Interpreter Kaiwhakawhiti Reo ā-Waha

Interpreters convert what people say from one language into another.

Interpreters can register with the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI).

Interpreters may do some or all of the following:

  • listen to speakers over the telephone or face to face, and repeat what is said in the required language
  • interpret simultaneously (while the person is speaking) or consecutively (after the person has spoken)
  • travel with and interpret for tourist or business groups
  • consult dictionaries and other reference materials to find the accurate meaning of words and terms
  • research specialist areas or subjects to prepare for different types of interpreting jobs.

Physical Requirements

Interpreters need to have good hearing. They also need stamina, as they often have to work long and irregular hours.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for interpreters includes:

  • work with people from different cultures, or new migrants
  • work in professional sectors such as law enforcement, scientific, legal, technical or medical environments
  • living and working overseas – for example, going on a student exchange programme
  • language study.

Personal Qualities

Interpreters need to be able to: 

  • concentrate for long periods
  • relate to people from a range of cultures and make their clients feel comfortable
  • listen, process information and speak at the same time
  • react quickly and work well under pressure
  • cope with a wide variety of subjects and situations
  • keep information private
  • summarise and analyse information quickly
  • work in a team.

Interpreters also need to have a good memory and good comprehension skills.

Skills

Interpreters need to have:

  • an excellent command of their native language
  • excellent knowledge of one or more other languages
  • strong subject knowledge and specialist vocabulary
  • general knowledge (for high-level settings)
  • good public speaking skills (especially for consecutive interpreting, where an interpreter listens to the speaker, takes notes and then does a verbal interpretation)
  • familiarity with interpreting booth technology
  • a note-taking system for consecutive interpreting.

Conditions

Interpreters:

  • usually work part time and do freelance work, or work irregular hours, and some are on call 24 hours a day
  • work in a variety of settings such as courts, hospitals, offices and other workplaces
  • may travel locally or nationally, including with tourists and business groups.

Interpreters can earn around $35-$80 per hour.

Pay for interpreters varies depending on the employer, and whether you're a contractor working on call or a full-time employee.

  • Interpreters working for a language service provider usually earn between $35 and $80 an hour. 
  • Self-employed interpreters can earn between $80 and $140 an hour. 

Community interpreters generally charge per hour, while conference interpreters charge per day or half-day.

Interpreters who work on call, or outside regular office hours, can earn higher fees. 

Source: New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters, 2020.  

Interpreters may progress to set up their own business. With further training, interpreters may move into translation work (converting written material from one language to another).

Interpreters may specialise in:

  • sign language interpreting
  • te reo Māori interpreting
  • interpreting in particular languages
  • legal/court interpreting
  • medical interpreting
  • community interpreting
  • commercial interpreting
  • diplomatic interpreting.

Years Of Training

3 years of training usually required.

To become an interpreter you must be highly fluent in two or more languages. Most interpreters have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Māori interpreting

If you want to become a Māori-English or English-Māori interpreter, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) recommends:

  • a postgraduate qualification such as the University of Waikato's Postgraduate Diploma in Interpreting and Translating Māori
  • Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori's Te Toi Reo Māori Translators and Interpreters Certificate.

Sign language interpreting

To become a sign language interpreter, you need:

  • good knowledge of New Zealand Sign Language
  • a Bachelor in New Zealand Sign Language and English Interpreting or an equivalent overseas qualification.

The Ministry of Education offers sign language interpreting scholarships to students who intend to work with children in the education sector.

Sign language interpreters may also attend courses on educational interpreting, deaf/blind interpreting, and minimal language skill interpreting (signing for deaf people with few sign language skills).

Interpreting in other languages

The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) provides a list of courses available in New Zealand.

Interpreter