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Interpreters are tasked with transferring spoken or written texts orally into another language [Footnote 1]. This is where they differ from translators, who work with written texts.
Interpreters use various techniques (simultaneous, conference, dialog or whispered interpreting) and work in a variety of areas, such as multi-lingual conferences, media events, conventions, meetings, negotiations and factory tours in companies or as sworn court interpreters for courts, notaries, the police and public authorities.

In addition to excellent foreign language skills, interpreters also need to be familiar with the conventions and modes of expression of the languages and cultures with which they work. In addition, familiarity with the use of technical resources (e.g. equipment for simultaneous or whispered interpreting and computer programs), but also a broad general knowledge – in many cases even special technical knowledge – are essential skills for the profession. Interpreters thoroughly prepare for each assignment, do in-depth research on any persons involved, the subject area and the respective technical terminology. During the interpreting process, it is important to transmit what is being said quickly and correctly. This requires confident conduct, even in stressful situations. In addition, continuous further training is important for interpreters, as languages, cultural customs, but also their fields of specialization are constantly evolving.

Several career paths can lead to the interpreting profession. Among the possible qualifications are degree programs in translation studies at universities and universities of applied sciences. But there is also a growing demand for interpreters specializing in a certain subject area. A specialized degree – e.g. in law, psychology or biology – can therefore be of great advantage for interpreting in the corresponding subject areas. Access to a Master's degree program in translation studies is usually gained by passing an aptitude test. So anyone who has completed a philological or other specialized bachelor's degree program can learn the necessary translational techniques in a postgraduate master's program. Another option for qualification is to train at a professional academy. There are also many who take advantage of a lateral entry into interpreting. Some federal states offer examinations allowing interpreters who pass them to call themselves “state-certified interpreters”. Such a certification may be necessary to become a sworn interpreter at a court, for instance.
Many interpreters are freelancers. It is therefore important to also familiarize oneself with business management issues as a freelancer, for example in marketing, customer acquisition, networking, accounting, taxes (possibly also abroad) and insurance. The Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V.), for instance, offers suitable advisory services in this regard.

[Footnote 1]:  Sign language interpreters are a particular case: They translate spoken language into sign language and vice versa.


Federica Salentino

Federica Salentino

freelance conference interpreter and technical translator for Italian, English and German

Katja Schulten

Katja Schulten

freelance conference interpreter for German, French and English

Typical tasks

Possible places of employment