Ken SubediKen Subedi Can a translator become an interpreter? How?February 26, 2020

Can a translator become an interpreter? How?

In such a globalized world, being a translator or an interpreter is a very common job; especially for those that love learning languages. More often than not, translation and interpreting are used interchangeably. Yet, these two career fields differ by not only the nature of their job but also the process of their work. Since these two careers both deal with languages, there stands the big question of ‘can a translator become an interpreter?’ and if the answer is affirmative, then how exactly? These questions will be answered and explored, so keep reading to find out more.

Difference between translators and interpreters

Before diving into the ‘if’s and ‘how’s, let’s discuss what the actual differences are between translators and interpreters. Firstly, and most obviously, is that translators work by translating through written works, whilst interpreters translate verbally in action. However, differences do not stop there. Another major difference is how translators can work from remotely anywhere, as long as they have access to their computers and a piece that needs translating. Whilst interpreters have to be physically present at the location of their job. Moreover, translators have the freedom to go over their work to revise or check for error, whilst interpreters have to be able to get the job right from the first try, as everything happens live.

Can a Translator Become an Interpreter?

Switching from being a translator to an interpreter

Although being a translator and being an interpreter differ quite a bit, if one has the passion for the language and the will to work on qualities that will be required to become one, then it is most certainly possible.

How To Become An Interpreter

Decide Which Field To Interpret In

Unlike translators, interpreters choose which fields to interpret in; hence, before starting your journey to becoming an interpreter you will have to decide in which field or in what ways you would like to interpret. Would it be in business, specific conferences, law, or health? Knowing which field you will be working in will allow you to prepare for all the necessary qualifications and experiences for that field. Interpreting means that you will have to be aware of all the technical terms and translate on the spot without doubting yourself or needing external guidance. This is why interpreters have to have a more encyclopedic knowledge of their specific field.


Language qualifications are required for both translators and interpreters, however, there are specific qualifications necessary for interpreters. In most cases, you will have to either have a bachelor’s degree in that specific language or proof of language proficiency.

Moreover, depending on what field you will be interpreting in, you will be required to have certain qualifications of language proficiency for that industry. For instance, if you would want to interpret in the healthcare system or in medical settings, you will most likely have to take the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). Therefore, you will have to do a lot of research on which industry you would prefer to work in and from there take on the qualifications best suited to you.  


Another major aspect of becoming an interpreter is having the necessary experience. This is the case for almost all industries, not just interpreting. However, language listening and speaking skills are very different when comparing in-class versus real-world interpreting. Which is why experience is what will help you grow in your career.

One of the best ways to get started, if you currently don’t have any experience, is to volunteer. Start by volunteering locally in places that cannot afford interpreters. This will not only allow you to test your language skills but also grow your portfolio.


Networking with fellow interpreters can open a gateway of opportunities for you. You can be mentored by fellow senior interpreters, who might see your passion and skill to recommend you to their own clients in their absence. There are general interpreter organizations as well as individual, field-specific organizations. Once you have an idea of which field you will be going into, then research on what organizations exist that could benefit you.

As seen, translating and interpreting differ vastly, however, both of these careers share a passion for languages. If one truly wants to change careers from translating to interpreting, then there certainly are ways to do so.

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