Interpreter

Languages
Create

Career outlook for

Figures and forecasts for roles at the same level, which require similar skills and qualifications.

Average UK salary

Currently employed in Scotland

Jobs forecast

This information is supplied by LMI For All, where data is currently available for Scotland.

What's it like?

You would help people who do not speak the same language to understand each other. You would translate each person’s spoken words from one language to another.

You’d need to listen very carefully so you can translate accurately. You’d need to concentrate and speak clearly.

There are three main types of interpreting:

  • Conference / simultaneous
  • Consecutive / business
  • Public service / liaison

In conference interpreting you would:

  • Work at national and international conferences, lectures and meetings
  • Listen to speeches through headphones in a soundproofed booth
  • Pass on the interpreted version through people’s headsets

If there are only one or two people who don’t understand the speakers’ language, you would whisper the interpretation to them without the use of equipment.

In consecutive interpreting you would work at small meetings with two or more people. You would interpret after each sentence or passage of speech.

In public service interpreting you would interpret for people using legal, health and local government services. After translating each sentence you’d check that they have understood.

You need to have knowledge of the field in which you are working, for example politics, economics, or trade. You’d also need to understand how native speakers use informal terms and slang.

In addition to face-to-face services, a fast-growing area of interpreting is to use telephone, video or the internet.

Working conditions

Hours

In salaried jobs you would normally work 35 to 40 hours a week, although some may involve longer hours. You may have to attend conferences and meetings in the evening or at weekends. Telephone and video-conferencing work with clients in other countries could require more flexible hours due to time differences. In liaison work you may be called out at short notice for emergency medical or police interviews. Many interpreters work on a freelance basis and part-time contract work is common.

Environment

Places of work vary greatly. Conference interpreting usually involves a great deal of travelling. In public service interpreting you would work in local government offices, hospitals, immigration centres, law courts, police stations and prisons. Working from home, using internet technologies, is becoming more common.

Travel

Conference interpreting usually involves a great deal of travelling.

UK employment status

Full-time

Part-time

Self employed

People behind the job

Meet real people who’ve done this job – hear their stories and the path they took to get there.

Here are some of the skills that people in this job would be most likely to have:

  • Communicating with people
  • Listening to people
  • Using other languages
  • Presenting to people

Build your skills

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you’ll need.

Qualifications

Entry varies for the different types of interpreting.

Most interpreters have a degree (SCQF level 9/10) in interpreting, translating or foreign languages.

Many also have a postgraduate qualifications (SCQF level 11) in translating and Interpreting.

To enter a languages degree (SCQF level 9/10) requires National 5 qualifications and a minimum of three Highers (SCQF level 6) or equivalent qualifications. Some universities ask for qualifications to be gained in one sitting. 

You can also enter a degree with a relevant Higher National Certificate (SCQF level 7) or Higher National Diploma (SCQF level 8). With Advanced Highers, HNC or HND qualification you may enter the second or third year of some degree courses.

Entry to a postgraduate diploma, PgDip (SCQF level 11) in Interpreting/Translating requires a relevant degree. 

Useful subjects

  • English (required by most courses and employers)
  • Modern languages (required by most courses and employers)
  • Maths
  • ICT
  • Social studies such as modern studies or politics

You will also need

To be fluent in at least one language but some roles require fluency in two or more languages. 

Helpful to have

Qualifications and experience that demonstrate the application of linguistic skills such as SQA  Modern Language for Life and Work Award (SCQF Level 3/4) or a willingness to explore languages in greater depth through Advanced Highers or the Scottish Baccalaureate in Languages (SCQF level 7). When choosing a course it is also important that it offers international study and work opportunities.

Once you are qualified membership of The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) may be helpful.

If you have grown up bilingual it may be possible to get work in public service interpreting without formal qualifications; the Certificate in Bilingual Skills or Diploma in Public Service Interpreting offered by Chartered Institute of Linguists may be helpful.