aside from court interpreting testing requirements in most states. However, certifications that prove fluency in languages and interpreting skills give you an advantage. The American Translators Association certifies candidates in many languages. The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators is a major program that certifies courtroom interpreters. Certification is required in court interpreting to ensure accurate communication is presented in a trial when witnesses and lawyers face language barriers during testimony. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf certify ASL interpreters.

Skill Development

Language skills are first and foremost for an interpreter. You must speak each language fluently to interpret. Listening skills are almost as significant, as you must hear the sender's message to interpret it accurately for another person or group. Interpersonal skills allow you to build rapport with coworkers or regular clients for whom you provide interpreting services. Interpreters must also recognize the business significance of interpreting services and demonstrate cultural sensitivity when translating for people from two distinct countries or backgrounds.

2016 Salary Information for Interpreters and Translators

Interpreters and translators earned a median annual salary of $46,120 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, interpreters and translators earned a 25th percentile salary of $34,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $61,950, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 68,200 people were employed in the U.S. as interpreters and translators.