Conference Interpreting is a specialist skill that must be learnt, so aspiring interpreters must either obtain a postgraduate qualification in conference Interpreting or gain significant professional experience in this field in order to pursue this career.
One needs to be able to understand foreign languages in order to become an interpreter, but it is a myth that one has to be bilingual.
Interpreters talk about active and passive languages. An active language is a language the interpreters speak that delegates can listen to. A passive language is a language the interpreters understand that is spoken by the delegates.
The most important language in interpretation is the mother tongue, since in most cases interpreters work from their passive language into their mother tongue. The mother tongue is said to be their active language and is sometimes known as the A-language. Interpreters have to be able to express themselves clearly and eloquently in their native language when Interpreting.
Some interpreters have an excellent command of a language other than the native language and are able to work into that language from one or more of their other languages. They have a second active language. An interpreter who is able to work from his or her mother tongue into a second active language is said to do a retour. Some interpreters who have a retour language work into that language only in consecutive, not in simultaneous.