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Hello all, I would love some opinions based on my options or new suggestions.

I was born in Lebanon and grew up in the U.S. I'm an English A, with limited Lebanese Arabic (probably a B1). I also have some background with Spanish but still at A1. I'm considering the following options for interpretation work:

  1. Study Arabic further and work in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. With this option I think I would have to narrow my focus to a particular dialect, correct? Levantine would be the most obvious but others (if higher in demand) would also be an option.

  2. Study Spanish and work in Canada. I know the field with these two languages is very competitive in the U.S., but is it the same in Canada? I'm having trouble finding more information about this specifically.

  3. Study Spanish and work in Central or South America where my English A might be more marketable?

Spanish would be easier I think, is higher in demand, but is also more competitive. Since I'm starting a bit late (I'm 34 years old), I'm a bit concerned about marketability against native Spanish speakers and cultural acuity. I'm also considering specializing in medical interpretation, whether it be for Spanish or Arabic as I have interest and some background in this field. I would hope it would distinguish me somewhat.

Also, how necessary is a Bachelor's or Master's degree in medical interpretation?

Thank you for the input in advance.

asked 28 May '16, 15:56

bedouin's gravatar image


edited 28 May '16, 16:00

I don't want to sound overly discouraging but I'm not sure it's a good idea. I don't know if you're more interested in community interpreting or conference interpreting but in any case, it takes quite a long time and a lot of effort to learn how to interpret professionally. Plus, it's a competitive market. No matter how good you'll be, it will be difficult for you to start out and there is no guarantee you'll actually succeed.

Sorry if that sounds too harsh... but considering that first and foremost you'll have to learn the language (well enough to work both ways!), it seems like quite a risky move.

If you decide to go this way, keep in mind it will take at least five years before you'll start working as an interpreter. Think of what you're going to do in the meantime, and include in your plans moving to the target language country. And do think of a plan B (if you don't become an interpreter after all, will you be able to use your language skills in another job?).

As far as the choice of languages is concerned, I'd go with Arabic: you already have some knowledge of the language and culture, and probably some family or friends that could be of help. I don't know the American market, though.

If you feel strongly about Spanish, that's fine (learning languages is all about the motivation, after all), but the A1 level is not much so I wouldn't see it as an argument for choosing a language. If you're not passionate about Spanish, you could also take into account other languages (achieving a similar level would take just a couple of months of an intensive course, so you may as well start from scratch).

Later on, getting a degree in interpretation may help, and if you're considering conference interpreting, it's pretty much a must. Your medical background may help, too; it's always good for an interpreter to have a specialization. Have you considered translation? With a specialist background, this may be a bit easier than the interpreting route.

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answered 29 May '16, 18:30

Joanna's gravatar image


Since I'm starting a bit late (I'm 34 years old), I'm a bit concerned about marketability against native Spanish speakers and cultural acuity.

You'd need to be above a C2 level just to be able to use either language as an interpreter's C language.

Meaning that in the case of arabic, you'd need about 3,000 hours of classes to get from B1 to C2.

After that, you'd need to spend a few years in the region, study at university, catch up on terminology a native would learn in high-school (e.g. learn how to say Beaker in physics class), in short, bring your C level up to an interpreter's B level, which usually takes 4-5 years. You'd need a B language level, as the US market requires you to work both directions (EN>AR and AR>EN).

Then, you'll be ready to apply for and attend a masters course in interpreting, which takes two years.

So roughly ten years from today, you should be able to start your new career. Which brings the question whether you can put in all these efforts, quit your job, finance stays abroad, and make a complete new start at 44, bearing in mind that it usually takes a few years of work before your business becomes profitable.

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answered 30 May '16, 05:19

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 30 May '16, 08:46

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question asked: 28 May '16, 15:56

question was seen: 2,937 times

last updated: 30 May '16, 08:46 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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