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I don't suspect many interpreters find full-time work right at the beginning of their career, or as soon as they exit training programmes, so for the majority of new interpreters experience is presumably acquired slowly over time, and I would like to find out at what rate this occurs. I assume this depends heavily on the market. Perhaps some places offer an over-abundance of work even for beginners.

To be certified locally as an interpreter where I live, it is required that the applicant accrue at least 150 hours of (paid?) work over a period of at most 2 years. Although I have refused very few contracts, I expect to have around 125 hours at the 20-month mark (having excluded the hours accrued more than 2 years prior). Some local full-time, staff interpreters have told me that, at least in some years, acquiring 150 hours within 2 years was difficult even for them.

Obviously, this would vary greatly from one market to another, but the general question remains: on average, how many hours of real work experience do new interpreters tend to acquire in their first year, two years, three years, etc.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Perhaps my question was not clear enough, so allow me to add some details. I'm not asking about how to get more work, or to complain about how little work is available, but to get an idea of the rate at which new interpreters tend to acquire experience. I also work for days or half-days, but presumably because a day can represent a different number of hours whether you are working alone (1h), with a colleague (4h) or in a team of three (6h -- and this is the standard the Canadian federal government uses), the local association has decided to ask for a specific number of hours of work rather than days.

asked 06 Jan '15, 13:58

alexandrec's gravatar image


edited 06 Jan '15, 19:13

I don't suspect many interpreters find full-time work right at the beginning of their career

Most of us don't. As a freelancer, working about hundred days a year is quite an achievement.

To be certified locally as an interpreter where I live, it is required that the applicant accrue at least 150 hours of (paid?) work over a period of at most 2 years.

Your probably mean days, not hours?

How quickly do new conference interpreters around the world acquire real work experience?

I'd say it takes a year or two to become sustainable. People who didn't make it two years after graduation usually end up with a day job and don't manage to kick off their career afterwards.

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answered 06 Jan '15, 14:54

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

I meant hours, not days. I have full-time employment as a translator and take time off to do interpretation when needed. The other interpreters here tend to be either staff interpreters or retired. Not a very big market.

(06 Jan '15, 14:58) alexandrec

I was also surprised to read you mentioning hours of interpreting. Most interpreters where I live (Belgium) and in neighboring countries count their working experience in days (or sometimes half days) and not in hours. I don't know whether this is different where you live? Anyway 150 hours of interpreting in 2 years does not sound like much here. It would amount to about only 20 days while to become full members at AIIC, candidates are asked to have worked 150 days. So yes the situation seems to be very different in your country.

(06 Jan '15, 15:31) Camille Collard

Common practice for conference interpreting is to charge per day (or less frequently, per half-day). Mainly, because your rates include preparation time and short distance commutes. You'll prepare as much and travel as much, no matter if the meeting lasts five hours or seven. In both cases, you'd usually charge a full day. Re rates, there are a few threads mentioning the issue: 1) How to freelance interpreters charge for their services and 2) What rates for conference interpreting

150 hours in two years, that's less than a day of work per month. If you're working on a regular basis as a beginner, that's your workload for 2 or 3 months tops.

(06 Jan '15, 17:14) Gaspar ♦♦

Hello! As so much in this profession, everything depends...

  • on your language combination,
  • on where you are based,
  • on your own innate and learned skills other than interpreting,
  • and on just plain luck.

Let me explain: when I finally moved to a large city where interpreting actually happened all the time (as opposed to a little town where they thought paying you in t-shirts was appropriate...), there was no interpreting work because the first Gulf War had just started. I continued working as a temporary secretary for Manpower, and made sure I was on every interpreting list I could get on. Thanks to this, I was offered a temporary secretary job in an office that hired major numbers of interpreters, to fill in for a secretary who was on maternity leave (the office preferred to hire interpreters from their list to temp, as we knew what was involved in the job). Because of my former temping work, I was able to answer 20 phone lines, be diplomatic in dealing with interpreters/clients/etc., file, photocopy, and generally be hugely organized. Once the war was over, thanks to all these skills, they put me on back-to-back assignments immediately.

So in my first year of freelancing, I had maybe two weeks of interpretation work; in my second year, I had well over 100 days. Some of this was due to the fact that I had a combination that was needed at that moment, much was due to my change in base, some was thanks to skills in organization, diplomacy, telephones, etc. that were needed and recognized, and some was just fabulous luck.

All of the beginning interpreters I have personally seen make it good since then have benefited from the same four factors. Note, none of this has mentioned your skills as an interpreter; this is because no matter how good you are, if you don't have these factors going for you, it will be incredibly hard for you to make it. And if you aren't as quite as good as some of your fellow students, but have all of these factors going for you, you will find it much easier to make it.

However, remember that you still have to be good. In today's world, where no one has any money to throw away on bad work, these factors will get you the job easier, but you will still have to do a good job as an interpreter to keep the client. It's all about getting into a position to get the chance; once you get that chance, you have to make good. But unfortunately, it can be very hard to just get that chance.

I hope this helps!

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answered 06 Jan '15, 19:01

JuliaP's gravatar image


edited 17 Jan '15, 17:07

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question asked: 06 Jan '15, 13:58

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