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The Interpreting Profession


Interpreting is a highly skilled profession that requires training, education, and experience. Professional interpreters work to overcome language barriers and facilitate equal access to services and education

Interpreters convert one spoken language into another, in real time. With few exceptions, it is not possible to put a conversation on hold while the interpreter does lengthy research, or edit what has already been said. Interpreters must know both the concepts and the words — and ideally the culture and context behind the words — in two or more languages.

Communication between languages is more than just getting an idea across. There are ambiguities and subtleties in every language, and misunderstandings occur when these are left out of the message.

Professional interpreters conserve the full meaning and intent of the speaker, taking into account style, tone, dialect, and cultural differences to accurately and completely transfer concepts, thoughts and ideas between languages.

Professional interpreters must continually improve their skills and knowledge.

Get the Full Meaning of the Message

What nuances of a language can affect interpreted communication?

  • Style, tone of voice, inflection, and hesitations are non-verbal cues important to the intent of the speaker.
  • Cultural differences, including value systems, patterns of behavior, and particular modes of thinking and expression, are essential to understanding the viewpoint of the speaker.
  • Dialect and use of idioms can easily lead to confusion and misunderstanding between speakers.

Court and Administrative Hearing Interpreting

Court and administrative hearing interpreters are highly qualified interpreters who work bi-directionally in court proceedings and administrative law involving non-English or limited English proficient (LEP) speakers. Court interpreters ensure that LEP defendants, witnesses and other stakeholders have access to justice. In many instances, certification based on standardized testing of interpreting skills, is obligatory for court and administrative hearing interpreters, as they are duty bound to provide an accurate and complete interpretation, maintaining the same language register as the speaker, omitting nothing. Court interpreters provide linguistic access, so that LEP defendants may hear the evidence, assist in their own defense, confront witnesses, and communicate effectively with the court during court proceedings and trials. Court interpreters also interpret for victims and witnesses who are LEP. Administrative hearing interpreters help LEP claimants or persons seeking government relief understand the proceedings they participate in. They must be well versed in a number of government benefit systems and knowledgeable in medical terminology. Often, administrative hearing interpreters provide services for proceedings related to Social Security Disability, Employment Disability, Medicare (or comparable systems provided by states individually), the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc. Court and administrative hearing interpreters work in the simultaneous and consecutive modes, and must be competent in sight translation. These interpreters also work in other settings where professional and highly qualified legal interpretation is required, such as depositions, arbitrations and mediations.

For more information, please check your local state court interpreter certification program or:



Conference Interpreting

A conference interpreter is a professional language and communication expert who conveys the meaning of a speaker’s message orally and in another language to listeners who would not otherwise understand. Conference interpreters may work in binational or international meetings. The work of a conference interpreter involves real time analytical work and oral performance, which is quite distinct from written translation and requires different training and qualifications.

Conference interpreters work in the heat of debate, thinking as they speak. Conference interpreters usually work from one or several foreign languages into their mother tongue.

Conference interpreters use different modes of interpretation (simultaneous in or out of a booth, consecutive) depending on the type of meeting and working environment

AIIC interpreters have made a commitment to quality and professionalism. They are bound by their code of professional ethics and undertake to observe the strictest professional secrecy.

For more information, please visit the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC – Association internationale des interprètes de conférence) website at


“A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters,” by director Sydney Pollack, is an interesting look at the challenges of simultaneous interpretation, explained by Diana Liao, Chief of the Interpretation Service at the United Nations (UN), and Brigitte Andreassier-Pearl, Chief of the French section of the Interpretation Service at the UN. Pollack discusses the intention of the scenes on which he comments, what he added after shooting and took out in editing and why: story, locations, and some technical challenges.

For more information, please visit the United Nations (UN) website at

Healthcare Interpreting

Healthcare interpreters are highly qualified professionals who work bi-directionally in medical encounters to provide language services to LEP patients and the healthcare team. Medical interpreters ensure that LEP patients have equal access to healthcare. They facilitate the communication between a patient or a family member and a healthcare provider who does not speak the same language. Medical interpreters help physicians, nurses and other medical staff communicate with their patients and bridge cultural or linguistic gaps. Interpreters in this field need a strong grasp of medical as well as colloquial terminology in both languages, and a cultural sensitivity to help the provider and the patient communicate effectively. Healthcare interpreters work in hospitals, clinics, medical offices, and other non-medical settings. Interpreters act as communicators between patient and provider, providing the linguistic conversion of a message spoken in one language into its equivalent in another language.

Medical interpreters in some states also provide communication within hybrid legal-medical systems, such as in the workers’ compensation field. These interpreters must be trained in medical and legal terminology and are conscious of the legal implications of the medical setting in which they interpret. Advocacy is rarely practiced in these settings, since medical interpreters, much like their legal counterparts, must refrain from dispensing legal advice to the patients for whom they interpret. Often, medical interpreters specialized in this hybrid field are well versed in the laws governing the workers’ compensation system.

[NCIHC logo]For more information concerning ethics and national standards for Healthcare Interpreters, please visit the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care at

For more information concerning credentialing opportunities, please open the attachment (xsls): Credentialing Opportunities & Codes of Ethics for US Spoken Language Interpreters

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) –

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) –

Watch Saving Lives in Many Languages (made by Language Access Services, a division of Johns Hopkins Medicine International) on Vimeo:



Community Interpreting

Community interpreters provide language services to LEPs in educational, social services and faith based settings. Medical interpreters are considered part of community interpreting, an increasingly professionalized field. Recognition of the need for quality interpreting services in these settings has led to the development of training programs devoted to community interpreting.

Community interpreters are increasingly expected to meet professional requirements such as the adherence to a code of ethics, the ability to perform consecutive, short simultaneous and sight translation, and to have a strong command of their working languages. As a result, institutions traditionally dedicated to conference interpreting are beginning to offer programs in community interpreting.

While there is no accreditation for this emerging sector as of yet, interpreting standards are moving in that direction.

For more information, please visit:

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) – A Federal Interagency Website

Critical Link International


Published: September 2011. Last updated: August 2016


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