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What Does a Freelance Interpreter Do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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A freelance interpreter may be hired to provide language translation services on a case-by-case basis. These interpretation professionals can fill gaps in coverage for organizations that have need for such services. For example, a court may not maintain a full time Korean interpreter on staff because of limited need. When a case where the need for someone who can interpret Korean arises, the court can hire a freelance interpreter to provide coverage. Having a license or certification may be necessary for some jobs.

People may choose to specialize in a particular kind of interpretation, like medical or legal. This requires knowledge of some specialized terms and concepts which may not necessarily be understood by all interpreters. Others offer more general services. Some carry certifications indicating that they have received advanced training. These can be useful when it comes to soliciting clients.

Marketing is an important part of the job for a freelance interpreter. This can include distributing cards and brochures to people who might be prospective clients, as well as getting listed in directories of interpreters available to provide services in a region. Many courts, for example, have a list of approved interpreters that they consult when seeking a freelance interpreter, in which case people need to be on that list if they want to be called. Some may place advertisements in regional publications to provide information about their services, and also work to develop a word of mouth reputation.

When a client contacts a freelance interpreter to discuss a job, the two can discuss the specifics and terms. The interpreter wants to know what kind of services are needed, and how much time may be dedicated to the job. Some may be subject to arbitrary fee schedules set by a hospital or court to ensure uniformity, while others can set their own rates and provide a quote for the client. This quote may be subject to change if the job is more complex or contains elements that were not disclosed.

Some interpreters prefer to work under a contract clearly spelling out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. The interpreter agrees to provide a service that does not include offering opinions, suggestions, or additional information on the material translated. This protects interpreters from liability and entanglements on the job. Once the interpretation services are complete, a bill can be generated for the client or a third party paying for the services. Collecting payments from clients can be necessary, as some clients may be sluggish with payments, which can sometimes create problems.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jul 25, 2014

I wonder how a freelance interpreter determines his or her fees. I'm sure it depends on experience and skill, but there must be a general outline of what these fees are like, right?

I did freelance interpretation a few times when I was in college. They needed someone for conferences at the last minute and my friend recommended me. I did not get paid much, but I received a lot of comments on what a great interpreter I am. I never looked into certification, but now I wonder if I should have.

By turquoise — On Jul 24, 2014

@ddljohn-- A freelance translator translates written material, whereas an interpreter does simultaneous interpretation. So the skills required to be an interpreter is slightly different. Being an interpreter is a little bit harder than being a translator.

There are both freelance interpreters and translators. A freelance translator can technically work from anywhere. But a freelance interpreter has to be present physically in order to work.

By ddljohn — On Jul 24, 2014

What is the difference between a freelance interpreter and a freelance translator?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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