Interpreter FAQs



1. How do I apply for a position as an interpreter at the Office of Language Services (LS/I)?
In-house openings for permanent staff interpreter positions at LS/I are very rare. When there are such openings, they are posted on the website of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) ( [hyperlink], where all civil service and direct-hire openings for the federal government are listed. For those interested in working with LS/I as a contractor on a per-job basis, we work with hundreds of freelance linguists under an agreement called a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). You will find more information about applying for freelance contract work with the Office of Language Services on the “Information for Freelance Linguists” page [insert link on page title].
2. Do I have to be a U.S. citizen in order to work for LS/I?
No, but you must be eligible to work in the United States. This typically means you are a permanent resident, possess a green card, or have a visa that does not require sponsorship. The Interpreting Division at Language Services (LS/I) does not sponsor visas or work permits. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must provide proof when submitting your application that you are able to legally work in the United States. Further, as a small business contractor doing business with the federal government, you will need to apply for a DUNS number [hyperlink] and register with the System for Award Management, or SAM [hyperlink].
3. What is the process for becoming an LS/I interpreter, and how long does it take?
First, we ask that you visit the “Information for Freelance Linguists” tab on our website and complete an application form [insert link on page title]. Upon receipt of a proper application from an eligible candidate, LS/I determines whether there is a need for that interpreter’s language pair. If so, we invite the candidate to test at our offices at one of three levels: Liaison Interpreter (LI) or Seminar Interpreter (SI), primarily for public diplomacy; and Conference Interpreter (CI), for those who serve on high-level assignments in government-to-government diplomacy. In some cases you may be contacted by our office for a phone screening and then invited to our offices for testing. If you pass one or all of these testing levels you must then undergo a background check for at least Moderate Risk Public Trust (MRPT) and, in some cases, for a clearance at the Secret or Top Secret level. Once your background check or clearance has been approved, you will need to apply for a DUNS number and register with SAM, as described above, and enter into a non-binding contract with LS/I. All of this takes time so please factor anywhere from 12 – 18 months for this process.
4. Which languages are in high demand?
Our needs fluctuate with changes in U.S. diplomacy and geopolitical trends. That said, we are always looking for good interpreters, be they specialists in one of the major languages or languages of lesser diffusion.
5.What kind of background does a typical LS/I contract interpreter possess?
Most freelance interpreters we work with regularly have years of formal interpreting experience. Most interpreters working at the conference level have considerable conference interpreting experience if their language combination is regularly used in conference settings. Some contract interpreters, particularly in language combinations not used regularly in conference settings, have experience in legal, healthcare, and community interpreting. The requirements in these settings differ considerably from those of LS/I assignments, which means this type of interpreting experience does not necessarily carry over well to the area of diplomacy and policy. Strong LS/I interpreting candidates tend to be those who keep up with political affairs here in the United States and in the country and region of the language they specialize in. Good candidates might also have formal training in interpretation, such as a Master of Arts in conference interpreting, if such training is available in their language combination. They are also often members of professional organizations such as AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) or TAALS (The American Association of Language Specialists).
6. Are references required for the application?
Yes, we request that you provide three professional references, preferably from people who can speak to your interpreting skills.
7. Does having a clearance from another government agency help me obtain a position with you??
Not directly, no. All applicants are required to undergo a background check conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) after passing the relevant interpreting test for contractors. It is up to DS to determine whether clearances from other agencies can be considered as a factor in their review of your background check and/or application for clearance.

8. What rates does LS/I pay for interpreting work?
While our rates are competitive, we are not authorized to publish them to linguists who have yet to take concrete steps toward working with us, such as passing our exam. The rates are fixed per fiscal year and are competitive with those offered by international organizations.
9. I am good at learning languages and I often interpret informally. Can I be trained to interpret for LS/I?
As a rule, LS-I does not provide training although we sometimes give seminars and workshops to help interpreters already working with us to improve their skills for U.S. government interpreting. On the matter of language fluency, there is a misconception that all bilinguals can serve as professional interpreters. In fact, after first mastering a language pair, a linguist needs to then undergo training in skills such as consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, notetaking, whispering, sight-translation and telephonic interpretation, just to name a few. Such training takes time. A graduate degree in conference interpreting requires two years of intensive full-time study and practice. We have found that, without training, bilinguals or general linguists cannot perform at the level needed in U.S. diplomacy. For example, someone exposed to the language at home may sound bilingual, but without training and experience they are rarely able to interpret at complex meetings involving America’s political, defense and trade relations. LS-I also follows the industry standard of having “working languages,” which means interpreters are only allowed to work in languages they successfully tested in. If an interpreter passes our Spanish interpreting test then they will be eligible to work between English and Spanish only. Even if they are fluent in, say, Portuguese and Italian, they will not be eligible to work in those languages unless they successfully test in those languages as well.
10. What advice would you give young people who are interested in a career in interpreting?

We strongly encourage young people interested in serving their country as linguists to develop both their language skills and their intercultural competence. That means studying hard and proactively seeking opportunities to interact with people from the culture and really internalizing the language and customs. After becoming professionally bilingual in this manner, it will then be necessary to decide what kind of training to receive. Joining professional associations and meeting with experts who know the current state of the language market in question can help guide people in the right direction.

How would you recommend candidates study for the interpretation test?

It is important to prepare well for the test since we ask interpreters to come to our offices in Washington, D.C. at their own expense. If the candidate is truly ready to prepare for the test – being professionally bilingual in their language pair and experienced in interpretation – we recommend they start familiarizing themselves with talking about America. Knowledge of U.S. civics and general Americana, and the ability to discuss those in the target language, are vital. The ability to perform consecutive interpreting under pressure is also a key component for all three levels (LI, SI and CI) so we recommend candidates practice in that mode. For candidates wanting to take the highest test – for conference interpreting (CI) level – since this work often involves government-to-government diplomacy, we recommend they practice interpreting policy speeches in both languages. Simultaneous interpreting is required for SI and above so practicing U.S.-related content in that mode is helpful as well. Finally, as a general practice, it is a good idea to keep up with current events via media in both languages.
12. What does LS/I expect of its interpreters?
Our interpreters act as the face of U.S. diplomacy so we prefer to work with linguists who hone their skills for service to the U.S. government (USG). In addition to basic interpreting skills, our contractors need to be familiar with linguistic nuance and all levels of speaking in their languages. LS/I interpreters need to know diplomacy and the special terminology that comes up in USG meetings. They also need to amass that knowledge in the target culture as well. For example, a French interpreter needs to know the organizational structures and terms used in major U.S. agencies like the Departments of State and Defense, but they also need corresponding knowledge for the French government, and indeed the governments of all Francophone countries with which America has relations. We expect our interpreters to keep up with current events in both cultures, while keeping their skills sharp.
13. Does LS/I work with language companies?
No, LS/I only works with those individuals who have been directly tested and vetted by our offices. Given our obligation to manage and maintain quality, we are unable to work with agencies that subcontract the work out to third parties.
14. Is travel required?
Travel is required for almost all interpreting assignments offered through Language Services. For Liaison- and Seminar-level interpreting work (LI and SI), a typical assignment involves traveling within the United States to various cities during a period of approximately three weeks. For conference-level interpreting work, the assignments are shorter in length and may involve domestic or international travel.
15. I do not live in the D.C. Metropolitan area. If I become an LS/I contract interpreter, will I receive work?
For work at the Liaison and Seminar levels (LI and SI), our eligible interpreters are located throughout the U.S. and abroad and are regularly assigned to domestic projects, and the travel costs are covered by the State Department. For CI-level work, however, interpreters in the D.C. area are more likely to receive work requests given their proximity to conference venues. For international CI assignments, as in domestic assignments, travel costs are covered by the State Department.