Understanding the Role of an Interpreter: What Does an Interpreter Do?

Dynamic Language | June 28, 2024

Interpreters play a crucial role in bridging communication gaps and facilitating effective interaction between speakers of different languages. Whether in a hospital, courtroom, business meeting, or conference, interpreters ensure that everyone involved can understand and be understood. So, what does an interpreter do? Let’s delve into the various responsibilities and specializations of interpreters and how their work impacts different industries.

What Does an Interpreter Do?

At its core, interpreting involves converting spoken or sign language statements from one language to another. This task requires fluency in multiple languages and the ability to accurately convey the meaning, tone, and context of the original message. Interpreters work in various settings, including large conferences, business functions, legal proceedings, community events, and healthcare environments.

Interpreters must listen, understand, and memorize content in the source language before reproducing it in the target language. This process often occurs in real-time, requiring interpreters to think quickly and maintain high concentration.

Types of Interpreting

  1. Simultaneous Interpretation: Commonly used in conferences and large meetings, simultaneous interpreters work in soundproof booths, translating the speaker’s words in real time. Listeners hear the interpretation through earpieces.
  2. Consecutive Interpretation: Suitable for smaller meetings, this method involves the speaker pausing after each sentence or point, allowing the interpreter to translate the message accurately.
  3. Liaison Interpretation: Also known as ad hoc or relay interpreting, this type is often used in legal and health settings. The interpreter translates every few sentences, ensuring clear communication between parties.
  4. Sign Language Interpretation: Sign language interpreters convert spoken language into sign language and vice versa, facilitating communication for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Role of Hospital Interpreters

A significant subset of interpreters works in healthcare settings. So, what does an interpreter do in a hospital? Hospital interpreters help non-English speaking patients understand their diagnoses and assist medical personnel in comprehending patients’ concerns. They must be fluent in at least one foreign language and deeply understand medical terminology.

Hospital interpreters perform various tasks, including:

  • Building trust with patients and accurately translating their concerns and questions.
  • Converting medical forms and materials into the patient’s language.
  • Acting as a liaison between patients and healthcare professionals, ensuring accurate communication of medical information.
  • Assisting with administrative paperwork, such as insurance forms and prescription details.

The Importance of Professionalism and Skills

Interpreters must maintain impartiality, confidentiality, and professional conduct at all times. They need excellent listening skills, cultural awareness, and the ability to think and translate quickly. Many interpreters gain expertise through academic degrees or certificate programs and may obtain professional certifications from recognized associations.

Employment Outlook and Salary

The demand for interpreters is growing, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 20% increase in job growth from 2021-2031. Interpreters and translators earned a mean annual wage of $58,400 in May 2021, with those in general and surgical hospitals averaging $59,110.


Interpreters are essential in today’s globalized world, facilitating communication across language barriers in various settings. Their work ensures that people from diverse linguistic backgrounds can interact effectively, whether in a hospital, courtroom, business meeting, or conference.

If you have further questions about what an interpreter does or need professional interpretation services, our company is here to help. We offer comprehensive translation, localization, and interpretation services tailored to your needs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in bridging communication gaps and ensuring clear, accurate interactions across languages.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What are the responsibilities of an interpreter?

    Interpreters convert spoken or sign language statements from one language to another. Their primary duties include listening to, understanding, and memorizing content in the source language and reproducing statements, questions, and speeches in the target language. They facilitate communication in various settings, such as conferences, business meetings, legal proceedings, and healthcare environments. Interpreters must ensure accurate and impartial translation, maintaining the original tone and context of the message.

  2. What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?

    The main difference between an interpreter and a translator lies in their work medium. Interpreters work with spoken or sign language, converting verbal messages in real-time, whereas translators work with written text, translating documents, books, and other written materials. Interpreters often work in dynamic, real-time settings such as conferences or meetings, while translators typically have more time to consider their translations and may work in more solitary environments.

  3. What should an interpreter do?

    An interpreter should:

    • Accurately translate spoken or signed messages between languages without altering the meaning.
    • Maintain neutrality and confidentiality.
    • Build trust with the individuals they are interpreting for.
    • Stay up-to-date with relevant terminology and cultural nuances.
    • Prepare for assignments by reviewing materials and conducting necessary research.
    • Use tools like microphones, headsets, and note-taking techniques to ensure effective communication.
  4. What are the skills necessary for an interpreter?

    Key skills necessary for an interpreter include:

    • Fluency in multiple languages: Proficiency in both the source and target languages.
    • Excellent listening and memory: Ability to quickly comprehend and recall spoken information.
    • Cultural awareness: Understanding cultural references and context.
    • Communication skills: Clear and effective verbal communication.
    • Professionalism: Maintaining confidentiality, impartiality, and ethical conduct.
    • Adaptability: Ability to work in various settings and under different conditions.
    • Technical proficiency: Familiarity with interpretation tools and technologies.
  5. Is being an interpreter a stressful job?

Interpreting can be stressful due to the need for real-time translation, which requires quick thinking and high concentration levels. Interpreters often work in high-pressure environments, such as courtrooms or medical settings, where accurate communication is critical. The responsibility of conveying messages accurately without altering the intended meaning adds to the stress. However, the job can also be highly rewarding, offering opportunities to facilitate important communications and help individuals navigate language barriers. Proper training, experience, and stress-management techniques can help interpreters handle the demands of their role effectively.


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