Don’t worry, you are not alone. Every day we receive phone calls from members of the public, inquiring about how to get started as an interpreter. It’s unlike any other job and therefore entering this particular field of work can seem a little bit overwhelming.
We’ve put together a short list of the key points for you to be able to determine how best to make a career out of interpreting.
- You will hear the term public service interpreting a lot. This means interpreting for organisations such as the NHS, MoJ, police, immigration, local governments, social services and so on. The courses we provide focus on teaching interpreters how to work within these settings, as opposed to conference interpreting, for example.
- In the UK, public service interpreters tend to work as self-employed freelancers. Although there may be occasions where one might find a permanent position as an in-house interpreter, these are mostly rare. For anyone who wishes to become an interpreter, they will need to do so by registering with language service providers (LSPs), which are in essence agencies that act as a middleman between public services and the interpreter.
- LSPs have contracts with public services that they supply interpreters to and many of these contracts require that interpreters fulfil certain conditions. You will most likely be required to have a DBS check, right to work in the UK, a UK bank account, and, most importantly, the right qualifications.
This is where it gets complicated.
There are a number of types of qualifications, or levels, that are available on the market. In general, to be an interpreter you either need a Level 3 community interpreting qualification or a level 6 interpreting qualification. what’s the difference? And what’s a Level 7 then?
The Level 3 community interpreting certificate enables you to work within so called community settings. these are the NHS, social services, education, local government, welfare benefits and so on. The Level 3 is equivalent to an A level in complexity and can usually be completed within 4-6 months. The assessment includes an assessment of your oral skills only, that means that you are only required to be able to speak in the second language (not write). It is perfect for people who have little or no experience and are looking for a time-efficient and cost-effective way of entering this industry and ensuring that they invest in a qualification which enables them to access paid interpreting work.
There are two options for the Level 6 diploma – a coursework-based option or an exam-based option (DPSI). There are a number of similarities and differences between them and ultimately, the choice is yours. Getting a Level 6 will mean that you can work not only in the community settings listed above, but also for the police, courts, Home Office, prisons and so on. The Level 6 is more challenging, it tests much more complex terminology and you must be competent not only in spoken, but also written skills in both languages. The exam based option (the DPSI) is therefore not recommended for complete newcomers to this industry, or certainly not without a robust preparation course. However, investing the time and effort will pay off as once you obtain a Level 6 interpreting qualification, you have reached the maximum level and all sectors of public services will be open to you.
The Level 7 Diploma in Translation is purely aimed at written translation. It is geared towards those who either don’t wish to work as interpreters, or for those who already hold a Level 6 and are looking to upskill that little bit further in order to open up more opportunities within the translation field. Again, it is not an easy qualification to achieve and a preparation course is strongly advised.
One thing is for certain.
In the UK, it is highly unlikely that the demand for interpreters will ever decline. It has always been a melting pot of cultures and nationalities and of course, not everyone speaks English fluently. In addition, in certain settings, such as the legal field, professionals are always advised to use interpreters to ensure that their clients have the right access to justice and information as an English speaker would. Therefore, if you are considering entering this great career, but aren’t sure whether there will be work available for you, fear not! This industry had not seen a decline during the COVID pandemic – and that’s saying something!