How to be a language interpreter or translator

language interpreter shaking hands with a client

Learn about the jobs of language interpreter and translator

A language interpreter changes spoken words from one language into another language. A translator changes written information from one language to another language. There is great demand for interpreters and translators in newcomer communities. These jobs are very important. They help immigrants and refugees to communicate and succeed in the United States.

About the job


The duties of a translator are to change document from one language to another and to make sure their translation is accurate. It is also the job of the translator to make sure they use clear and precise words in the language they are translating to. This is especially important with difficult documents such as legal papers.

The duties of a language interpreter are to take the meaning of someone’s else words, listen, and get the meaning across in another language. 

In both jobs, an important duty is to make sure that the meaning of the original speaker or writer is clear. This means it is your duty NOT to add or take away meanings.

Watch a video about the duties of a language interpreter or translator


Interpreters may work anywhere from a school to a refugee camp to a business boardroom. Translators can usually work at home or in their own office. Interpreters may need to travel a lot.


Full-time interpreters and translators from $25,000 to more than $83,010. But many work as volunteers.

About the person

This is an excellent job for someone who wants to help people from their own background who does not speak English. A language interpreter may find himself or herself in a difficult or sensitive situation. For example, you may interpret in a legal hearing or doctor’s office. The right person for the job will be calm and keep a professional manner in all situations. If you like writing and are a clear and grammatical writer, then translation would be a good fit for you.

Qualities you should have

  • respect for others
  • truthfulness
  • good concentration
  • good at listening
  • cultural awareness (understanding different perspectives)
  • trustworthy (keeping things private)
  • adaptable (ability to work in difficult situations)
  • precision (ability to convey small details and difficult points correctly)

Skills you will need

  • fluency in at least two languages
  • excellent grammar and writing skills (for translation)
  • some knowledge of medical and legal terminology (if you are translating or interpreting for legal clients and medical patients)
  • computer skills, especially document formatting (for translators)

Get qualified

Bilingual skills are the most important qualification for an interpreter or translator. You probably already have those. There are credentials you will need for certain jobs.


A degree in English or your other language will help you get translating and interpreting jobs for large organizations. Also you can take some courses specifically about translating and interpretation.

These courses do not certify you, but they do train in skills you will need to be good at your job.


You will need certification to work as an interpreter or translator in government, in law, or in healthcare.


Experience is the best training for translators and interpreters. If you live in a neighborhood with many newcomers, you will find many ways to get experience translating and interpreting. You can volunteer wherever you are needed.

  • Ask your local school if they need help interpreting for parents or translating schoolwork for students.
  • Your local healthcare center and hospital may need volunteers to help patients understand instructions and documents.
  • You can help at newcomer centers and other community organizations.
  • Offer your services to Tarjimly an on-demand translation service for refugees.

More resources

Refugees shaking hands

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