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Public Service Interpreting and Translation PSIT

What is it?
Public service linguists often combine both translation and interpreting activities and work with a wide range of topics, particularly in the social, medical and legal fields. Due to the eclectic nature of these professions, it is impossible to pinpoint a single type of assignment but translations can involve booklets, leaflets, newsletters and various legal documents. In other words: ‘anything and everything’*. You may also be called to interpret in challenging yet interesting settings such as hospitals, prisons, courts or schools. You can choose to be a member of staff, in which case you will be based in the offices of a public institution (e.g. City Council), or decide to work as a freelancer. In both cases, you might have some days when you focus more on translation and others when you complete interpreting assignments outside of the office.

How do I get in?
There are several ways to start a career as a translator and/or interpreter for public services. Some are expert in a discipline and marry their language skills to the knowledge they have acquired in education and/or professional experience (e.g. studies and career in science). Others build from their linguistic abilities and gain specialist understanding in the fields they are led to work with but whatever their background, they will often complete a DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) in order to be allowed to work in some environments such as court or prisons. As one of Manchester City Council’s translator and interpreter puts it: ‘one mistake of ours can actually ruin somebody’s life’*, which shows both the importance of sound training and the valuable role of public service linguists. If at all possible, volunteering is a good idea as it allows you to get to know the work environment and means that you are in a favourable position if a job opportunity arises.

Am I the right person for the job?
Of course, ‘just knowing two languages is not enough’* but it is a good start! You will need to have an extensive range of vocabulary and a deep understanding of the relevant topics but also a good understanding of the cultures involved so as to render the message in the most accurately possible way… and to avoid any faux-pas. It goes without saying that excellent communication skills are a must as you will have to grasp the subtleties of written, verbal but also non verbal information (e.g. body language). Although it is often possible to think long and hard about the right word in translation, spontaneity is a crucial skill in interpreting and it is essential that you can think on your feet.

Words of wisdom
Do not forget that the role of a translator/interpreter is that of an impartial mediator who facilitates communication between people who could not otherwise understand each other. If you decide to take up the challenge, you will have to understand the needs of both the service user (who can generally read/speak very little or no English) and the service provider (e.g. GP, immigration advisor, solicitor) so as to act in a professional manner at all times.

Become a member of the PSIT community and visit the new PSIT website!

* Taken from this interview with Manchester City Council's in-house communications agency m-four

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National Network for Translation

Routes into Languages,
University of Southampton,
Avenue Campus,
Highfield,
Southampton,
SO17 1BJ, UK

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