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How Do I Go into Conference Interpreting?

Large conferences often require simultaneous interpreters.
The Red Cross often seeks volunteers with interpreting abilities.
Sign language interpreters translate spoken language into sign language for the deaf or hearing impaired.
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  • Written By: K. Testa
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2014
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Conference interpreting typically requires an advanced level of education, along with some practical experience. In addition, you can seek certification to qualify for higher-level positions as a conference interpreter. The unique skills needed will vary depending on the type of interpretation. There are a number of different venues and situations that utilize conference interpreting — foreign language interpreting, for example, has different requirements than sign language interpreting. To succeed as a conference interpreter, you also will usually need basic business skills and the ability to stay up to date on developments in the field.

Large conferences often make use of simultaneous interpretation, especially if there are attendees who speak different languages. International conferences frequently employ two interpreters at a time because of the intensity of the work and the amount of concentration required. When accommodations for the hearing-impaired are necessary, sign language interpreting is used as well.

To become a conference interpreter, your educational background should generally include a bachelor's degree and fluency in at least two languages. Students interested in conference interpreting often follow their undergraduate degrees with a master's degree or a certification program. In addition to the academic work, practical interpreting experience is extremely valuable when seeking a high-level conference interpreting position.

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In most cases, you also will need a good memory and excellent listening skills to succeed at conference interpreting. There are certain physical requirements as well, such as good speaking abilities and, for sign language interpreters, manual dexterity. Additionally, an interest in diplomacy or international business is helpful for obtaining certain positions. Likewise, people with international experience and knowledge of other cultures can often find success as conference interpreters.

Certain interpreter jobs might necessitate special skills or certification. Working for the United Nations, for instance, normally requires the knowledge of two foreign languages and the ability to translate them into one native language. In the U.S., after passing certain exams, one can earn certification for conference-level interpreting from the U.S. Department of State. The International Association of Conference Interpreters also offers certification programs.

Conference interpreting is not limited to spoken languages. In many cases, an event might call for sign language interpreting. Aspiring interpreters can be certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), or in the U.S. by the National Association of the Deaf.

Since many interpreter jobs emphasize the value of practical experience, volunteering is a good way to practice and gain skills. There are many opportunities to provide voluntary interpretation, especially in areas where emergencies may call for such services. The Red Cross and similar local organizations often seek volunteers with interpreting abilities, for instance.

Conference interpreting is often a freelance position. As a result, self-employed interpreters typically need some business knowledge, such as knowing how to keep financial records and how to develop strategies for marketing their services. Common advice for someone who hopes to go into conference interpreting normally includes seeking out a mentor. Similarly, it can be helpful to establish a professional network of support. You can keep your interpreting skills current by attending relevant training seminars and pursuing other continuing education opportunities.

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