Frequently Asked Questions

Translation and interpretation are both professional fields that bridge the gap between languages, but they focus on different means of communication. A translator renders the written word from one language to another. An interpreter renders the spoken word from one language to another. Some language professionals translate or interpret, others do both—whether freelance or for an employer. To be done successfully, these related skills require different specialized training.

Translation degrees train you to reproduce in a different language exactly what is communicated in written documents. Translation programs require that you already know how to read and write the languages in question at a university level. What they teach you is how to analyze texts across different domains and text types—literary, scientific, technical, financial, political, and so on—and how to gain the background knowledge you need, research terminology, capture the meaning in the target language, and edit your work. They also teach you translation technologies, intercultural competence, quality assurance and business processes, and sight translation—that is, the ability to read a written text out loud in a different language on the spot. Make sure you understand the translation learning goals of the specific program you are interested in.

Interpretation degrees train you to interpret live, oral interactions in simultaneous and/or consecutive modes as appropriate to different contexts—in international organizations, at international conferences and business meetings, and in diplomatic, medical, legal, and educational settings. For simultaneous interpretation, you will learn how to speak in one language what you are at the same time hearing in another. For consecutive interpretation, you will learn a system of note-taking that enables you to reproduce in the target language what people have said after they’ve finished speaking. Interpretation programs also teach you interpretation technologies, intercultural competence, and how to prepare for an assignment, self-monitor, and interact with clients. Make sure you understand whether the program you are interested in teaches both simultaneous and consecutive interpretation and the program’s interpretation learning goals.

In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter renders the speaker’s words into the listener’s language at the same time as the speaker speaks, which is particularly important at international conferences where multiple interpreters will be working in different languages. Consecutive interpretation involves listening to some length of speech and waiting for the speaker to pause before providing a rendering into the listener’s language.

A master’s degree in translation and/or interpretation prepares you for a wide range of careers as either a freelancer or an in-house language professional for private businesses, governments, nonprofits, and international organizations.

freelance translator and/or freelance interpreter is a language professional who is self-employed and works independently with a wide range of clients, rather than being employed by a single organization. Freelance translators and interpreters do much of the same work as other translators and interpreters, including work on business, governmental, and international projects. The work is more flexible, which, depending on your interests and skill sets, can be an advantage. If you want to freelance, it is important to understand how to run your own business (e.g., marketing yourself, budgeting, invoicing, managing client expectations, etc.), and this is something that some translation and interpretation programs make a point of teaching you.

Translators and interpreters frequently work in business, technology, government, training, teaching, communications, research, analysis, public and international relations, and other fields that require communicating across national and cultural lines. These professionals are also found in project management, strategic planning, administration, and operations, especially for organizations that have to coordinate cross-cultural teams and plan international projects. 

Employees with master’s degrees in translation and interpretation are needed in virtually every global sector and industry: banking, finance, technology, gaming, law, the sciences, automotive production, pharmaceuticals, energy, and health care, to name a few. Governments need translators and interpreters to communicate with other governments, with visiting international delegations and, often, with their own citizens. Consumer-products companies need translators for international marketing and manufacturing purposes, and interpreters for global meetings of their executive and sales teams, contract negotiations, mergers and acquisitions, and international litigation. The hospitality and travel industries need language professionals for international logistics and guest services.

International institutions like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund need interpreters and translators for their day-to-day activities. Domestic governments also need translators, especially to work in agencies that engage in international diplomacy, negotiations, cybersecurity, and defense.

Companies with a high demand for translators and interpreters include tech companies like Google, Huawei, and SAP; entertainment companies like Netflix, KamaGames Studio, and Riot Games; healthcare providers like Stanford Children’s Hospital; communications firms like Sprint; manufacturers like Tesla, Honda, Philips Lighting, and Special Aerospace Services; professional networking platforms like LinkedIn; and finance companies like SAI Global.

Language service providers (LSPs), also called translation and interpretation companies or agencies, organize teams of translators, interpreters, and support staff to provide language services across multiple languages. For international conferences and other events or a global software release, these teams can be quite large and span the globe. Such companies include DS-Interpretation, TransPerfect, the Syntes Language Group, ProTranslating, Accurapid, Morningside Translation, E4NET, e2f translations, Language Automation, Inc., Welocalize, Global Language Solutions, and many more.

You probably have a strong aptitude for translation if you have most of the following qualities: you have good analytical abilities and are good at paraphrasing; you are a strong writer in your native language; you are detail oriented and naturally curious, and you love the unique genius of different languages; you have a bent for searching until you find a reliable answer and a knack for effective Internet searches; and you have an appreciation for how tech tools can streamline and optimize tasks. Near-native reading comprehension and strong writing proficiency in your foreign language(s) are a must. Specialized knowledge in any domain—from gaming to physics to economics—is a plus.

You probably have a strong aptitude for interpretation if you have most of the following qualities: you have good analytical abilities and are good at paraphrasing; you are an active listener; you are clear and articulate when you speak; you have social and emotional intelligence; you like the adrenalin of performing (even if it can be nerve-wracking); you have a broad vocabulary and are well-informed about what is going on in the world; you are quick-witted and able to think and adapt on your feet; you are naturally curious; you love the unique genius of different languages; you have a knack for finding answers fast and are a quick learner, regardless of the subject; and you have an appreciation for how tech tools can streamline and optimize tasks. Near-native listening comprehension and strong speaking proficiency in your foreign language(s) are a must. Specialized knowledge in any domain—from engineering to literature to epidemiology—is a plus.

Yes, provided you’re proactive, strategic, and enterprising. The language industry is booming and evolving fast. It’s true that automatic translation technologies like Google Translate have become quite good for basic needs like getting the gist of a foreign-language text. And automatic interpretation technologies are making their debut. But there will always be the need for high-quality human translators and interpreters when precise, nuanced communication really matters.

The global language services industry was worth approximately US$46.52 billion in 2018 and was forecasted to experience a growth of US$5 billion, reaching US$56 billion in 2021. Almost half the language services market was accounted for by Europe. North America was the second largest market at 39.41 percent, with a market size of about US$21.8 billion in 2018.

Not necessarily, but if you want translation and/or interpretation to be your career and want to enter the profession job ready with a built-in core network of colleagues and connections, then you do need a degree. A master’s program is the way to go to learn how the experts work, learn from the insiders where the cutting-edge opportunities are, and be recognized as a professional from day one.

For more information on translation and interpretation, check out our MA in Translation, MA in Translation and Interpretation, and MA in Conference Interpretation, or contact