Community interpreters aren't discussed with the regularity of medical or legal interpreters, but in many ways, they do exactly the same work on a broader scale. A community interpreter aids people whose first language is not that of the host country. He or she is responsible for enabling two or more people, "with very different backgrounds and perceptions and in an unequal relationship of power and knowledge, to communicate to their mutual satisfaction."

Possible Environments

Community interpretation is a broad and flexible field encompassing work in education, public relations, industry, social services, as well as local government issues and affairs. Potential employers include state and municipal agencies, non-profit organizations, news media, and local clinics, various types of investigators, union representatives, advertising firms, and police departments. Often, these types of interpreters create a network of private clients within the language community they serve.

The Interpreter's Role

Community interpreters need to do more than be fluent in the languages they interpret. They need to be fluent in the public services involved and to be aware of the cultural implications of the interpreting work.

Public service access is hindered by language differences, as well as cultural, class, race, gender, and socioeconomic disparity. Because of the variety of possible impediments, a community interpreter must, according to Marsha Sanders, consider the following factors:

  • The many possibilities for misunderstandings or lack of communication due to cultural and linguistic differences
  • The potential for racial prejudice
  • The difference between the status and power of the service provider and the relative powerlessness of the client

The community interpreter functions between two or more people who are not equal and so his or her role is regularly to bridge a power variance, as well as language and culture variances.

A community interpreter's function can be more complicated and diverse than that of the traditional conference interpreter. However, the core skills remain the same:

  • Competence in both source and target languages
  • Excellent knowledge of interpreting skills
  • Complete and accurate rendering of the source language message in the target language
  • Broad understanding of the inter-play between source and target cultures

Additionally, the community interpreter is constantly faced with both language and sensitive cultural challenges which do not present themselves in a typical interpreting situation.

Because of government stipulations requiring language services to be made available and a growing empathy for non-native speakers, the community interpreter is a growing line of work. Many interpreting programs are expanding to meet the need for these professionals and organizations are opening their doors to institutes that do not teach conference interpreting exclusively. Ablio offers three levels of service—standard, business, and expert—that could all be employed in community service interpreting. For interpreters seeking this type of work, Ablio invites you to apply for any service matching your expertise and you are able to modify your choice at later stages. It is certain that community interpreting needs will only increase.


Image by Diego Delso, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons