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What does a Chinese Interpreter do?

By Britt Archer
Updated: Jan 28, 2024

Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. Like many other languages, it has several different dialects, with Mandarin being spoken by the most people. The various dialects are just one of many reasons why a Chinese interpreter's job is difficult. With global commerce, trade and travel, there is a great need to speak with people from different countries, and the need for Chinese interpreters is growing.

One type of interpreter performs the task simultaneously, that is, while the speaker is talking. A second type, consecutive interpreters, let a speaker finish his sentence and then translate it to the other party. Simultaneous Chinese interpreters usually are given some knowledge of the conversation beforehand so they can familiarize themselves with the words and phrases they might need.

An interpreter must be fluent in Chinese as well as English or whichever other language they will interpret Chinese into. Not only does an interpretation have to capture the meaning of the sentence, but the sentiment behind it as well. In oral communications, concepts and emotion are very clear, and sometimes a literal translation does not reflect the original speaker's intent. Because of this, a Chinese interpreter must convey and understand emotion as well, since the tone in which a word is said in Chinese often affects a word’s meaning.

The market for Chinese interpreter jobs is growing, especially English-Chinese interpreters. A Chinese interpreter may be found working for the government, hospitals, schools or in any area where breaking the language barrier is essential. Courts also often need interpreters, especially in areas where there is a high concentration of recent immigrants. Despite this, the majority of people who work in the field of Chinese interpreting are self-employed or subcontracted workers, and most Chinese interpreter jobs are part time.

A Chinese interpreter can translate written and oral communications, or choose to do only one or the other. Holding an accredited degree from a four-year university or college will often lead to a job, as it shows adequate knowledge and understanding. Qualifications for becoming a Chinese interpreter vary depending upon location and the job. Experience is highly valued, and novices are encouraged to volunteer or hold an internship to gain such experience.

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