What Does an Army Interpreter Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An Army interpreter provides oral and written translation to facilitate communication between members of the military and diplomats, local residents, and other parties. This requires a high degree of competency in one or more foreign languages. Sometimes foreign language training may be provided, while in other cases, people who are already fluent may be recruited to meet an immediate need. Over time, the military’s need for interpreters can shift, depending on where it is currently conducting operations. People interested in careers in this field may want to talk to a recruiter to obtain a list of preferred languages.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

Militaries need media translation to understand what is being said on television, radio, and in print. The Army interpreter can review these sources, prepare translations, and generate reports highlighting the most important information. Conversely, interpreters may generate foreign language materials on behalf of the Army so it can distribute information in local communities. For example, this member of the staff might be asked to work on a brochure with information about how to report unexploded ordnance.

Oral communications can also require an Army interpreter. These may include negotiations for services and supplies, questioning at checkpoints, and interrogations. In diplomatic settings, an Army interpreter may provide services to help people communicate. This can be helpful when members of the military want to improve community relations and work directly with local leaders. They can utilize an interpreter to enable discussion between military commanders, local officials, and respected individuals in the community.

Checkpoints and inspection stations may keep an Army interpreter on staff to talk with people who may be moving through these points. This can reduce the risk of confusion or dangerously escalated situations. A driver who doesn’t understand directions, for example, might appear to be a threat to soldiers, who could open fire. Using an interpreter to relay instructions and provide information about the purpose of the checkpoint can help keep the driver calm and ensure the situation is quickly resolved.

There may be a longer commitment requirement for an Army interpreter, reflecting the need for talented personnel and the difficulty involved in training them. People who provide these services require special training and mentoring to develop skills, and a regular four year enlistment may not be worth this investment. By asking people to stay for a longer term, the Army can benefit from their services longer, and recoup the investment made in recruitment and training.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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