Military Career Opportunity: Translators and Interpreters

Some members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are skilled in reading, writing, and speaking foreign languages. Service as a military translator or interpreter involves making sense of what someone says or writes in one of the world's many languages, and sometimes returning communication in a language other than English.

On the job, military interpreters and translators typically work on military bases. They also may perform their duties on aircraft or aboard naval ships. Their tasks may include

  • Translating foreign documents, books, newspapers, magazines, and instructional manuals
  • Preserving original meaning of communications from a foreign language to a language of choice, often English
  • Handling electronic equipment designed to intercept foreign transmissions or broadcasts
  • Developing written reports on information gathered
  • Interviewing captured prisoners, deserters, or informers in their native tongues

To prepare for a career as a military translator or interpreter (even before joining a branch of the Armed Force), study foreign language classes during your high school years — or even before. Recognize your interest in working with people from a variety of backgrounds. Consider taking speech and writing courses; you may even want to become involved in your school's speech club, newspaper publication, or yearbook development.

Once you've committed to the military, you can expect training in your area of interest. If you want to pursue a role in translating or interpreting, you can look forward to classroom instruction, along with practice sessions. 

Of course, if you're not fluent in a language before you enter the military, your training will bring you up to speed before you move on to advanced coursework. Translators and interpreters prove themselves with several skills as they progress toward deployment in real-life situations. Training may include interrogation methods, report preparation, and operation and maintenance of sensitive communications equipment.

A similar skill set applies within the civilian population of interpreters and translators, many of whom work in university settings, government agencies, foreign embassies, and organizations that do business in overseas locations.