I've wanted to be an interpreter for a long time now and am looking for some open-ended advice to better orient myself. I am 20 and halfway through a university program in the US. My A is English and I have studied French for several years. I'd say I'm probably approaching a C in French.
I am currently frustrated with college though. It's all in English and I don't see the point in spending thousands of dollars to learn things following a strict set of requirements made up by someone else, studying things of questionable relevance that I could just learn in a book on my own time anyway. I am currently taking a year off to work on my French and after I would like to transfer to a French university for a French license, which lasts 3 years. Do you have any ideas on what to study if I want to later get into the interpretation market? I am hoping by the end of this 1+3-year period my French would be at a B level.
That's sort of the outline of my plan for the immediate future. What do you think of it? I also would like to know your opinion on how important interpreter school is. Is it vital to success in the industry? Or is it unnecessary? Just how hard is it to get in? Are there any factors besides language skills that are important in admission?
I also wanted to know more about the portability of the English-French combination. How usable is it in the United States? In what regions of the US? I don't need to be able to support myself entirely through interpretation, but at least partly.
Welcome to interpreting.info. Those are many questions and still, they have been replied in this platform in some way or the other. I'll try to be brief and give you an overview of replies and websites with much more information:
Wouldn't you study Fine Arts if you wanted to become an artist? Or Pedagogy to become a teacher? Or Law to become a lawyer? You can also study Conference Interpreting or Court Interpreting. See this question and this one.
So you're asking if you can be a professional conference interpreter without proper training? You could, but certainly not in every country and not for every employer. Besides, the academic path is easier and faster than the non-academic one. See also this page.
How hard is it to pass the admission test for Fine Arts? Relatively hard. You need some previous knowledge, language skills and personal traits. See this question.
Yes, see the links mentioned already, especially this one.
answered 18 Jul '14, 15:03
I don't know much about the market situation on your side of the pond. Yet, having only one C or B language might not be enough to get work regularly.
As for only interpreting now and then, it's quite difficult to keep up your skills if you don't regularly work as a conference interpreter and have a different employment.
If you want to sell your services, you'd nevertheless need credentials in order to be hired by people who don't know you.
Interpreting school teaches you the conference interpreting technique and gives you access to the market. A few decades ago you could work without proper training because there were less trained and qualified competitors. But those times are over.
answered 18 Jul '14, 22:36
Quick answers because Nacho has given you the detailed version above...
It's a very good plan. You can study pretty much anything (apart from languages) and it will be useful. The most obviously useful subjects would be law, economics and political science. But you shouldn't rule out any other subject that interests you.
Interpreting school is pretty much essential for conference interpreting.
Getting in is tough and some people are not cut out for it (which is another reason to study something you like anyway rather than a subject you are only studying with a view to interpreting - plan B!)
Language skills yes. But importantly not just in your foreign language(s). Your mother tongue ability is crucial. You'll also need analytical skills (can you recognize and summarize the main points of what you've heard).
(Can't help you with the US market info) Good luck
Hello - a great question, and since you were planning on taking some time off, I don't think I'm too late to answer.
I agree with Andy about studying economics, international relations, law, engineering, etc. in your foreign language, and also keeping your A language up to an excellent level. In fact, I pretty much agree with Andy on everything.
Having worked for years on the North American market, I can say that the French<>English combination is certainly in demand, though more so in some markets than others. Canada always has a need for good conference interpreters, either to work as staff in the Parliament, or to freelance. Also, Washington DC is a good place, as it houses the State Department, the World Bank and the IMF, a good private market, and a few international organizations that all focus on English, French and Spanish (PAHO, OAS, IADB...) - though I can't tell you if they need only biactives or if they need people with the UN combination.
As to having a third language, Spanish as a C could come in handy, but the US market is pretty much biactive. Unless you work for the UN or one of the organizations I mentioned above, every job is done biactively with English. Even when a large multilingual conference is organized, since there are few interpreters with an A-B-C combination, every booth tends to be biactive with English. So while you could increase your marketability by adding passive Spanish, the French<>English combination should be a good start.
That said, I am no longer certain that interpreters in North America can make a living simply interpreting if they are not staffers; they may need to add another string to their bow. I know of some who translate; others are life coaches; others teach; and still others organize meetings. It definitely will depend strongly on where you choose to live and what market you target.
answered 03 Jul '15, 20:50
To add to what the others have said... I think you have a pretty good plan. I felt the same way in college and wanted to just that, but had very traditional parents footing the bill, and...
Anyway, get a license in whatever you want. I disagree that a degree in languages isn't useful- I spent a lot of time studying "languages" and that usually meant a lot of linguistics, literature, area studies, etc. Particularly in the French system, they have been pretty smart to have created degrees in "langues étrangères appliquées" which often entail at least 2 foreign languages along with some practical courses. My own plan B was to go into linguistics, so if you like what a "language degree" offers, go for it. (And if not, study whatever else interests you. Keep in mind interpreters have to be up on economics, politics, business, etc.)
Interpreting school is pretty important. It's your foot in the door. Particularly in the US there are a lot of "bilinguals" running around claiming to be translators and interpreters. They aren't usually any good, and they are ubiquitous. The only way to be taken seriously in the good markets is to have a degree. I know there are people who manage to get in through other avenues, but I have no idea how. We spent 2 years doing consec and 1 year doing sim every single day, evenings and weekends included, and by the time we graduated we were just barely hirable. To say nothing of learning professional ethics and standards, which are an absolute in today's market pressures everywhere.
Getting in is hard. If 30 people sit an exam, that means maybe 10 will be taken in a good year. Of the 10 taken, 5 will fail out at some point (the mid-term exams or the final). Some schools have provisions to let you repeat a semester or year and get your degree, but they are usually strict and limited. As someone said upthread, it's like being taken into a performing arts program. In addition to language skills they look for someone who is curious, who takes criticism, has emotional maturity, and they think they can train to be a colleague within 2 years (or 1 depending on the program). They also look for someone who has grace under pressure and can handle being on the spot and thinking quick on their feet.
French<>English is a good combination provided you have a good B. The French are picky about who they listen to and will complain if a French B makes too many gender mistakes (or whatever). English speakers tend to be more forgiving of accents (Americans apparently even prefer them), which automatically puts you at a disadvantage, especially considering that often (but not always) bilingual conferences are about 5-10% into English in the US. (I believe this is less the case in Europe, but someone else can correct me if I am wrong).
Work with this combination in the US will either be in DC or NYC. DC has the WB, IMF, DOS, which all use that combination regularly. Other institutions in DC (OAS, IDB, PAHO) will require you to have passive Spanish. There is also a private market. NYC has a private market for that combination. To work for the UN you'd also need passive ES or RU.
In the US most of the market is bilingual- even multilingual conferences at DOS or WB tend to use several bilingual booths with English. You might also look into the market in Canada- Montreal, Toronto, or the Canadian government will certainly have work for FR<>EN. In Europe there is also work with this combination in many cities, provided you can get a visa to live there legally.
answered 17 Jul '15, 17:51