Bilingual Interpreter Job Description
Bilingual interpreters translate statements from one language to another, typically in the legal, healthcare, education, and public service industries. They may translate in real time with both parties present or they might translate written documents. This skilled position is perfect for candidates who enjoy working with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Active listening and clear communication are essential skills for this role. Working hours are usually dependent on the schedule of the interpreter’s clients. If working for a translation company, interpreters report to team leads or project managers. However, many bilingual interpreters are freelancers, in which case they report directly to their clients.
Bilingual Interpreter Duties and Responsibilities
While a bilingual interpreter’s day-to-day responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:
Translate Verbal Interactions
Bilingual interpreters are responsible for translating verbal interactions between two parties in real time. They convey a cultural and professional tone during these interactions, taking careful note of and communicating implied meanings that may not translate directly.
Translate Written Communication
Bilingual interpreters translate written communication between different parties. They ensure that the content is translated correctly and in a way that the client can easily understand. This involves being intimately familiar with the written grammar and style of both languages.
Provide Administrative Support
Bilingual interpreters often provide administrative support to their clients. This includes performing routine tasks such as taking notes in meetings, translating voicemails, and writing memos.
Assist Clients with Daily Tasks
Bilingual interpreters help their clients complete daily tasks that require knowledge of another language. This often includes setting up doctor and dental appointments, registering for classes, and responding to emails, to name a few examples.
Coordinate Cultural Training
If the bilingual interpreter works for a company that hires many other employees who aren’t interpreters, they are often responsible for coordinating and delivering cultural training to their coworkers. Companies like these often work hand-in-hand with people from other cultures, and the bilingual interpreter helps employees understand that culture so they don’t offend anyone.
Bilingual Interpreter Skills and Qualifications
Bilingual interpreters need to be quick on their feet and able to translate on a whim without prior preparation. Employers typically require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in the language they are interpreting and at least one year of interpreting experience. Successful candidates also possess the following skills and qualifications:
- Language fluency – bilingual interpreters are either native speakers or exhibit fluency in both languages for which they are interpreting. Successful candidates can also understand the nuances and cultural implications of both languages
- Translation experience – bilingual interpreters who have previous interpretation experience are better fits for this role. Interpreting is more than just straight translation, and successful candidates will have learned this already through prior experience
- Client management – a successful bilingual interpreter knows how to manage a client and ensure that client’s needs are met at all times
- Active listening skills – a bilingual interpreter’s most valuable skill is the ability to employ active listening at any given moment. They can listen to each speaker and infer the overall meaning of the words spoken or written without hesitation
- Attention to detail – bilingual interpreters are obsessed with details. If they don’t pay attention to even the smallest of details, they may miss an important inflection or word, which can cause problems for both sides of the conversation
Tools of the Trade
Bilingual interpreters often use the following tools in their day-to-day job functions:
- Multilingual dictionaries
- Translation software (Linguee, SDL Trados Studio, Fluency Now)
- Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint)
Bilingual Interpreter Education and Training
Employers require bilingual interpreters to have native or fluent proficiency in both languages for which they are interpreting. Most employers also require candidates to have a high school diploma or GED. While a bachelor’s degree in a related field isn’t required, many job postings list it as a preferred qualification.
Most states require bilingual interpreters to be licensed on either a state or national level before they can provide translation services. Most of the listings we looked at noted the appropriate certifications needed to land the job.
Bilingual Interpreter Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bilingual interpreters – listed under the interpreters and translators category – make a median annual salary of around $46,000. Interpreters in the top 10 percent of earners make as much as $83,000 per year, while those in the lowest 10 percent make as little as $25,000 per year. If they are employed by a corporation, bilingual interpreters typically receive healthcare and paid time off benefits, along with retirement options and occasional performance-based bonuses.
The BLS also reports that the overall interpreters and translators industry will experience an impressive 18 percent growth rate through 2026, which is much higher than other industries. This positive outlook is mostly due to the ever-growing presence of international companies.
Read through these helpful resources to learn more about the role of bilingual interpreter and what you can do to better prepare yourself for the job:
Translation Times – this blog is run by a pair of twins who serve as interpreters in the United States and Austria. They post regularly and cover a wide variety of topics ranging from courtroom translation to negotiating skills for translators
Certified Translation Professional Group – this LinkedIn group serves as an invaluable resource to anyone experienced in the interpreter field and to anyone who’s new to the industry. You can join this group to network, find job opportunities, and get further training and advice from industry experts
Interpreters & Translators: Stories from People Who’ve Done It – written by a professional interpreter, this book is filled with real-world stories from her experiences. It covers topics such as the history of interpreting, how the industry looks today, and the different types of interpreting
Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World – authors Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche focus on the ways translation and interpreting affect the world, covering a huge variety of topics that range from religious texts to peace treaties
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