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Career opportunities in the field of foreign language interpreting and translation exist within and outside of the Federal government. In the Federal government, the U.S. Armed Forces and the State Department are the entities that most frequently hire interpreters and/or translators. Other employers outside the Federal government include the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the Organization of American States, among others.

Generally, foreign language interpreting involves the interpretation of oral statements from one language to another.

Qualifications Required for Interpreting
  • Generally, an interpreter must be exceptionally fluent in the languages that he/she interprets, and his/her speech must be free of any objectionable accent or impediment. At the very least, the aspiring interpreter should be well and broadly educated and almost bilingual, with a fairly long period of residence abroad being almost indispensable.
  • Practical experience in several specialized fields is helpful and knowledge of political science and economics is important.
  • A genuine aptitude for interpreting, which is by no means synonymous with being bilingual. For example, simultaneous interpreting requires, among other things, the ability to listen intently to one language while simultaneously speaking clearly and precisely in another language.
  • In the Federal service, at a minimum, prospective interpreters: (1) must have completed a major course of study in the relevant language or other specified qualifying major; or (2) must have work or other experience that demonstrates the requisite knowledge of English and the foreign language; or (3) must have a sufficient combination of both education and experience. In addition, an agency may require applicants to complete a test of foreign language proficiency. See OPM’s qualification standards for the Language Specialist Series (GS-1040),

Types of Interpreting

  • Escort Interpreting − Escort interpreters accompany visiting delegations or individuals and interpret for them in generally informal settings. Typically, a variety of languages are in demand for escort interpreting. Assignments may be uncertain and sporadic, and may involve frequent or even constant travel.
  • Conference Interpreting − Conference interpreters interpret multi-lingual conferences or meetings, typically through simultaneous interpreting, for the benefit of certain participants. Opportunities in the field of conference interpreting are fairly limited. The United Nations (U.N.) employs a staff of approximately 98 interpreters, all of whom are required to be proficient in at least two (and preferably three) of the U.N. conference languages, which are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Aside from the Armed Forces, the State Department is the next largest employer of interpreters, with approximately 50 linguists on its interpreting and translating staff, of whom 20 or so are primarily interpreters. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, Intelsat, and others also hire small numbers of interpreters on full-time basis. Vacancies are few and far between, with many applicants for each opening. The free-lance conference interpreting field in the United States is made up of experienced interpreters, who compete for the opportunity of interpreting at international conferences on scientific, economic, political, and other subjects. Freelance conference interpreting is, therefore, an uncertain occupation for all but the very few best-known and most experienced interpreters (who are frequently multilingual rather than merely bilingual).

Generally, foreign language translating involves the translation of written documents from one language to another. Translators are in greater demand than interpreters in both national and international agencies as well as in private industry. The United Nations employs 250-300 translators. To a lesser extent, the State Department also employs translators, as do some other United States agencies and most international agencies.

Qualifications Required for Translating
  • Ability to translate from several foreign languages into English, or to write (e.g., advertising copy, technical specifications, or diplomatic, informal, or scientific material) in a foreign language at an educated native level. A broad range of education and experience may be required to translate documents on many diverse subjects.

U.S Department of State
For information about employment opportunities for translators and interpreters in the U.S. Department of State, please visit the Office of Language Services website at

Other Opportunities
There are other vocational opportunities for students of languages (such as bilingual secretary or teaching), but the most widespread use of linguistic ability is as a supplement to other skills and knowledge. Some agencies employ analysts in scientific and technical fields who may be required to read a foreign language. In many fields of specialization, a person who knows one or more foreign languages may have a distinct advantage in competing for a job. In the field of foreign affairs, for example, the State Department is placing increased emphasis on language knowledge among its Foreign Service Officers.

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This page was last modified on 28 January 2015, at 15:44.

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