There seems to be an imbalance between the demand on the market and the language profiles which (some) schools teach.
This has two main effects I can witness on a daily basis:
For a long time, I was blaming the client who wouldn't get that quality interpretation required minimum standards, or simply wouldn't want to pay the price. Other colleagues would be unsupportive of those who'd go and accept anything, sometimes even paying for their accommodation, just to be able to turn a mic on and continue to believe in their dream based on this short career Ersatz.
I've given it some more thought and I realized that until lately, I never had considered that schools too had their share of responsibility in creating such situations. Some of them are blatantly deceiving, by the lack of information of career prospects which is basically tantamount to misleading the students. What really awaits graduates is only unveiled during the last months of the curriculum.
To sum up, some graduates won't ever be able to get paid work. Those who do have to cope with increasing pressure coming from those who in despair are undermining working conditions. And this probably wouldn't happen if offer (thus, training) and demand were more balanced.
I know that amongst the best practices, there is this criteria set for schools:
Nevertheless I was wondering if this point couldn't be even more stressed in a way. Maybe informing the potential Relève a bit more about languages actually in demand?
The AIIC website says:
But that's sure not enough for an 18 or 22 year old deciding what to study and who hasn't access to the same information an insider would have.
It seems crucial to me to warn people in due time before they spend several years believing they will one day make it as conference interpreters and then fall on their face. Could we do more about this? And how?
Interesting but difficult question. I hope some of the schools chime in.
There's probably a cyclical aspect at work here: the interpreting market in Europe has taken a beating, and we're not out of the woods yet. My prediction is that 2014 will be worse than 2013 overall. Sadly, if you're a newcomer, you hardly stand a chance on the non-institutional market nowadays, unless you are 1/very gifted, and not just at interpreting, or 2/have a remarkable language combination for your local market (and that always involves a strong English B.)
Also, I think it's fair to say that schools are primarily in the business of training and graduating students. However I'm quite sure that many teachers and trainers who are practicing interpreters themselves will give anyone who's willing to listen a fair description of what the market is like. That said, I'd be interested to know how many aspiring interpreters were ready to listen and take their chances somewhere else. Never underestimate the power of denial, as they say.
Then, in Europe at least, marketable language profiles on the institutional and private markets are radically different. Interpreters with one A and multiple Cs just can't make a career on the private market only, by a long shot.
Finally, somebody needs to tell wannabees that a majority of interpreters have alternative gainful employment. When all the market can offer - even to senior interpreters with the right language profile, experience and market attitude - is 80 or so days a year, you need to supplement your income. For newcomers, I can only recommend doing as much translation work as possible. I am told that there is still a market, although generally poorly remunerated. At any rate, don't expect to be able to live off your earnings as an interpreter alone.
answered 03 Mar '14, 09:53
Vincent Buck ♦♦
Gaspar thanks for posting such an important question.
Yes we can and we should do something about it. The how is more complicated.
In my opinion, the main problem has been the campaign launched by the Institutions in recent years. Thanks to the (in)famous “relève” there’s a flourish of interpretation schools all over the world. To me most of them are just money making machines caring very little about job perspectives.
In Belgium alone there are at least 8 interpretation schools. Unless the Institutions absorb the number of graduates graduating from all schools there’s no way the private market can do it. There’s just about enough quality work – working conditions/fee- for those who are well established interpreters right now. And in some markets not even that.
You can have all the mentoring/sponsorship programs you want, but if there’s not enough quality work for everyone those programs won’t fully work.
Currently experienced interpreters with outstanding language combinations are freer than in the past, so newcomers have little chances to make it to the private market with proper working conditions/pay. That said, young talented colleagues will always be given an opportunity, but I’m not sure that will be enough.
One of the things we/AIIC could do is publish all available data collected through the years and publicise it.
answered 03 Mar '14, 13:33
Marta Piera ... ♦
One idea that comes to my mind is setting up some kind of a database with information about employment perspectives and language profiles in demand for various A languages and various professional domiciles. There is obviously a lot of information here on interpreting.info, on other websites, message boards, social media etc., there are also language profiles in demand published by SCIC, but I think we still lack some kind of a more systematic review, which could be helpful for those who are considering embarking on the hard and so often unsuccessful journey into the world of interpreting.
Other than that? Well, whenever those interested in conference interpreting contact me with some questions, I try to provide them with honest and reliable answers, and avoid giving them false hope (while not crashing all the enthusiasm either... that's a hard balance!). As a young interpreter, I rarely get such questions - but I suppose those of you who have much more experience probably get them pretty often.
It would also be good to support somehow those graduates who do have viable language combinations but nevertheless struggle to find enough work. Information meetings? Career advice (especially on client acquisition strategies)? Some mentoring schemes? We should definitely try to do something.
Honestly, right now I feel pretty desperate myself. Despite me being always very realistic about conference interpreting job prospects, I still did not expect it to be THAT hard. A conference interpreting diploma, an EU accreditation, a not-so-bad language combination and a good dose of determination - all of that is no more than just a starting point, and not even a particularly good one. Apparently, I am just not 'in the right place at the right time' with the right languages.
Couldn't agree more! I believe that novice and experienced interpreters who could actually see their careers picking up steam, should provide some professional advice by organising workshops or seminars in schools for interpreting students.
However, I am wondering whether it might be too late anyways. The awareness campaign on the languages in demand should be carried out before students invest their savings in MA courses and, worst-case scenario, never have the chance to enter the profession or make a living on it.
This is a good idea..What about asking for AIIC support or sponsorship for a pilot project?
... a very relevant issue indeed, Gaspar :-).
Schools could indeed do more, but is it reasonable to expect them to... and so should we, but can we?
It may well be unreasonable to expect schools to turn away candidates whose aptitude results validate their suitability, on the strenght of language combination "alone", when schools have the trainers required... and must turn a profit to boot.
Some regions already do their bit (as do many trainers) by organising "open days" and visits to schools where they address students... but the latter only serves to enlighten parties who're already committed to a course of studies, with whatever language combination they do have.
It would probably be daydreaming to believe that we stand a fighting chance of convincing schools to tap aiic regions in their geographies for candid advice as to the market prospects of candidates' language combinations, to be given up front to either candidates or the schools themselves; moreover, many training courses are partly funded by international organisations, whose language needs do not necessarily dovetail with those felt in the regional geographies where the schools find themselves... which of course does not exempt the former from "having to deal" with graduates who stay on locally.
So what CAN we do? Perhaps "more of the same" is what one may realistically expect... perhaps also looking into more pointed, albeit still non-binding, MOs for institutional advice, perhaps even incorporated into our agreements... with the same organisations whose interpretation departments are involved in the funding of some courses? This would allow us to capitalise on internal sinergies... and enhance aiic's status, both globally and regionally.
answered 03 Mar '14, 09:08
I very much like the idea of AIIC colleagues organising workshops at the universities. In Cologne, the revised MA programme includes a course on how to manage an interpreting job, and this is where representatives of both VKD/BDÜ and AIIC are invited. Last year, there were two of us from the AIIC-DE profitability working group, and we were given the chance to explain some of the entrepreneurial basics (what are my costs including pensions and risk provisions, how much do I need to charge per day in order to be profitable, how many hours/days can I work at all per year). I think letting the numbers speak is a real eye-opener and actually, I do have the impression that young colleagues nowadays leave the univerities much better prepared than I did 14 years ago. If they know the maths, at least they can make a qualified decision on acceptable fees, minimum turnover needed and whether "other gainful employment" is strategically advisable or not. Combining statistics and economics might to the trick even better, so we will definitely consider this next time.
answered 03 Apr '14, 04:55
Are there so-called good and bad interpreting schools? For example, are there some that are the Ivy League of interpreting schools and some that are considered low-tier schools that should basically be avoided? I've heard that ETI, ESIT and ISIT are the best. Also, is there really that much demand for interpreters that new schools keep opening up? For example, in the past two years, two schools started offering a CI degree: York University in Toronto and U. of Maryland.
answered 21 Nov '14, 12:18
However, not all of them have representatives from IOs or other recruiters during final exams. Still, isn't there some sort of a hierarchy of schools?
Hi Myra, AIIC sets out what we feel are the absolutely essential criteria a school should meet (the 6 points listed at the top of the AIIC Schools Best Practice page Gaspar mentioned above). Schools that meet those criteria may appear in the Schools Directory where they are compared against a longer list of more detailed criteria. (A green tick = meets criterion; red cross = doesn't meet)
It is not possible to rank schools for lots of reasons. 1. For example how do you rank Newcastle in the UK which only teaches ZH-EN against Zurich which teaches a variety of languages. 2. Some of AIIC's criteria cannot be met for legal reasons in some countries. 3. A school might be brilliant for combinations with German but less good for Chinese. How do you rank that school against a school that is quite good across all languages?
The best thing for prospective students to do is 1. judge the school on AIIC's general Best Practice criteria (including whether trainers for your languages are conf. interpreters and native speakers) AND 2. its reputation for YOUR language combination.
answered 23 Nov '14, 03:03