Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters - What They Do

Translators translate written material from one language to another. Interpreters translate oral communication from one language to another during speeches, meetings, conferences, debates and conversation, or in court or before administrative tribunals. Terminologists conduct research to itemize terms connected with a certain field, define them and find equivalents in another language. Sign language interpreters use sign language to translate spoken language and vice versa during meetings, conversations, television programs or in other instances. Translators, terminologists and interpreters are employed by government, private translation and interpretation agencies, in-house translation services, large private corporations, international organizations and the media, or they may be self-employed. Sign language interpreters work in schools and courts, and for social service agencies, interpretation services, government services and television stations, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group perform some or all of the following duties:

Translators and translator-revisers

  • Translate a variety of written material such as correspondence, reports, legal documents, technical specifications and textbooks from one language to another, maintaining the content, context and style of the original material to the greatest extent possible
  • Localize software and accompanying technical documents to adapt them to another language and culture
  • Revise and correct translated material
  • May train and supervise other translators.


  • Identify the terminology used in a field of activity
  • Conduct terminological research on a given subject or in response to inquiries for the preparation of glossaries, terminology banks, technological files, dictionaries, lexicons and resource centres, and add to terminological databases
  • Manage, update and circulate linguistic information collected from terminological databases
  • Provide consultative services to translators, interpreters and technical writers preparing legal, scientific or other documents that require specialized terminologies.


  • Interpret oral communication from one language to another aloud or using electronic equipment, either simultaneously (as the speaker speaks), consecutively (after the speaker speaks) or whispered (speaking in a low whisper to one or two persons as the speaker is talking)
  • Provide interpretation services in court or before administrative tribunals
  • May interpret language for individuals and small groups travelling in Canada and abroad
  • May interpret for persons speaking an Aboriginal or foreign language in a variety of circumstances
  • May train other interpreters.
  • Translators, terminologists and interpreters specialize in two languages, such as French and English, the official languages of Canada. They may also specialize in another language and one of the official languages. The main areas of specialization include administrative, literary, scientific and technical translation. Interpreters may specialize in court, parliamentary or conference interpretation.

Sign language interpreters

  • Translate sign language to a spoken language and vice versa either simultaneously or consecutively.
  • Sign language interpreters work in French and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) or in English and American Sign Language (ASL).

Job titles

  • localiser
  • conference interpreter
  • court interpreter
  • interpreter
  • legal terminologist
  • literary translator
  • medical terminologist
  • sign language interpreter
  • terminologist
  • translator
  • translator-reviser
  • community interpreter
  • translator adaptor
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • A university degree in translation with a specialization in translation, interpretation or terminology in two languages including at least one of the two official languages or A university degree in a related discipline such as languages, linguistics, philology and courses in linguistic transfer and two years' experience as a full-time translator working in two languages, at least one of which is an official language or Five years of experience as a full-time translator working in two languages, at least one of which is an official language, are required.
  • Sign language interpreters require a college training program or a university certificate in sign language interpretation.
  • Certification on dossier or by examination from the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council may be required for translators, terminologists and interpreters.
  • Sign language interpreters may require a certificate or certification evaluation in LSQ or ASL.
  • Fluency in three languages is usually required for translators or interpreters working in an international context.
  • Membership in a provincial or territorial association of translators, interpreters and terminologists may be required.
  • Membership in a provincial association of sign language interpreters may be required.

Essential Skills


  • Read short e-mail from clients, co-workers and colleagues to learn about new job assignments, meeting and conference call arrangements and the status of ongoing work. (2)
  • Read text entries in terminological databases and on forms. For example, a translator may read definitions of words in database search results. A terminologist may read a translator's questions about the use of a term in a consulting request form. A school sign language interpreter may read a teacher's description of a deaf student's behaviour in a log book entry. (2)
  • Scan advertisements, corporate brochures, handbooks, conference proceedings, newspapers and magazines for information relevant to their job assignments. For example, an interpreter may scan newspaper articles and conference background texts to develop an awareness of subjects and events which will be discussed during a federal-provincial conference. A terminologist may read corporate brochures and handbooks to analyze the contents for term research. (3)
  • May read requests for proposals for projects which involve the provision of translation, terminology consulting and interpretation services. They read proposal requests to learn about the scope of proposed work, mandatory requirements for credentials and experience, evaluation criteria and selection processes and to determine whether they have the necessary skills and resources to undertake the projects. (4)


  • Read lengthy texts on technical and expert topics to translate them to other languages. They pay close attention to the meaning, context, structure and style of the original texts so that they can translate them faithfully and adapt them suitably for other cultures. For example, a translator may read scientific reports, legal documents, school manuals, technical specifications and other texts. A localisor may read texts from software, compact disks, databases and web sites. A translator-adaptor may read the television scripts of scientific documentaries. (4)
  • Read proofread translated and source texts to proofread and revise. They verify accuracy, quality, grammar, and spelling, punctuation and typographical errors. They read these texts carefully, making high-level inferences to provide criticism and suggestions on aspects such as word selection, and sentence construction, accuracy and clarity of meaning. For example, a translator-reviser may read lengthy proofread translated and original versions of lengthy medical and legal publications to provide revised versions. (5)

Translators and Interpreters

  • Read textbooks, essays, reports and manuals to locate and contextualize specialist vocabularies and prepare for job assignments. A sign language interpreter in a secondary school may read textbooks used to teach technical, literary or scientific subject matter in classes. (4)


  • Read textbooks, essays, journals and manuals to conduct terminological research for the purpose of creating and maintaining terminological databases. For example, they may read organizational manuals and reference works to identify, classify and define concepts relating to a given topic.They may read journals treating subjects of interest to find neologisms, their meanings, contexts and usage status among specialists in the field. (4)

Document use

  • Locate data on labels and signs. For example, a sign language interpreter may scan dials and labels on a closed-circuit television to verify if the equipment is set for a deaf-blind student. (1)
  • Enter data into lists, tables and schedules. For example, translators may enter word counts and other workload data into spreadsheets. Interpreters may enter dates, locations and clients' names into work schedules and update lists of essential terminology with new terms. (2)
  • Locate data in lists, tables and schedules. For example, translators may scan menus to locate search options in terminological databases. They may scan database output tables to locate verbs and synonyms. Court interpreters may scan dockets to identify when they are expected in court. They find the correct spelling of words by consulting dictionaries, grammar and conjugation books. (2)
  • Complete entry forms. For example, terminologists may complete electronic forms to update terminological databases. They may enter data such as field names, key terms, equivalents, sources, authors' names and dates. Sign language interpreters may complete logbooks to record the numbers and types of lessons completed with deaf students. (3)
  • Locate data on forms. For example, a terminologist may review a consulting request form to locate the source's name, organization, location, telephone number and questions. A translator may locate all text to be translated on application forms. (3)


Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters

  • Write e-mail to clients, co-workers and colleagues to confirm receipt, understanding and acceptance of job assignments, plan meetings and conference calls, ask for information and respond to enquiries. (2)
  • Write text entries in forms. For example, they may write the definitions of words and expressions in electronic forms to update glossaries and terminological databases. Sign language interpreters may write logbook entries to describe lessons completed with deaf students. (2)
  • Write letters to colleagues, clients and individuals from various organizations. For example, a corporate terminologist may write a letter to company lawyers offering an official linguistic opinion concerning the adoption of a product name and trademark. (3)
  • Write the minutes of meetings with clients, co-workers and colleagues. They summarize discussions, record decisions made and note items requiring follow-up. They use clear and concise language to ensure all parties share a common understanding of issues, timelines and action plans. For example, a terminologist may write the proceedings of a meeting of the NATO Military Committee on Terminology. (3)
  • May write proposals for projects which involve the provision of translation, terminology consulting and interpretation services. In these proposals, they address project objectives, identify project team members and describe their academic backgrounds and relevant work experiences. For example, a translator may prepare a proposal to assist a national company with the translation of its internal communication and advertising materials. (4)


  • Translate and adapt various lengthy texts from one language to another. While they have to maintain the structure and style of the original texts, they may need to modify the content to reflect cultural differences. They may have to convey abstract, technical and creative concepts and use specialized vocabulary. For example, a government translator may translate an employment insurance appeal. A localiser may translate new accounting software. A translator- may adapt a humorous corporate advertising campaign to be equally amusing in the target language. A translator-adaptor may prepare the French adaptation of a movie script originally written in English. (5)


  • Write glossaries, technological files, linguistic bulletins, dictionaries, lexicons and other terminological resource materials for standardization purposes. They have to gather, analyze and synthesize knowledge from multiple terminological searches. For example, a government terminologist may write a glossary for health services. A self-employed terminologist may write an English-French dictionary for medical and paramedical sciences. A corporate terminologist may write a series of linguistic bulletins addressing terminologies specific to topics such as information technology security, money laundering, environmental science and advertising campaigns. (5)


Money Math

  • May calculate travel claim amounts upon return from out-of-town meetings and conferences. They may calculate reimbursement for use of personal vehicles at per kilometre rates and add amounts for meals, accommodation and other expenses. (2)
  • May calculate purchase order, and invoice amounts and income and sales tax instalment amounts. For example, a translator may calculate line amounts, taxes and totals on purchase orders for office equipment and supplies. When preparing an invoice, a freelance translator may multiply the number of words translated by a unit rate, add the cost of proofreading, calculate applicable taxes and total amounts. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Prepare and monitor schedules of projects which involve the provision of translation, terminology consulting and interpretation services to public and private sector clients. They must ensure that activities are progressing on schedule. They may have to adjust schedules because of unforeseen problems. For example, a localiser may prepare and monitor the schedule of a project involving the translation of texts from a corporate database and website. (2)
  • May prepare and monitor budgets of their projects. They may have to ensure that expenditures incurred for subcontracting and travel are fully covered by their budgets. Freelance translators, terminologists and interpreters may have to change budget line items because of unexpected events. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math


  • May measure the duration of dialogues using timers and stopwatches. For example, translator adaptors may time movie and television dialogues to adjust dubbing. (1)

Data Analysis Math

  • Collect, analyze and interpret workload data. For example, a translator may compare the number of words translated over a period of time to identify deviations from targets. (2)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate times needed to perform job duties using past experience as a guide. For example, a translator may estimate the number of hours required to translate a thousand-word technical document. (1)

Oral communicationTranslators, Terminologists and Interpreters

  • May talk to suppliers and purchasing officers to order and enquire about equipment and supplies. For example, a sign language interpreter may talk to a supplier to enquire about the cost of a text telephone system designed to assist hearing impaired individuals. (1)
  • Discuss task assignments, work scheduling and delivery dates with managers and client service coordinators. They may also negotiate deadlines, assess satisfaction with services provided and identify opportunities for other work. (2)
  • Discuss technical matters with clients, co-workers and colleagues. For example, translators often call clients to tactfully clarify the meaning of poorly written texts. Terminologists may counsel translators, interpreters and technical writers about appropriateness of terms to be used in legal, scientific, business and other documents. Interpreters may discuss conference materials and subject-matter specific terms. (3)
  • May teach other translators, terminologists and interpreters about work methods, procedures and systems. For example, translators and terminologists may train co-workers to use computer-aided translation and terminological tools. They may teach the steps trainees have to follow when using particular software functions. They may explain applicable methods, demonstrate tasks, facilitate discussions and question trainees to ascertain their understanding of procedures. Interpreters may monitor and critique the work of interpreters in training. (3)


  • Translate speech from one language to another simultaneously and consecutively, sometimes using electronic equipment. They may also provide whispered interpretation to particular individuals as conversations proceed. For example, a conference interpreter may translate oral communication from one language to another during speeches, conversations, debates, meetings, conferences and television programs. A court interpreter may translate oral communication from one language to another in courts of justice and before administrative tribunals. A sign language interpreter may translate between oral communication and sign language during conversations, meetings and television programs. (4)


Problem Solving

Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters

  • Are unable to complete job tasks as planned because audio and computer equipment is not working properly. For example, a translator about to deliver a printed translation to a reviser may realize that the printer is not working. The translator may troubleshoot the equipment with the help of co-workers. If these troubleshooting efforts are unsuccessful, the translator may contact a service technician for assistance. (2)


  • May be notified that interpreters for upcoming shifts are not in yet. They remain in interpreting booths until their replacements have arrived and rearrange subsequent schedules. (1)
  • Sometimes have to translate verbal messages which they don't understand. For example, a witness in a discovery hearing may use a Punjabi dialect not fully understood by the court specialist providing consecutive interpretation. The latter may interrupt the speaker and ask for clarification. The interpreter must use clear and unambiguous language and refrain from leading the witness. (2)


  • Are occasionally unable to understand terms which they have to translate. For example, they may encounter acronyms and technical terms with which they are not familiar. They may consult other translators and terminologists and look up terminological databases, glossaries, technological files, specialized dictionaries, lexicons and linguistic bulletins. They may also contact the authors to obtain clarifications. (2)
  • Discover errors of vocabulary, grammar and meaning in source texts. They call clients for clarification. They tactfully suggest that texts must be reworked before they can be translated. They may need to renegotiate contracts to add time for hours spent revising source texts. (2)

Decision Making

  • Select audio and computer equipment to purchase. For example, self-employed translators select the most appropriate translation software in order to broaden their range of contract opportunities. They verify which translation memories are most often used by translation agencies. They also consider the costs, reliability of information and user-friendliness offered by each available option. (2)
  • Decide to bid on specific projects which involve the provision of translation, terminology consulting and interpretation services. They review requests for proposals, identify project tasks and requirements, and bid only on projects for which they have the necessary skills and resources. (3)

Critical Thinking

Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters

  • Assess the quality and suitability of translations. They ensure that the information conveyed is accurate and that translations reflect the meaning, context and style of the source texts. , taking into consideration intended audiences. They also verify sentence structure and the use of specific words, acronyms, idioms and technical terms. For example, translators and terminologists assess the quality and suitability of written translations while interpreters assess the quality and suitability of verbal translations. (3)


  • Evaluate the accuracy, grammar, spelling, completeness and clarity of text entries into terminological databases, glossaries, technological files, linguistic bulletins, dictionaries, lexicons and other terminological resource materials. They assess the most appropriate choices of terms for their clients' needs. They conduct research to ascertain the accuracy of translations and definitions and proofread for grammar and spelling errors. They also ensure that crucial information has not been omitted and wording is not open to misinterpretation. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Translators, terminologists and interpreters plan job tasks to meet the needs of a maximum number of clients. They provide input into the scheduling of their own activities although their priorities may be set by managers and service coordinators. In large organizations, they need to reorganize job task sequences frequently in order to accommodate urgent requests from clients and assist co-workers who call or drop-in for information and advice. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Translators, terminologists and interpreters may be responsible for assigning tasks to other translators, terminologists and interpreters. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Recall a wide variety of sources of information pertaining to language and linguistic matters.
  • Remember numerous acronyms, official names, designations, popular expressions and technical terms relevant to particular contexts and genres of texts.
  • Recall short passages of spoken words in order to translate them into target languages.

Finding Information

  • Find information about terms with which they are not familiar by consulting other linguistic experts and searching terminological databases, glossaries, technological files, textbooks, specialized dictionaries, lexicons, linguistic bulletins and web sites. (3)
  • Find information relevant to specialized topics by conducting extensive literature searches. They must analyze, synthesize and integrate information from a wide range of sources, including the Internet, to expand their knowledge of topics relevant to their job assignments. (4)

Digital technology

Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters

  • Use graphics software. For example, they may create or translate slide shows using presentation software such as PowerPoint. They may import scanned illustrations, tables and graphs. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they may receive correspondence and send e-mail with attachments pertaining to their work assignments to clients, co-workers and colleagues. Sign language interpreters may also use text telephone systems to send messages to hearing impaired individuals. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they may access on-line terminological databases. They may also perform keyword searches to find information to further their understanding of source texts. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they may enter, update and retrieve information on the definition, translation, correct spelling, synonyms and idiomatic equivalents of words from terminological databases such as Termium and Termium Plus. They may also search, display and print data from these databases. Terminologists may also create terminological records for specialized vocabulary entering terms, equivalents, alternate terms, definitions, contexts, sources, usage labels, and subject fields into databases. (3)
  • Use word processing. For example, they may prepare letters, glossaries, minutes of meetings, translations, proposals and linguistic bulletins using programs such as Word and WordPerfect. They may supplement text with imported graphs, illustrations and spreadsheets. They may also use formatting features such as page numbering, heading levels, indices, footnotes and columns. Translators may also use word count and spell-check functions on finished translations. (3)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, they may create workload, invoice and expense spreadsheets using programs such as Excel. They embed formulas to perform calculations. (3)
  • May use financial software. For example, freelance translators, terminologists and interpreters may enter purchases and sales to journals using financial software such as Simply Accounting. They may also print out customer statements and use quarterly sales tax report functions. (3)

Translators and Terminologists

  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they may use translation memory programs such as Trados and WordFisher to constitute translation memories as they translate, ensure terminological consistency within and between translated documents and recall text that has already been translated. They may use automatic phrasal extraction tools such as SychroTerm to enter and retrieve terminological equivalents using pairs of original and translated texts, known as bitexts. They may use extraction tools such as LogiTerm to search terminological database records, bitexts and archives simultaneously. They may also use automated translation tools such as SDL Enterprise Translation Server and SDL Knowledge-based Translation System to prepare preliminary translations which they can revise to obtain desired quality levels. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Translators, terminologists and interpreters need to coordinate and integrate job tasks with co-workers and colleagues. They work closely with managers, and service coordinators and clients to define task assignments, schedules and deadlines, and to monitor progress. They interact with clients, co-workers and colleagues to discuss source texts, languages, terminologies and clients and to coordinate job tasks. They may supervise and train other translators, terminologists and interpreters about work methods, procedures and systems. (3)

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is an integral part of the job of translators, terminologists and interpreters. They are expected to further their knowledge of languages and of topics relevant to their job assignments. On a day-to-day basis, they acquire new learning by speaking with co-workers and colleagues, searching dictionaries, terminological databases, glossaries and web sites and reading reference books, newspapers, trade publications and current event essays. They also attend conferences, seminars, symposia, workshops and courses on topics relevant to their specialization areas. They may be required by their employers and professional corporations to develop their own learning plans. (4)