Becoming an interpreter – where to begin?

Let’s assume you are bilingual – you are a native speaker of a particular language, but you also speak English fluently. Perhaps you were brought up in the UK, or maybe you’ve attended an educational setting here. You may already be used to helping relatives with a lesser command of English book a GP consultation, discuss the renewal of the TV licence fee, or attend a physiotherapy session. On occasion, you may have assisted in more complex matters – a housing application or a perhaps consultation with a specialist doctor.

Have you ever considered what you would need in order to provide this kind of service as a professional – to assist others and actually get paid for it?

Let’s talk about the 5 basic steps in order to become a professional interpreter.

  1. Command of two languages: In order to become a community interpreter (this means working within the NHS, mental health, social services, local government and education settings), you need to have a good command of at least two languages, one of which is English. It is enough to only be proficient in the SPOKEN second language – this means that you do not need to know how to write in the second language.
  2. Qualification: Despite the fact that you may already have experience of informally assisting friends and relatives, in order to do interpreting as a career, you will need to obtain a qualification. The minimum required is a Level 3 Certificate in Community Interpreting. It will take you 3-6 months to complete, but as soon as you are finished, you are ready and able to work.
  3. Getting assignments: The interpreter job role is inherently a self-employed gig. You need to expect that the onus will be on you to obtain work. You will need to register with as many agencies as you can (ISL can provide you with a list to get you started). On top of that, you will need to regularly do additional research, make yourself visible and approachable on LinkedIn, create a ProZ account…the possibilities are endless. You are your own boss and the more effort you put in, the more rewards you will reap!
  4. DBS clearance: Agencies will require you to have a particular level of DBS clearance – basic or enhanced. Some agencies will pay for it themselves, others may charge you, and the check is valid for 12 months. What’s definitely worthwhile is signing up to the DBS renewal service – it means you only pay £12 per year for a new check, regardless of level – and it’s a tax deductible!
  5. Tax returns: You will need to fill in a tax return each year. This will include any employed or self-employed income, as well as income from other sources (rental, income from abroad…). Don’t be put off by this – it’s fairly straightforward and if you do need any advice, you can join our free live CPD session on this topic.

That’s it, in a nutshell! Now you know what to expect when you set off on your journey to becoming a qualified professional interpreter!

Look out for our next blog instalment, where we will be focusing on taking the leap from a community interpreter to a Level 6 police and court interpreter!

For more information, call us on 0203 475 7771, email or visit