Interpreter Training Programs

5 Easy Steps for Finding the Best Interpreter Training Program

Finding an interpreter training program can sometimes be a difficult thing to do, especially for someone who doesn’t know much yet about the language industry or the interpretation field in general. However, while finding a program can be difficult, there are some things to keep in mind when looking for a program.

Keeping these things in mind will help make things easier for you when you’re doing your searches.

Many of the interpretation programs available to would-be interpreters are good at what they do, but it’s important to know that there are some things to be aware of when choosing one that is right for you. Not all interpreting training programs are the same, and these programs will often have different areas of emphasis or focus on one of the many different modes of interpretation.

Because interpreter training programs are all different, it’s important to understand the various programs you are considering before actually signing up for a program. The last thing you want to do is sign up for an interpreter training program and then halfway through the program realize that it isn’t quite what you expected or isn’t providing you the training that you hoped to be exposed to.

Step 1: Mode of Interpretation

The first step you need to take when signing up for interpreter training is to decide what kind of interpreting are you most interested in.

Believe it or not, not all interpreting is the same.

You’ve got at least these types:

  • telephone interpreting
  • simultaneous interpreting
  • conference interpreting
  • ad-hoc intepreting
  • community interpreting
  • court interpreting
  • face-to-face interpreting
  • interview interpreting
  • medical interpreting
  • team interpreting
  • sight interpreting
  • and probably a million others

If you want to work for the United Nations as a conference interpreter, for example, you probably shouldn’t attend an interpreter training program that will only teach you telephone interpreting.

Most interpreter training programs should lay out the kinds of interpreting training you’ll be exposed to during the program. For example, at the website for the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), you can get a degree in Translation and Interpretation, or you can get a degree in Conference Interpreting. (There is a difference!)

Make sure that the training program you choose has the option for training in the mode that you want.

Step 2: Subject Matter

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyways:

Make sure you choose an interpreter training program that teaches you interpreting skills in the areas you want to interpret.

For example, don’t get an interpreting degree or certification from a program that focuses on legal interpreting if you are interested in medical interpreting.

There are interpreting schools that teach general interpreting skills.

However, more and more schools are focusing on a specific subjects like law, medicine, or business. The reason is because while actual interpreting is a skill that definitely requires study and practice, the best interpreters are those that have an in-depth knowledge of the topics they are interpreting.

Remember, specialization is the name of the game for both translation and interpretation.

The best interpretation programs will provide both: the techniques and tips to master the art of interpreting, while giving you the chance to perfect your knowledge in specific areas and topics of interest.

Step 3: Length of Training

Different programs take different lengths of time to complete.

Some are certification programs that might take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years to complete. Other training programs are actual university degree programs that could take up to four years to finish.

Obviously, the longer you train to be an interpreter, the better you will be on the job. But a lot of that depends on how much experience you have interpreting and the amount of effort you’re willing to put in to being a top-notch language professional.

At the same time, don’t get caught up in the idea that longer training always equals better training.

A shorter interpreter training program that focuses on the essentials and does things the right way will be much better for you than an interpreter training program that is longer but isn’t as focused on training you to take on interpreting opportunities.

Which bring us to the next point.

Step 4: Interpretation Opportunities

While classroom instruction on interpreting can be useful and help a would-be interpreter learn the tricks of the trade, there is nothing like actually interpreting.

When things are controlled in a classroom setting,  you don’t have to worry (too much) about messing up.

However, real-world interpreting is really on a whole different level.

Good interpreter training programs will give you opportunities for practical experience interpreting. There’s nothing quite like the nervousness you’ll feel before a speaker starts talking at a conference and knowing that you’re the person who has to convey the speaker’s message to the audience.

Interpreting is more than conveying words in a different language; you need to be able to withstand the pressures and nerves that inevitably come along with the profession, and a good training program will provide those opportunities so you don’t have to experience that on your first day on the job.

Step 5: Training Location

Depending on the program, the location could vary from being at a university, a community college, a hospital, or a variety of other locations.

While I know of some translation programs that are offered online, I’m not aware of any interpreter training programs where this is the case. The reason is pretty obvious. Your interpreting skills are much harder for an instructor to check and evaluate without witnessing them first hand.

So there’s a good chance that if you don’t live near a location that offers interpretation training, you’ll have to travel outside your area. However, as I mentioned above, there are some interpreting programs that are only a few weeks, or are conducted solely on the weekends; these types of programs are usually the best options for people that work or that live outside the immediate area served by the training program.


If you’re really interested in becoming an interpreter, I suggest that you look at each of these issues and see where you fit in with them.

As you evaluate your current skills and potential training needs, you’ll be able to know what exactly you need to become an interpreter, and what type of interpreter training program is the best option for you.

P.S. Interpreting is just one career in the language industry. If you’re interested in earning money with your second language in other ways, be sure to read my book!

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