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Become a Spanish Interpreter: Education and Career Roadmap

Students who plan to become Spanish interpreters generally need to earn a degree, obtain Spanish interpreter certification, and practice their skills. Get details for Spanish interpreter careers, including ATA certification.

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How to Become a Spanish Interpreter

A Spanish interpreter helps change one language, such as English, into Spanish and vice versa, to help people communicate with one another. Typically an interpreter works in spoken language, while a translator works in written language, but the two terms are usually used together. In order to become a Spanish interpreter, there are several steps one should follow. Here we discuss each step in more detail.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While there are a variety of interpreter courses and degree options most interpreters need to have at least a bachelor's degree. The most important qualification for being a Spanish interpreter is being fluent in Spanish and another language, so students may decide to pursue a bachelor's degree program in Spanish, if they are native English speakers. These are typically offered as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) program and may be available online.

Another degree option is pursuing a Spanish-English Translation and Interpretation program. Some of these may be offered through Spanish departments that provide translation and interpretation as a concentration. Some programs may also offer an emphasis in a particular field, such as interpretation for healthcare or legal fields. Spanish-English Translation and Interpretation degree programs usually include a wide range of hands-on experiences through practicum experiences, internships, and more. Other course topics may include:

  • Interpreting
  • Translation
  • Spanish phonetics
  • Grammar
  • Language structure
  • Spanish culture

Step 2: Gain Experience

As mentioned, fluency in two languages is vital as an interpreter, so the more experience speaking and using both languages the better. Students who do not speak Spanish as their native language may choose to travel outside of the United States to a Spanish-speaking country to be immersed in the language. Students may also begin working for translating companies and/or participate in other internship experiences that help them further develop their interpreting skills.

Step 3: Obtain Spanish Interpreter Certification

Although there are not usually certification requirements for Spanish interpreters, the most common professional certification for any interpreter is ATA certification. The American Translators Association (ATA) offers the voluntary credential in multiple languages, including Spanish. The certification is designed for experienced translators and interpreters and requires a certification exam.

There are also other Spanish interpreter certification programs specific to different fields. For example, those interested in interpreting for the medical field may pursue a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) certification in Spanish from the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. There are a variety of other interpreter certification programs, some of which are available online.

Step 4: Participate in Continuing Education

It is usually helpful for Spanish interpreters to continue practicing their skills and growing in their particular field of interpreting. Some certifications, such as the ATA certification, require students to participate in continuing education for recertification. Specifically for the ATA certification, every three years students must demonstrate 20 hours of continuing education credits.

Spanish Interpreter Careers

As discussed, Spanish interpreters are needed in a variety of fields to help Spanish-speakers communicate with non-Spanish speakers. Spanish interpreters may work in the legal, medical, business, or educational fields helping convert the meaning, style, and tone of Spanish to another language and vice versa. Interpreters usually work full-time and may work regular or irregular hours, depending on their particular position.

As of July 2019, PayScale.com reported an hourly wage of $19.77 for interpreters in general. That same website also listed an average hourly rate of $18 for those with Spanish language skills.

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