Interpreters work in all sorts of places… from hospitals to court rooms to conferences, and they can make pretty good money. Becoming specialized or certified in a certain area (like legal or medical interpreting) can almost guarantee this.
Choosing a specialization isn’t quite as simple as picking one out of a hat. The area(s) you choose will alter your professional mindset and may change your life. There are many different specializations in interpreting, but we’ll discuss the three most common here.
You, the patient, and the doctor all have one goal: get the patient healed. This might mean that you have to explain cultural differences or ask for clarification if you suspect that the patient or doctor isn’t understanding something. Even though your first job is to interpret accurately, being an advocate also plays a large role in this profession. If you get warm, fuzzy feelings whenever you can help someone out, this profession might be for you.
A word of caution… the medical field is not necessarily only warm and fuzzy. You might be around blood, serious injuries, births, or any of the numerous unpleasant substances that can show up in hospitals and doctors’ offices. The patients and families that you are helping may be coming in for a simple checkup, or they could be on the verge of death, or dealing with the recent loss of a loved one.
Specializing in medical interpreting requires more than just a strong medical vocabulary in multiple languages. You also need to have emotional and mental strength to be able to handle the situations you face.
Despite the challenges this career may bring, medical interpreters know at the end of the day that they’ve been able to help someone.
You (the interpreter), the defendant, the prosecution, the lawyers, and the judge all have totally different goals. Both the defense and the prosecution want to “win,” while the judge wants to find out the truth. Being an advocate in this situation – in either direction – is out of the question. Your goal as a legal interpreter is to be as accurate as possible while giving persons with limited English proficiency a level playing field – not an advantage, but the same opportunities that an English speaker would have.
Your motive? Facilitating justice. There definitely isn’t anything warm and fuzzy about this field. You may be interpreting for a witness, an innocent defendant, or a rapist. No matter what, you can’t influence the outcome of the trial by changing how you interpret.
This specialization isn’t for the faint of heart, as it will require specialized vocabulary in both languages, and may expose you to some pretty harsh things realities. The upside? You get paid more. Federally certified interpreters especially find themselves higher up on the pay scale.
So if you’ve got a thick skin, legal interpreting may be the way you want to go.
As a community interpreter, you have the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. You could interpret for your church, a school, a trip to the DMV, a speech, social services, or someone looking to buy a house.
Certification is optional here, which means that your pay scale won’t rival that of a specialized interpreter, but you’ll have more flexibility and most likely won’t be exposed to the traumatizing subjects that can pop up in medical and legal interpreting.
If you’re bilingual and want to start using your skills to your advantage, study to become a community interpreter!
Now that you know more about what lies down the three most common paths, all that’s left is to get moving! And don’t forget that there are other options out there. You could become a conference interpreter, military interpreter, or work freelance for even more flexibility.
Which area do you prefer? Do you have any advice for others just starting their interpreting career? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with DE LA MORA events, news, and posts! See you next week!