How to become an interpreter

How to become an interpreter

This alternative job fits the bill for:

  • Relatively well-paid jobs
  • Most exciting jobs in the world
  • Unusual jobs

Meet Briggie, an Intrepid interpreter and globetrotter who often attends 2 or 3 major world conferences in as many countries all in one week! So much expenses-paid travelling and jetsetting can’t be too bad a job, so we asked her how she got into it.

Name: Briggie

Career title: Conference Interpreter (self-employed)

What does your job entail?:

OK, here’s the dry stuff. Interpreting is also often referred to as translating, but while translating only covers putting written documents and books into other languages interpreting means you are with other people who don’t speak the same language and you make sure they understand each other. I mainly interpret between English and German speakers, interpreting from English into German or German into English and occasionally from French or Spanish into German. It can be done sitting around a table when you interpret after a couple of sentences – referred to as ad-hoc, or you make notes for about 5 to 10 minutes and then reproduce the speaker’s words in another language on the basis or your notes – referred to as consecutive (mainly used for after dinner speeches), or you sit in a sound insulated booth (together with a booth partner changing over every 20 to 30 minutes)- referred to as simultaneous interpreting (you might have seen that in the film “The Interpreter” or footage from the United Nations or the European Parliament. Simultaneous is the most common form of interpreting. You hear what the speaker is saying through headsets and you “simultaneously” reproduce it into a microphone in front of you into the language you’re working into which in turn can be heard by the audience via their headsets. Usually you have conferences with 2 or 3 languages (other than English), but I have worked in conferences where we had up to 21 booths covering everything from German to Japanese, French to Finnish and Thai to Turkish. It sometimes does feel like the Tower of Bable but it’s all great fun

Full-time/part time: full-time (in theory)

How long have you been doing this: 19 yrs

Qualifications and/or training duration:

University degree in interpreting and translating (from the University of the Saarland, Germany) over 6 years (everything takes longer in Germany – well, almost)


languages and a lot of soft skills (e.g. people skills, communications skills), staying curious about the world


£250 – £450 per day (number of days per year vary, on average ca. 120)

Job perks:

meeting lots of people, travelling (mainly in UK and continental Europe), keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the world. Quite a few free meals.

What made you want to go into this profession?

had my first French lesson at school, loved it and wanted to do languages (but I knew I didn’t want to do teaching).

How physically or mentally demanding is the job:

Physically – no: It involves a great deal of sitting – so definitely not good for keeping fit or trim, especially not with all the lunches and dinners you have to go to. Mentally – yes: Studies have shown that being a simultaneous interpreter is the most stressful jobs (together with air traffic controller and brain surgeon)

Long hours?

Occasionally, especially when travelling back from abroad. But you also get the odd one hour assignment for which you get a daily fee.

A flexible/bunk-off early job?

Not unless you can make a deal with your booth partner (an option you should keep for special occasions – it’s not professional)

Is there a sexy uniform?

If business suits turn you on..

Downside of the job:

Wreaks havoc with your social life. Jobs come in last minute. So you have to rely on your friends (and family) being extremely flexible and forgiving.

Most hideous career moment to date:

In a three-day conference on phonography I did refer to pr0nography on the last day in the afternoon after I had managed to avoid it for two days.

Do you meet interesting people and if so, who was the most interesting?

You meet all sorts of people: a lot of politicians (e.g.Gorbachev, Thatcher, Brown), the occasional Royal (Princess Anne), the English National Football Squad, members of think tanks, motivational speakers. The most interesting was probably the first and only democratically elected Prime Minister of the GDR.

Danger factor:

It’s only as dangerous as you want it to be as long as you have common sense.

Opportunities for travel/work abroad with your career?

Loads. I travel across the UK, Europe and occasionally been further afield to the US, Korea and Taiwan.

Do you meet fit, clever, solvent blokes in your line of work?

Some are fit, a good few are clever, some are intelligent, a great many are solvent. But the ones that provide the whole package are rare. Having said that I did meet my partner at a conference in Monte Carlo..

Can you still see yourself doing this in 20 years time?

More and more Germans nowadays speak English. So I am expecting the work to dry up over time.

What advice would you give young women who are interested in this career path?

You need to have an interest in languages, people and cultures. Get proper training. Work within the going market rates. Chose your languages carefully (Eastern European languages and Chinese are becoming more important). Be confident!