What does “interpret” mean?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the answer to the question “What does ‘interpret” mean?” is that ‘interpret’ has three meanings in the English language:

  1. Changing what someone says into another language in various situations.
  2. A computer program translating and then executing instructions from another program.
  3. An actor or singer performing a play or song, voicing their own ideas about what these may mean.

Does Iolante have qualified interpreters?


We have fully qualified interpreters such as our Mandarin translators Shu Zhang (living in Reading) and Andrew Christie (Merseyside). Shu is a native Chinese speaker and holds an MA in Interpreting and Translation from the University of Central Lancashire plus the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting. Andrew is an English native speaker who holds a master’s degree in Mandarin-English Interpreting and Translation.

Anna Dobson is a native Polish speaker. Living in Kent, she was awarded the Metropolitan Police Test Certificate from the loL Educational Trust in 2012. She is also a member of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. Anna works as a Polish-English interpreter in the Kent area.

Some of our translators are experienced in interpreting for clients in the UK but don’t hold official qualifications. Please check our French, Italian and Spanish translators’ profiles for details on the interpreting services they offer on this basis.

What does a foreign language interpreter do?

When people who don’t have a common language meet up, it is the interpreter’s task to listen to the first speaker and then render the meaning of the words in the language the speaker of the other language understands. This also applies to sign language. The process can be “simultaneous” (the interpreter translates the words while the source language speaker is still talking) or “consecutive” (the interpreter listens to a chunk of words and then translates them for the other person). Simultaneous interpreting is usually carried out in remote booths during occasions when there are a lot of people present (EU/UN). Consecutive interpreting happens at smaller meetings, where the speaker pauses after each sentence which the interpreter then translates.

There is also liaison interpreting. This is mainly used during telephone interpreting sessions or in health or legal situations. Sign language interpretation is when the interpreter transfers the spoken word into sign language (or one sign language into another). This type of interpreting is normally done simultaneously.

What types of interpreting assignments are there?

Situations which require interpreters range form a bilingual wedding ceremony to meetings of the UN. Interpreters undertake different types of interpreting:

  • Business Interpreting – Interpreting at business meetings where the parties don’t have a common language or their language skills are too limited to carry out complicated negotiations.
  • Conference Interpreting – Working at conferences where attendees/speakers need specialist language skills to fully understand foreign language delegates/contributors.
  • Public Service or Legal Interpreting – Interpreting at court or police stations to help applicants, immigrants, defendants or prisoners.
  • Private Interpreting – Translating the spoken word at private functions/occasions or for education/teaching purposes.

During the above occasions, all parties concerned are usually at the same location at the same time. Although during big conferences/ political meetings interpreters are often not seen by the clients but hidden away in booths. Interpreting mainly takes place face-to-face.

Sometimes interpreters work remotely, carrying out telephone interpreting or interpret using Skype. In these situations, the participants communicate via technology and are in a virtual room together.

Another occasion where clients may need an interpreter is for troubleshooting purposes. A client can inform the translator/interpreter of a problem. The language specialist then contacts the foreign language speaker to either clarify the problem, seek contact names/addresses or even find a solution. In our experience this is often a more cost-effective solution than sending communications to and fro which need translations on both sides. In this scenario the interpreter speaks directly for the client who often is not present during such sessions. The translator/interpreter will inform the client of the outcome of such conversations after the event.

Why is translating the spoken word called ‘interpreting’?

The Latin word “interpretor” means to explain, broker, negotiate. When a linguist “interprets” one language into another, they have to use another language’s vocabulary to explain what the original speaker said. Translated terms rarely mean exactly the same as in the original language; there are always different shades, meanings, associations to words in another language. Hence all translation is interpretation. So the job of an interpreter is not that remote from that of an actor or singer who performs someone else’s work in line with their own understanding of the original.

What qualifications should interpreters have?

Interpreters need the language skills, often acquired by way of a modern languages degree. A postgraduate diploma or Masters in interpreting techniques is also desirable according to Prospects’ interpreter page when applying for jobs where formal qualifications are required (EU/UN etc.). Linguists without formal interpreting qualifications who are extremely experienced may find employment for less formal meetings.

Which skills do interpreters need?

  • knowledge of at least two languages
  • interpersonal skills such as patience, communication skills
  • ability to think on their feet and learn fast, good memory
  • ability to keep information confidential
  • being informed about the projects at hand and relevant background information
  • appear confident and speak clearly

Why try to explain what interpreting means?

What caused me to write this article is the following repeat situation.

Chatting with a member of the general public and mentioning that I am a translator, they sometimes ask whether I “translate” at conferences or whether I’ve “translated” at big weddings. As a linguistic pedant, my reply invariably is: Oh, you mean “interpreting”. Interpreting is bridging the language gap between people who are talking to each other. Translating is transferring a written text from a source language (say Romanian) to a target language (say English). And, no, I have mainly worked as a translator and rarely as an interpreter.

Having looked into the issue of “interpreting” I hope you agree that there is a lot more to interpreting than meets the eye. Interpreters need to be highly qualified or – having lived and worked in the country of their second language – highly experienced. Interpreters need many skills and abilities. Work as an interpreter is much less forgiving than that of a translator who deals with the written work. Translators can consult numerous resources before committing themselves to a specific term. Interpreters do not have this luxury. They need to find terms instantly. There is very little room for error.

I think I made the right choice for myself. As a pedant I prefer sitting at the computer and translating with all the online resources at hand I’ll ever need so that I have every chance to get it “just so”.

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