Interpreting (or interpretation) is an activity that consists of facilitating oral or sign language communication, between two or more speakers who are not speaking (or signing) the same language.

Interpreters can work in a variety of settings such as international events and conferences; at technical, business, legal or political meetings; at court hearings; and at police interviews.

There are two types of interpreting: consecutive and simultaneous.

In the most popular form of simultaneous interpreting the interpreter sits in a booth wearing a pair of headphones and speaking into a microphone so that delegates at a meeting or conference receive a real-time account of what is being said in a language they understand.

Consecutive interpreting is used for smaller meetings, discussions between individuals, politicians or journalists and the interpreter gives an accurate account of what a speaker has said immediately after they have spoken. During consecutive interpreting the speaker stops every 1-5 minutes usually at the end of every paragraph and the interpreter then steps in to render what was said into the target language. A key skill involved in consecutive interpreting is note-taking, since few interpreters can memorize a full paragraph at a time without loss of detail.

In addition to the above there is also whispered interpreting. In whispered interpreting (chuchotage, in French), the interpreter sits or stands next to the small target-language audience whilst whispering a simultaneous interpretation of the matter to hand; this method requires no equipment. Chuchotage is used in circumstances where the majority of a group speaks the source language, and a minority (ideally no more than three persons) do not speak it.

Qualifications of a good interpreter include:

Knowledge of the general subject of the speeches that are to be interpreted.

General erudition and intimate familiarity with both cultures.

Extensive vocabulary in both languages.

Ability to express thoughts clearly and concisely in both languages.

Excellent note-taking technique for consecutive interpreting.

At least 2-3 years of booth experience for simultaneous interpreting.

Because of the very different nature of contact, interpreters can expect to travel frequently. They need to work well with people in groups and on a one-to-one level, be presentable and quick-thinking.

The institutions of the European Union (EU) jointly constitute the largest employer of interpreters, with the majority working in the Commission or European Parliament. The Commission currently uses up to 800 interpreters, set to rise to 900 in the near future.

Within the the UK Civil Service, there are occasional specialist vacancies for interpreters in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). There are very few other interpreter posts in the UK. It is rare for even very large industrial and commercial organisations to have in-house interpreters, either in the UK or elsewhere.

Freelancing is increasingly dominating the proffession. Within the public sector the Border and Immigration Agency has a very large pool of freelance interpreters that they use at nearly 100 locations in the country. Each freelancer has an approved qualification or attends an assessment/training programme.

Interpreters with a diploma in public service interpreting are employed in public services such as health, law (including work as court interpreters) and local government. African and Asian languages, including Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali and Turkish, are most in demand.

International organisations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) normally employ members of the Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC). The United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also employ interpreters and use many world languages. Most members of the AIIC (about 400 with English mother tongue) are freelance.

Andy Green is a recruitment consultant at a specialist job portal for finding language jobs

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