What does an Interpreter do?

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In today's world, effective communication across language barriers is crucial. Whether it's facilitating international business meetings, aiding in legal proceedings, or providing assistance in healthcare settings, the role of an interpreter is indispensable. In this article, we will explore the responsibilities, skills, and various types of interpreters, shedding light on their valuable contributions to bridging linguistic gaps.


Language is a powerful tool that connects people, but when individuals do not share a common language, communication becomes challenging. This is where interpreters step in to facilitate understanding and ensure effective communication between parties who speak different languages. An interpreter acts as a linguistic bridge, enabling smooth and accurate exchanges of information.

Definition of an Interpreter

An interpreter is a language professional who specializes in oral translation. They possess exceptional linguistic skills, fluency in multiple languages, and a deep understanding of cultural nuances. Interpreters are proficient in both the source language (the language being spoken by the speaker) and the target language (the language into which the interpreter translates). Their primary role is to convey messages accurately and faithfully, maintaining the intended meaning and tone of the speaker.

Roles and Responsibilities

Interpreters have diverse roles and responsibilities depending on the setting in which they work. Some of the key responsibilities include:

Facilitating Communication

Interpreters facilitate communication between individuals or groups who do not share a common language. They listen carefully to the speaker, process the message, and then convey it in the target language to ensure effective understanding.

Maintaining Neutrality

Interpreters must remain neutral and unbiased, refraining from adding their personal opinions or biases while interpreting. Their role is to faithfully translate the speaker's words without distortion.

Cultural Mediation

Interpreters often act as cultural mediators, bridging the gap between different cultural backgrounds. They help navigate cultural nuances, ensuring that the message is culturally appropriate and understood by both parties.


Interpreters adhere to strict confidentiality guidelines. They must maintain the confidentiality of all information they encounter during their work, respecting the privacy of the individuals involved.

Required Skills and Qualifications

To excel as an interpreter, certain skills and qualifications are essential. These include:

Language Proficiency

Interpreters must have an exceptional command of at least two languages: the source language and the target language. They should be able to understand and interpret complex concepts accurately and fluently.

Cultural Knowledge

A deep understanding of different cultures is vital for interpreters. Cultural knowledge helps them navigate cultural differences and ensures accurate interpretation while respecting cultural norms.

Listening and Speaking Skills

Interpreters must possess excellent listening and speaking skills. They need to listen attentively, comprehend the message, and deliver it clearly and fluently in the target language.

Subject-Matter Expertise

In certain fields, such as legal or medical interpretation, interpreters need to have specialized subject-matter expertise. This allows them to understand and accurately translate complex terminology.

Types of Interpreters

Interpreting is a diverse field with different types of interpreters specialized in various settings. Some common types of interpreters include:

Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpreters provide real-time interpretation during conferences, meetings, or large events. They listen to the speaker through headphones and simultaneously interpret the message into the target language using specialized equipment.

Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive interpreters translate after the speaker finishes speaking. They take notes during the speaker's speech and then render the message into the target language during pauses.

Liaison Interpretation

Liaison interpreters facilitate communication between two individuals or small groups. They assist in business meetings, negotiations, or informal settings where direct interaction is necessary.

Community Interpretation

Community interpreters help individuals access essential services such as healthcare, social services, or legal assistance. They ensure effective communication between service providers and individuals with limited proficiency in the local language.

Conference Interpretation

Conference interpreters specialize in interpreting during large conferences or multilingual events. They work with simultaneous interpretation systems and often collaborate with a team of interpreters.

Legal Interpretation

Legal interpreters assist in legal proceedings, ensuring accurate and impartial interpretation. They play a critical role in courtrooms, police stations, and other legal settings.

Medical Interpretation

Medical interpreters bridge the language gap between healthcare professionals and patients who do not speak the same language. Their accurate interpretation is vital for delivering quality healthcare services.

Sign Language Interpretation

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals and those who use spoken language. They convert spoken language into sign language and vice versa.

Challenges Faced by Interpreters

Interpreters face various challenges in their profession, including:

  • Linguistic Complexity: Interpreters often encounter complex concepts and specialized terminology, requiring quick thinking and accurate interpretation.
  • Emotional Strain: Interpreters may deal with emotionally charged situations, such as traumatic events or sensitive conversations, which can be emotionally challenging.
  • Time Pressure: Simultaneous interpreters, in particular, work in high-pressure environments that demand quick and accurate translations.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Interpreters need to navigate cultural differences and maintain sensitivity to ensure effective communication.


Interpreters play a vital role in facilitating effective communication across language barriers. They possess exceptional linguistic skills, cultural knowledge, and subject-matter expertise, enabling them to bridge the gap between languages and cultures. Whether in legal, medical, conference, or community settings, interpreters ensure that communication is accurate, culturally appropriate, and accessible to all parties involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an interpreter?

Becoming an interpreter depends on various factors, such as the language combination, educational background, and individual aptitude. Typically, it requires several years of language study and training to develop the necessary skills.

Can anyone become an interpreter?

While anyone can aspire to become an interpreter, it requires a specific set of skills, including language proficiency, cultural knowledge, and the ability to handle high-pressure situations. Extensive training and experience are essential for success in this field.

Is interpretation the same as translation?

No, interpretation and translation are distinct disciplines. Interpretation involves oral translation, facilitating real-time communication, while translation deals with written documents. Both require linguistic skills, but they differ in terms of mode and purpose.

Can interpreters work remotely?

Yes, with advancements in technology, remote interpreting has become more prevalent. Interpreters can provide their services remotely through video conferencing platforms, allowing them to work with clients worldwide.

How do interpreters maintain accuracy and impartiality?

Interpreters maintain accuracy and impartiality by faithfully conveying the speaker's message without adding personal opinions or biases. They strive to faithfully translate every nuance while respecting the speaker's intentions.