I'm thinking of applying to several interpreting schools. My combination: English A, Russian B, French C, and possibly Spanish C in a few years. My parents tell me that a Master's degree isn't justified, whether it's a 1, 1.5, or a 2 year program, since most interpreters work freelance. As I understand it, you only have a full-time job if you work for international organizations, or you live in a country where there are at least two official languages. There, some interpreters work full-time in parliaments and courts. However, even in those countries most are freelance. What my parents want to know is:
-How do interpreters supplement their income?
Thank you in advance.
I live in Canada, not in Quebec though. I know for a fact that there's little work in Canada, and most of it is for French As. I'm willing to relocate to the U.S. or the EU.
Thank you for all the replies so far. Still, I have a few questions.
On other forums, some interpreters wrote that your income varies from month to month, since it's not a full-time salaried job. And that some interpreters only work about 80 days per year. Do they have to pay for their own health insurance? Do they get paid vacation? Retirement funds?
Also, where are interpreters needed on a regular basis? For example, court interpreters aren't needed every day or week even since not every trial will have a foreign person testifying. My friend applied to be a court interpreter a few months ago here in Canada. They accepted her application and said that they'll call her for the test when there's a demand for her languages. Also, health care interpreters aren't in demand since sometimes family members/friends who are fluent in English interpret for people who aren't fluent in English. I was in a hospital this year and saw an elderly Italian lady interpreting for her husband.
Some of my parents' friends work for major multinational corporations and they said that they never require services of professional interpreters. I had a summer job at one of those companies a few years ago, and one time we had a Brazilian marketing executive come for a few days. He was fluent in English and had no trouble conducting business meeting in English. These days there are a lot of people around the world whose English is at a very high level.
One poster said that for my languages the best places to live would be Moscow, Geneva(UN), and New York(UN). I'm not a Russian citizen nor do I have a Russian work permit. I know it's very difficult to get one. I've researched Russia and they said that there the market for European languages is oversaturated and that the only way to get work would be to be fluent in one of the Asian or African languages. Even if I could get a work permit, would I find a job since I'm a Russian B not A? Where would I find work in Geneva or New York outside of the UN? How could I get a work permit to work in those cities?
Short answer: Yes - if you pass and you can interpret.
Long answer: It's cool that your parents are taking an interest, but interpreting is not a 9-5 office job-for-life and shouldn't be approached with that mentality. So I don't think they are right questions to ask, but then your parents can be forgiven that as they are looking at interpreting from the outside.
The MA is pretty much the only way into Conference Interpreting (CI) these days. If you try to get into interpreting without an MA in CI you will end up as a community interpreter or some such. And you will earn much less money per day of work. (And still with no guarantee of work). Make sure you know if you want to be a CI, a court interpreter or a community interpreter. It's not the same thing.
Make sure you get an MA from a good CI school... find one here http://aiic.net/directories/schools/finder
To answer the questions all the same...
-How do interpreters supplement their income? Many CI don't. It's a real job that you can make a decent living out of. Some translate.
-How are they able to have a full-time or a part-time job outside of interpreting when they freelance occasionally? We don't freelance "occasionally". Interpreting is our job. We do it most of the time.
They can't just ask for time off from work to interpret? See above. It's not a hobby, it's a real profession.
-How many years after graduating does it take to get freelance work at international organizations? Some people get accredited to the EU within a year. I believe it's likely to be a few years for the UN though. Some never bother with accreditation because they are making a good living on the private market locally. Don't put all your eggs in the institutional basket!
With your languages Moscow, New York (UN) or Geneva (UN) are probably the best bets. But I'm not an expert on the Russian markets.
your income varies from month to month, since it's not a full-time salaried job. Freelance interpreters get contracts for work for 1, 2 or several days at a time. So they need several, or lots of clients to fill the working year. Some months you'll work 15 days, some months very few or none at all (like August in Europe). Income will vary month to month, and even year to year.
And that some interpreters only work about 80 days per year. Do they get paid vacation? The upside of varied income is that you can choose to work or not. Those with modest lifestyles (and no children!) can comfortably live off less than 80 days a year. 160 days is a lot of work by anyone's standards. (In a normal job people count the days they have off work. We count the days we actually work!). Also the job is so intensive that 5 day weeks are pretty unhealthy - but 5 day weeks are pretty rare for most of us. Freelance interpeters don't get paid holidays. Staff interpreters do.
Do they have to pay for their own health insurance?
Retirement funds? Some institutions pay a contribution to a pension fund when we work for them as freelancers. Some don't. Private clients don't pay into a pension. So we have to make our own arrangements - CPIC.
Also, where are interpreters needed on a regular basis? The big markets in Europe are Paris, Brussels (EU and NATO perhaps for you), Geneva (UN), Germany. But with your languages Geneva would seem the most logical place to be. Strasbourg and the Council of Europe is also an option for you.
I have been going through the comments and, if I didn't oversee it, there are 2 important points that need to be qualified/complemented:
"Un débutant à l'UE qui obtiendrait une place sur le programme d'intégration se voit garantir 80 jours de travail offerts à 310€ nets sur une durée de douze mois. Soit 80*310/12= 2066€/mois pour en moyenne 6,6 jours travaillés par mois"
While this piece of information is basically correct, it needs to be complemented/qualified: on top of the 310 euro paid cash to you, the EU institutions do also pay about the same amount of money into a pension fund and into a health insurance plan. Besides, the 310 cash net that you get is tax free (up to a certain level??) in the EU country you live. At the end of the day, the pay is much higher than 310 euros because on the private market you have to pay yourself for pension fund and a health insurance, plus: all income is taxable. To my knowledge both health and pension plans only cover the days you actually work for the institutions so you will have to complement for that but it is a good starting point.
I do not work for the EU institutions or any other institution of the Agreement Sector for that matter so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong or my explanations aren't quite right.
The 80 days average workload per year refers to the actual days of work interpreting in a booth. But remember that you need to prepare for every assignment or mission in advance and depending on the conference, the preparation time can be hefty. I reckon that on average I need 1 working day (at my office) for each day of interpreting work in the booth, take or leave. If we talk about technical or medical conferences, the preparation time increases exponentially. AND: The less experience you have (beginner) the more preparation time you need.
On top of that, do not foget that interpreters are freelance service providers, see yourself as a "micro company". You will have to take care yourself of taxes, red tape, accounting and invoicing, marketing (winning new clients and pampering existing ones), honing your skills (knowledge, languages, skills as a freelancer...), etc. All this would be part of your job to a higher or lesser degree depending on how much you work for the Institutions. These chores will require your attention and time (more time = more working days). However, the aforementioned average of working days doen't factor these things in.
If you crunch your numbers, 80 average working days translate easily into 200-250 days of actual work on the freelance market. Considering 96 days of weekend days, plus regular bank holidays in your country of residence, plus 30 days of vacation that we deserve, we have the 395 days of the year pretty much covered and busy.
I hope this helps Conrado
So do lawyers. They nevertheless go to university. ;-)
In the long run, you hopefully won't feel the (material) need to supplement your income, as you'll manage to live off interpreting only. Yet, some colleagues also do written translations or teach. The motivations aren't necessarily financial.
For those who are not able to make a living with interpreting after a few years, finding an activity that gives enough flexibility to be still able to accept interpreting assignments and to maintain their skills at the required level will be a challenge.
16 months after graduating, I now seem to be able to make a living with my interpreting assignments for the EU.
Your languages make an interesting profile for the UN. It might be worth trying! :-)
answered 10 Oct '13, 01:04
Working as a freelancer does not mean that you have to supplement your income in one way or another. What it means is that you work for different clients, and not for one employer. The thing is that professional conference interpreters do not freelance 'occasionally' - they do it on a regular basis. Furthermore, daily rates are high, so you don't usually spend twenty days a month in the booth (the workload of a typical office job). Obviously, you do need some more time to get prepared etc.
answered 10 Oct '13, 13:28
The recently published AIIC statistics provide some estimates of the annual gross interpreting income expressed in Euros as converted at a 2012 exchange rate.
The report and the regional graphs are available here (for AIIC members): 2012 Statistical report. An Executive Summary will be published soon on our public website.
The average number of worked days doesn't take into account the number of hours and days invested for preparation of a conference, management of cost estimates and invoices, professional development, marketing, Here are two links to interesting articles on AIIC's blog:
The income varies according to regions and countries
Hi Myra, I have only just come across this question, and hope that my two cents will still be useful several months later!
I have a 2-year M.A. in conference interpreting. I also know conference interpreters who never studied to be an interpreter, as well as those who studied and didn't pass their final or professional exams to get the M.A.
As a digression, this is a factor that hasn't yet been mentioned in this thread - not everyone who studies for an interpreting degree will be able to finally earn that degree. In the schools I have studied/taught/examined in, pass rates tend to be less than 50% - passing being receiving grades on the final professional exam that both get you a diploma and will allow you to apply for tests at institutions.
Back to my point - I have worked in courts, conferences, international organizations, business meetings, treaty negotiations, etc. So have the people who don't have the M.A. or who never went for one. However, I got more work at a higher level of pay a lot sooner than they did. Moreover I had the contacts to get more jobs from more clients, and the knowledge about more markets, so my career went smoother (with fewer protocol-type mistakes) and progressed faster.
Also, there are some institutions that won't test you without an interpreting degree. And when they say they will test you without a diploma, they usually want significant work experience.
I also fully agree with earlier posters - freelance interpreting is a profession on its own. And you will be a micro-business, so should educate yourself on organizing an office, accounting (especially write-offs), marketing, negotiating techniques, etc. etc.
answered 12 Jul '14, 17:17
What are the average earnings of freelance interpreters per year? Someone asked the same question on interpretersfreeforums a while ago but didn't get a clear reply. I don't mean rates per day or per hour. If someone can please post yearly earnings of interpreters - both beginner and professional - who've reported their salaries, I would really appreciate it. Or a range over a two-to-three year period since incomes vary every year.
answered 29 Nov '13, 20:54