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Interpreter

Kaiwhakawhiti Reo ā-Waha

Alternative titles for this job

Interpreters convert what people say from one language into another.

Pay

Interpreters working for a language service provider usually earn

$35-$80 per hour

Self-employed interpreters usually earn

$80-$140 per hour

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

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an interpreter are average because the industry is small, but good for te reo Māori interpreters.

Pay

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.  

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

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.

Skills and knowledge

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.

As well as having good general knowledge, you need to have excellent command of your working languages, and be able to learn specialist vocabulary quickly.


Photo: Isabelle Poff-Pencole

Isabelle Poff-Pencole

Interpreter

Working 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.

What's the job really like?

 Isabelle Poff-Pencole

Isabelle Poff-Pencole

Interpreter

A passion for languages and cultures

“I really enjoyed learning foreign languages at school and discovering new cultures,” says interpreter Isabelle Poff-Pencole.

“So I decided to be an interpreter and studied English at university before doing a Masters in Translation and Interpreting in French, German and English. I then worked for a company for several years before going freelance. This was my goal because I wanted to work around other commitments."

Working with migrants and diplomats

Isabelle says she enjoys helping people of different backgrounds communicate with each other in a range of settings.

“I’ve done a lot of community interpreting for migrants who have difficulty communicating with government agencies, for example in courts and hospitals. But I also like the challenge of business and diplomatic interpreting."

Accuracy and calm required

“Every job brings different challenges,” says Isabelle. “You need to get the language accurate, so there’s always the opportunity to learn and improve your skills. But this variety is what keeps the work interesting.

“You’re also interpreting for people facing challenging times in their lives, so emotions can run high. With health issues or court disputes in particular, you have to be able to work under pressure and keep calm.”

Entry requirements

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.

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, languages and te reo Māori.

Personal requirements

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.

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.

Physical requirements

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

Registration

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

Find out more about training

Deaf Association of New Zealand (Inc)
(09) 828 3282 - national@deaf.org.nz - www.deaf.org.nz
Māori Language Commission
(04) 471 0244 - tereo@tetaurawhiri.govt.nz - www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz
NZ Sign Language Tutors Association (NZSLTA)
info@nzslta.org.nz - www.nzslta.org.nz/
NZ Society of Translators and Interpreters Inc (NZSTI)
(09) 529 1138 - info@nzsti.org - www.nzsti.org
Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand
secretary@slianz.org.nz - www.slianz.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Skills in certain languages or specialist areas can boost chances

It can be challenging for new interpreters to get started because the occupation is small. However, job opportunities for interpreters are expected to continue growing. 

Skilled te reo Māori interpreters are in shortage, so demand for them is high.

Other languages that are in relatively high demand are: 

  • New Zealand Sign Language
  • Mandarin and Cantonese
  • Pacific Island languages, particularly Samoan and Tongan
  • Hindi
  • French 
  • Spanish
  • minority languages spoken mainly by refugees such as Nepalese, Farsi and Rohingya.  

Knowledge in a specialised area, such as health or law, also increases your chances of finding work as an interpreter.

According to the Census, 528 interpreters worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Increased immigration creates opportunities for interpreters

More migrants from non-English-speaking countries have been coming to New Zealand. Interpreters are sometimes called in to interpret at medical and government agency appointments.

Interpreters work in a range of settings

A few interpreters are full-time employees, but most work part time, on contract.

Interpreters can work for:

  • language service providers
  • interpreting associations 
  • Parliament
  • government departments such as the Waitangi Tribunal
  • schools, universities and community education centres
  • hospitals
  • the police, prisons and courts
  • tourist operators
  • companies and non-governmental organisations
  • international delegations. 

Sources

  • Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, ‘Occupation Outlook, Interpreters and Translators’, accessed October 2020,(www.occupationoutlook.mbie.govt.nz). 
  • Spiessl, K, secretary, and Poff-Pencole, I, president, New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters, careers.govt.nz interview, October 2020.
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
  • Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) website, accessed October 2020, (www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

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.
A male interpreter sitting between two women

Interpreters work in a range of settings, including health care, business and courts

Last updated 8 January 2021