Interpreting Specializations

Interpreting can be found wherever communication is needed between two parties who do not share a common language. From the routine to the unusual, from individuals to heads of state, interpreters build bridges and forge stronger, more productive connections in a variety of settings.


Community Interpreting

Bidirectional interpreting that takes place in communicative settings...among speakers of different languages for the purpose of accessing community services
— International Organization for Standardization (ISO) International Standard 13611: Interpreting: Guidelines for Community Interpreting, 2014

In other words, community interpreting is a specialization of interpreting that facilitates access to community services for individuals who do not speak the language of service.

Community interpreting is an umbrella term that includes:

  • Medical (Healthcare) Interpreting

  • Educational Interpreting

  • Social Services Interpreting

Medical Interpreting (also known as Healthcare Interpreting)

Medical interpreting involves interpreting for patients, their families and healthcare providers. In other words, it is a specialization of community that facilitates access to healthcare. Medical interpreters may be bilingual staff (e.g. doctor, nurse, phlebotomist, receptionist, etc.), staff interpreters or contract interpreters.

Medical interpreters work in these settings, among others:

  • Hospitals

  • Rehabilitation facilities

  • Physician’s offices

  • Mental health clinics

  • Assisted living facilities

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Here’s a wonderfully informative podcast on medical interpreting with guest speakers Esther Diaz and Manuel Higginbotham, national experts on language access. They are especially well-known in Texas, given their strong ties to the Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators (TAHIT). This podcast addresses language access laws, interpreting certifications and why family members should never interpret!


Educational Interpreting

Educational interpreting involves interpreting for students, their families and educational providers (e.g. teachers, administrators, counselors, etc.). It takes place in educational settings such as:

  • Public and private primary and secondary schools

  • Before- and after-school programs and events

  • Community colleges and universities

The March-April 2019 edition of the ATA Chronicle featured the article: Educational Interpreting 101: It’s a Lot Harder than It Looks by two leading figures in the educational interpreting field.

Social Services Interpreting

Social services interpreting involves interpreting for individuals, their families and social services providers. It takes place in social services settings such as:

  • Refugee and resettlement services

  • Public housing

  • Domestic violence and sexual assault agencies

  • Job training programs

  • Transportation services

  • Libraries

  • Multicultural events and festivals



Faith-based Interpreting

Faith-based interpreting involves interpreting for members and organizers of religious organizations. It takes place in faith-based settings such as:

  • Churches

  • Synagogues

  • Mosques

  • Temples

Legal Interpreting

Interpreting related to legal processes and proceedings, including but not limited to lawyer-client representation, prosecutor-victim/witness interviews and law enforcement communications.
— Framer, Bancroft, Feuerle & Bruggeman, The Language of Justice: A Training Manual, 2010, p. xi

Legal interpreting is often confused with court interpreting, which takes place strictly in courtrooms. Legal interpreting encompasses court interpreting but also covers interpreting in any legal setting or for any situation that may have legal ramifications. This places legal interpreting in a gray area that straddles strictly legal settings and community settings. Some examples of out-of-court legal interpreting settings include:

  • Police stations

  • Prisons and detention centers

  • Immigration offices

  • Office of human rights

  • Mediation and arbitration offices

  • Lawyer’s offices



Conference Interpreting

Conference interpreting involves interpreting for speakers and attendees at conferences and events for private and governmental agencies. Two of the most frequently cited organizations that use conference interpreting are the United Nations and the European Union. (The actress Nicole Kidman in the movie The Interpreter, often embodies what people think of as a professional interpreter!)

Here’s a fantastic video narrated by Barry Slaughter Olsen, Co-President of InterpretAmerica. It provides an educational (and entertaining!) overview of interpreting, with a special focus on conference interpreting.

Business Interpreting

Business interpreting involves interpreting for two or more parties in a business setting such as:

  • Board meetings

  • Annual shareholder meetings

  • Negotiations

  • Company visits

  • Construction sites



Other Interpreting Specializations

  • Media Interpreting

  • Escort Interpreting

  • Tourism Interpreting

  • Military Interpreting

  • Among others!