How do I become an interpreter

What does everyday work look like?

While you as a self-employed person practically live out of your suitcase and from order to order, you have a permanent job as an employee of an institution like the EU Parliament. Find out more about the day of a freelance interpreter below:

09:00 a.m.

Since you work from home, you sit down at your desk in the next room immediately after breakfast. First you check your e-mails and check whether there are new contact requests or signed offers for events. You send your terms to a prospective customer who is looking for a language mediator for the FIBO fitness fair.

09:35 a.m.

You will then prepare for your appointment today. For the press conference on a Europa League game, 1. FC Köln needs an interpreter who can reproduce the statements of the people involved in French. You read some general newspaper articles about the game and find out more about the names of the players and the rest of those responsible.

10:25 am

After your general research on the soccer game, you also create a small dictionary in which you record some special soccer terms in German and French. You also think of a corresponding symbol for each of these expressions that you can use in your conversation notes.

1:20 p.m.

After your lunch break, you will take the train to your current job at the Cologne football club. During the journey, you read through the glossary you created in the morning again in order to have all the specific vocabulary present in your memory.

2:10 p.m.

During the press round in the clubhouse, you translate the journalists' questions and the subsequent answers from the Cologne trainer into French. You wait with your translations until the people have finished their speech. You use a special technique to take notes on a small pad in order to have a small reminder for longer statements.

3:30 p.m.

Back in your apartment, you take another look at your e-mail inbox. This morning's potential customer agrees to your terms. He also sent you some documents about the upcoming trade fair, which you can use to find out more about the event. You print out the documents and read them in. Since you regularly go to sports fairs yourself, no further preparation is necessary for this job.

17:00 o'clock

In the late afternoon you will finally take part in a web seminar for interpreters on current developments in civil and criminal law. In this way, you want to keep yourself up to date, as the courts have recently commissioned you to interpret hearings for foreign-speaking people.

6:00 p.m.

After a long day you shut down your PC and let work rest until the next morning.


  • General University Entrance Qualification; Abitur or secondary school leaving certificate
  • Rapid understanding
  • Interest in other cultures
  • Willingness to familiarize yourself with specialist topics
  • empathy
  • Social skills

What does an interpreter do?

As a freelance interpreter, you can expect a wide variety of assignments, depending on previous experience, language skills and reputation. Accordingly, the conversations and speeches to be translated are thematically very different. In addition, you will use two different methods of interpreting. At large events with extravagant lectures, such as political debates, you usually translate simultaneously, i.e. almost at the same time as the speaker. So that you do not disturb anyone, you sit in an isolated cabin and wear headphones while you watch what is going on in the hall. If you are instead booked for a smaller conference with a few participants, you proceed consecutively. You are in the room and only interpret the statements for everyone involved when the respective speaker has finished. Since you have to memorize a lot more content, you use a certain system of symbols on a block to record all the important points. In small groups, you sometimes pass your translation on to the people concerned in a whisper.
Since languages ​​are also developing and, for example, new terms are emerging, you are encouraged to further improve your language level with the help of courses. In addition, certain assignments require that you familiarize yourself with complex disciplines such as law or computer science and acquire at least a basic understanding of the topic. This is especially necessary because you never reproduce speeches 1 to 1, but instead choose your own formulations. A well-founded specialist knowledge and corresponding knowledge of the respective terminology are therefore very important for you.
In order to always have the right wording ready even for difficult topics, you often create dictionaries before an upcoming event. These do not replace a general dictionary, but include special technical terms as well as rare or new terms. In this way, you will be able to interpret what has been said in a meaningful way, even in deeper discussions among scientists or experts.

What are the job prospects?

Since you often work as a freelance interpreter, entering this industry is not exactly easy. The more you prove yourself in your job and make a name for yourself, the faster your customer base will grow who use your services. A good network of contacts is therefore a must for you. Permanent positions in translation offices or institutions of the European Union, on the other hand, are only available to a limited extent.

What qualities should I have?

    What specializations are there?

    Basically, you can be used flexibly as an interpreter and read yourself into foreign subject areas independently before an assignment. You also have the opportunity to expand your knowledge of a subject or subject such as chemistry or motorsport in a targeted manner. You will acquire special knowledge that goes beyond the mere understanding of vocabulary. In this way, as a freelancer, you sharpen your portfolio and increase your attractiveness for clients from certain industries. A specialization can, however, arise of its own accord over the years if many customers from one and the same subject area make use of your services.
    In order to be able to perform interpreting work in court, you can take a general oath at the relevant institution. This obliges you to translate what the people say truthfully into the desired language. Accordingly, your work is always in demand if one of the parties present does not have the necessary language skills. In this way, the German legal system ensures that everyone involved in a process can understand each other and that the process as a whole is fair.


    • Payment according to the tariff for employees
    • Interpreters are often on the go and live out of a suitcase
    • Regular work breaks after 30 minutes at the latest to restore concentration
    • Interpreter is not a protected job title

    Did you already know, that ...

    • ... Interpreters and translators are two different professions because one is an oral speech and the other is translating written texts?
    • ... a London translation agency was looking for an interpreter for emojis in 2016?
    • ... the term interpreter comes from Hungarian and means something like mediator?

    These celebrities speak multiple languages

    Christoph Waltz - actor

    At least since his role in Quentin Tarantino's “Inglorious Basterds” it should be clear: Christoph Waltz is a linguist. As you can see in the film, the Austrian speaks German, English, French and Italian - although he says he is not fluent in the latter. (Image: © Philipp von Ostau / CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons))

    Viggo Mortensen - actor

    As King Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen learned a new language with Elvish in “The Lord of the Rings” - the actor already speaks Danish, Spanish and French in addition to English. In addition, he can communicate sufficiently in Swedish and Norwegian. (Image: © Nicolas Genin / CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons))

    What speaks for the job

    1. A varied job that involves completely different subject areas depending on the client
    2. Depending on the reputation and quality of your work, there is a chance of getting in touch with famous people
    3. Good opportunities for career changers and self-taught people who have a certain talent for languages

    What speaks against the job

    1. Insecure career as a freelance interpreter
    2. Translation errors can lead to misunderstandings and unwanted discussions among the people involved

    Starting salary as an interpreter

    As a rule, career starters start with a monthly salary of around € 2,400 ¹. However, you should take into account that as an interpreter you usually work as a freelance. Your payment is therefore dependent on your order situation and can be subject to strong fluctuations, especially at the beginning.

    On the other hand, employment relationships in translation offices or state authorities are less common and accordingly sought-after. A fixed income awaits you here, which is also based on the qualifications you have acquired.

    • Interpreter2.400 €¹
    • translator2.400 €¹

    Salary based on work experience

    Depending on the order situation, you as a freelance interpreter can also experience phases with no earnings. Many years of professional experience and an established reputation therefore pay off in order to land larger and better-paid contracts over time.

    Salary based on work experience

    Depending on the order situation, you as a freelance interpreter may also have phases without earnings. Many years of professional experience and an established reputation therefore pay off in order to land larger and better-paid contracts over time.

    Salary by state

    You can expect very good salary prospects as an interpreter in the old federal states, especially in Hesse and Baden-Württemberg. There you can expect an average monthly income of up to € 3,570 ¹. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt, you end up with around € 2,510 ¹ and € 2,590 ¹ gross, significantly less on your account. In return, you usually pay less for your living expenses in the new federal states.