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How Do I Become a Volunteer Interpreter?

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  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2018
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An interpreter is a person who translates one language into another for the benefit of a third party. Typically the translation only involves the spoken word, and an interpreter is not asked to deal with the translation of documents. A person may choose to have a career as an interpreter, getting paid for his or her services. It is also possible to become a volunteer interpreter, offering services for free. The first step volunteering is to find a place where your services are needed, then offer to assist at no charge.

Those working in this capacity must be fluent in at least two different languages, though many know three or more. Generally in order to become a volunteer interpreter you will have been speaking both languages for years, sometimes since childhood. For those people who have not been raised in a bilingual environment, living and studying for several years in another country can often provide an adequate grounding in a second language.

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Professional interpreters, those who get paid for their services, must usually have three or four years of experience in order to get hired. It can be difficult to find a job without experience, something you can gain when you become a volunteer interpreter. Assuming you have the necessary skills, contact as many organizations as possible and offer to become a volunteer interpreter for them. You must be proficient in at least two languages. If you live in an area where both languages are spoken, you may find that your services are in frequent demand.

Some of the places where you may be able to work as a volunteer interpreter are hospitals, schools and community organizations. Sometimes police stations can use the help of an interpreter. Courts typically have very specific and strict rules and do not generally accept volunteers. You many need to look outside of your local area if you are serious about becoming a volunteer interpreter. This depends on the languages you speak and the nature of the community you live in.

When looking outside of your local area, check with larger volunteer organizations such as the Peace Corps and the Red Cross. Such groups often have a need for interpreters. You may find that the Peace Corps will require you to have some experience and proficiency before you are allowed to work as an interpreter for the organization. Since their needs may vary, talk to them to see if you can become a volunteer interpreter through them. If you are looking for an opportunity to travel, this may be the best path for you to take.

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