Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

Interpreting and translating

22 Jun 2023, 13:18

Languages and culture careers for graduates: interpreting and translating

Close-up of a microphone with blurred audience in the background at a conference event.

Translators and interpreters translate written material or oral communication from one language to another. Opportunities for graduates include work on a freelance basis, for agencies, in the translation departments of multinationals or as a staff interpreter. Staff work within translation companies, government departments and international organisations.

For this work, you will need an excellent command of the English language and fluency in two other languages. Proficiency in a third language is an advantage. You should have good knowledge of current affairs, politics and other cultures, have well-developed powers of concentration and a good memory.


Interpreting is a form of translation that uses the medium of the spoken word. Interpreters translate verbal statements from one language to another. The core responsibilities involve listening to, understanding and memorising what is said and accurately repeating it in a different language. Interpreting is usually from another language into the mother tongue; communication can either be one way or two way, depending on whether the situation involves a dialogue or speech. Interpreters are used in a wide range of settings, including conferences, government and international political meetings, business conferences, trade shows, Garda stations, hospitals, legal consultations and court cases. The clients that interpreters deal with can range from political figures to corporate managers to refugees and asylum seekers. There are different types of interpreting, the main two being conference interpreting and community or dialogue interpreting.

Conference interpreting

This can be conducted in two different ways: simultaneous or consecutive. Simultaneous interpreting involves sitting in a soundproof booth, listening to what is being said through headphones and simultaneously translating it. This is the most common type of interpreting at large international events such as European member-state meetings. In many cases more than one language is being used.

Consecutive interpreting, as the name suggests, involves waiting until the speaker has finished speaking before interpreting; note-taking is an essential part of this method.

Community/dialogue interpreting

This takes place in any number of community settings: doctor/patient consultations in hospitals, legal consultations and court events with non-nationals, business meetings, corporate and diplomatic dinners and social events, etc. The interpreter works both in and out of his/her mother tongue in a face-to-face situation.

Other types of interpreting include video conferencing – this is usually used by large multinational companies, remote interpreting (telephone interpreting) often employed by politicians, and media interpreting for TV and film.

Core activities of the interpreter will include listening, analysing, understanding and memorising content in order to reproduce it in the mother tongue quickly, accurately and confidently, researching specific terminology and vocabulary, preparing paperwork and making ‘on the spot’ decisions to convey meaning accurately. Organising your workload, dealing with current assignments whilst preparing for future ones and liaising with clients, employers, agencies and internal departments, are also key features of the job.

Working life

The work is intense in nature and can be exhausting, particularly for simultaneous interpreters. A lot of advance preparation is required, especially for specialist areas and interpreters often request papers, glossaries and agendas several days before an assignment.

Interpreters need the ability to process and analyse information quickly; they should be alert and intuitive with the ability to adapt instantly to situations, people and topics. They also need above-average physical and mental resilience and endurance, social ease and an outgoing nature.


Translators translate texts and documents from one language into another for people who do not understand the language of origin. Translators always deal with the written word. Most translation is of a scientific, technical or commercial nature and texts are hugely varied, ranging from technical manuals to promotional literature to legal contracts. Subject areas are as diverse as engineering, insurance, banking, medicine, law, computers, pharmaceutical products and food. There are basically two types of translator – staff translator and freelance translator.

Staff translators are usually employed full time with large companies, government departments, international organisations and European Union departments (Directorate General) and their offices. The subject matter that staff translators deal with can have consistency and similarity; similar themes are often dealt with on a day-to-day basis in government departments and companies. The benefits of being employed are that job security exists along with additional benefits such as health insurance, pension funds and holiday pay.

Freelance translators work for themselves and are generally registered with an agency. The agency arranges new contracts and negotiates a fee for the translator, which they will keep a percentage of. Prices for jobs are based on the number of words in a text and also depend on the particular language and the difficulty of the text. A plus factor with freelance work is that the work can be very versatile and interesting, however it can also be irregular and insecure – quiet periods mean no income. You will almost always work from home and alone.

Getting a job

Most interpreters and translators in Ireland are freelance, or work for agencies.

Make contact with several interpreting and translating agencies. Many are very small operations but some of the larger ones contract out assignments. Register your skills and abilities with them.

To advertise yourself as a freelance interpreter, register with the Irish Translators and Interpreters Association (ITIA); your details will be listed on their website. It is not advisable to work freelance unless you have built up a considerable range of experience and expertise. ITIA has a list of members (both individuals and agencies), specialisms and target languages.

National newspapers will advertise translation and interpreting posts. Irish newspapers will only advertise posts very occasionally. The best newspapers to consult are the major British ones, as well as the main daily newspapers in the languages you have studied. Translation journals provide a good source of vacancies. Publications include Translation Ireland (published by Irish Translators and Interpreters Association) and Electric Word .

The main recruiters

The European Commission is the biggest employer of translators and interpreters. Employees are selected on the basis of very competitive examinations and interviews. Other recruiters include:

  • The Court of Justice of the European Communities
  • The European Court of Auditors
  • The European Central Bank
  • The United Nations
  • The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
  • International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA).

A small number of very large multinational companies will employ their own interpreters and translators, but most of their needs are met by agencies. Research the world’s top ten largest companies, then search the ‘careers’ section on their website and see what they have to offer to language graduates.

Translating jobs are more plentiful, particularly in technology fields.

Job descriptions

More detail about working life, entry requirements and career development are available in our job descriptions for interpreter and translator.

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