My background is in comparative literature and I currently work as an English teacher in London. I'm interested moving out of teaching to become an interpreter but not sure what my prospects would be with only 2 languages. My native language is English and I learnt Spanish studying and living in Spain and Argentina. I have been volunteering as an interpreter at an organization in London that works to help members of the Latin American Community, basically community interpreting. I have intermediate French which I could potentially pull up to a decent level if that were to really widen my prospects, though I am particularly interested in options that use Spanish as I have spent many years learning it and speak at a near native level.
Any advice on the feasibility of earning a living with these skills would be much appreciated. I have been thinking about the possibility of trying to specialize in interpreting for a particular sector, such as the legal sector, in order to carve out a unique selling point. A big part of the career change is about moving towards something that is better paid than my current situation as a non-permanent college lecturer but which allows me to the same freedom to work in different places and potentially switch between periods of more stable work and periods working as a freelancer.
asked 17 Jul '16, 06:48
You're looking at spending four to five years before being able to start your business from scratch: three to four years to get a Spanish BA in law and improve your Spanish, one year at least to do a masters in interpreting. Unless you're just planning on doing public service interpreting (e.g. courts), but that pays peanuts and things have been going south for a while. http://www.irr.org.uk/news/the-ongoing-fiasco-of-privatised-court-interpreting-services/
Full time studies will leave you little time to work on the side. As for job prospects with that combination, you'd be competing on a market on which supply tends to exceed demand. In Spain, some established biactive ES<>EN colleagues struggle to get as much as 10 days of work per year. Also, travel is a thing of the past, since often colleagues can be hired locally.
Some have managed to start their career in Geneva as freelancers with the UN, with French and Spanish as passive languages. But not all of the graduates with that combination made it that far, and they didn't pass the test right after graduation (rather 2-3 years afterwards).
Welcome to the world of the private market interpreter! We tend to have two languages, mostly with English as one of them, and work between those two languages. We work for international organizations, private clients, business negotiations, lectures, legal depositions, tours, for the public service sector, government agencies, ... You name it, we work there.
That being said, your second active language needs to be almost as good as your native language, which has to be richer than an average native speaker's level. Just for example, when I was visiting a friend in Russia (Russian being my non-native active language), her mother, a well-educated woman, didn't know the origin of the Russian word for homeless person, and was surprised that I did. I have had to work with nuclear physicists, lawyers, petty criminals, ministers, judges, business people, teachers, movie and television actors, etc. etc. So as you can see, both languages have to be able to handle that kind of variety.
I have to agree with Gaspar on the time it will take you to get up to a good level of Spanish, as well as to build your business. A law degree is always helpful; so is a scientific degree, or anything other than simply a degree in languages. Then you will have to learn to interpret for the market that you are targeting: for example, if you target international organizations such as the UN, this would entail bringing your French up to a passive language (you may speak it poorly but understand it very well), and you wouldn't have to worry so much about making your Spanish active. But if you want to target law firms, then you will have to let the French go and work very hard on your legal knowledge and your Spanish.
I don't know what the market in London is for Sp<>En interpreters for law firms, or anywhere else. I do know that in the US you would certainly be able to make a living, though you would have to choose a state where there is a large Spanish-speaking population. So do some market research before starting your move. It will save you much frustration, and will allow you to move forward faster.
answered 05 Sep '16, 15:51