The world of interpreting: the ins and outs

The world of interpreting: the ins and outs The European Commission by barbiez

This article was written by Eve Elwell, published on 14th July 2011 and has been read 10096 times.

Eve Elwell is working as an intern for the European Commission, in their Interpreting department. Here, she gives an account of what it takes to make it into interpreting as a career choice, with information about the job, what to study and more...
To teach or to translate? That is the classic question that friends and relatives ask you on completion of your language degree, to which you reply 'no way' right? Don't fret; there is another way…Why not try interpreting! Although translating and interpreting are often used interchangeably they are two entirely different professions, with the latter often being misunderstood or overlooked. While translators work with the written word, interpreters work with speech, thus requiring different skills and different types of training.

I always thought that simultaneous interpreting was just listening and speaking at the same time, impressive in itself no doubt, but through my experience as an administrative trainee in DG Interpretation at the European Commission, I have learnt that it is actually so much more than that. Interpreters have to listen, understand, analyse, summarise, capture nuances, translate and express someone else's words…Simultaneously! Interpreting is nothing less than an intense verbal marathon.

Working as an interpreter for the European institutions is certainly not your average 9 to 5 job. To say the job is varied is an understatement, there is no such thing as a typical week. I have rubbed shoulders with colleagues who work in large conferences one day and then interpret at private lunches with President Barroso the next, before travelling to Budapest for a 3 day conference! It goes without saying that interpreters use their languages every day but they also have plenty of opportunities to learn new ones and are encouraged to do so. Many of you are probably still away or have just come back from your year abroad; as an interpreter you would be able to live overseas again and travel with your work.

However, this exciting and challenging profession is under threat for two main reasons; a) it is perceived as a difficult career path to follow, so many people disregard it as an option and b) international organisations, such as the EU institutions, are currently facing a severe shortage of interpreters in several languages, with English chief among them.

In order to become a conference interpreter within the EU institutions, you firstly need to have a Masters degree in Conference Interpreting before you can apply for their freelance accreditation tests or open competitions. In this current economic climate and with the impending rise of tuition fees in the UK, this option may seem arduous and expensive, but help is at hand. Many universities running Conference Interpreting courses have study bursaries available for students, but you will need to contact the universities directly to find out more. In addition, DG Interpretation at the European Commission also offers some bursaries to interpreting students each year. Additionally, you don't necessarily have to study interpreting in the UK of course. There are many universities across Europe that offer top quality courses at a much lower cost, for example the ESIT in Paris offers the European Masters in Conference Interpreting for just 600€ a year.

Financial considerations aside, DG Interpretation also provides training support to its partner universities through study visits, teaching assistance and training materials, which helps students better prepare themselves for the assessments they need to take in order to become an interpreter for the EU institutions.

Students are often unaware of this help and as a result the EU institutions and other international organisations (such as the UN) are not receiving enough native English candidates for their tests, in order to replace their current staff and freelancers who are heading towards retirement. Over the next 5-10 years, DG Interpretation is set to lose around 50% of its staff and freelance interpreters in the English interpreting unit alone, which means that it is looking for approximately 200 native English interpreters over the next decade.

You may protest that everybody abroad speaks English nowadays anyway so interpreting will eventually become obsolete. However current statistics show that approximately 96% of meetings in the EU institutions require English interpretation, a figure that is steady from year to year. Without enough English interpreters these meetings will simply not take place. Alternatively, if these meetings were to go ahead without interpretation, foreign delegates who - from experience - often don't have adequate language skills, would be forced to speak in a foreign language. This is not only against the democratic values of the EU but also threatens effective and comprehensive communication between Member States. Interpreters really are right at the heart of the European project and they have the unique possibility to help shape the future of the EU.

A career in interpreting is a worthwhile and achievable aim but not everyone is up to the challenge. You need to have an excellent command of English as your mother tongue, have a minimum of 2 other EU languages and that all important Masters degree in Conference Interpreting. However, if you have a passion for languages, a curiosity about the world and you want variety in what you do then interpreting might just be the career for you!

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