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Currently state-certified Sp/Eng court interpreter looking to transition eventually to European conference interpreting. Will US federal cert benefit me in terms of accreditation in Europe? If not, what is the best way to transition?

asked 16 Jan '15, 19:35

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Matt Jones

edited 21 Jan '15, 17:37

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Thank you all for your answers! I think perhaps some clarification is in order here. I understand that court interpreting is frequently done in the EU by persons with no official accreditation. Certified court interpreters in the US (at least in California) pass a rigorous certification exam. We interpret everything said by all parties (no summary here!) during a proceeding in simultaneous, often in excess of 200 words per minute, maintaining the register. We are also responsible for consecutive interpretation of witnesses, again interpreting everything and maintaining the register, with segments frequently approaching or exceeding 50 words in length (ever try to stop a nervous witness with the man who allegedly robbed her sitting in the courtroom? :D ). Additionally, we are required to sight translate documents we may have never seen before, either reading them to defendants in their native language or rendering foreign-language documents offered as evidence into the record before the judge.

I understand that my European colleagues may not realize the level of excellence demanded of American court interpreters. I also understand that I am not, as yet, able to interpret in more than 1 language pair (working on French currently). This is, in fact, the reason for my question. It seems that the only way to keep myself from being taken as "simply" a court interpreter (which seems to be the way the profession is viewed in Europe, professional standards apparently not being what they are here) would be to begin working for a federal agency (i.e, Dept. of State) here. Would that be an accurate assessment?

(17 Jan '15, 17:04) Matt Jones

Hi Matt, As I say below, I have worked on the US market as both a conference and a court interpreter, and you will still need to learn a different approach. I know how good state certification is in some states, and your skills are all excellent for the courtroom. This means that you could work on the private market with legal clients in either the US or Europe, and once you add passive French to the same level as your other languages, this may also give you entree to international courts in Europe.

However, for typical conference interpretation work, be it in the US or the EU, you will still need a very different approach. Same skills, differently used.

Your idea of passing the US State Dept conference interpretation exam would be a great start; then start marketing also to consultant interpreters on the US private conference market.

(17 Jan '15, 18:15) JuliaP

Hi Matt,

court and conference are different, without implying that one is better or harder than the other. Your background and experience will definitely be useful, but you'll still require a bit of adapting.

If you wish to sit accreditation tests, you will need to get used to the conference type of speeches. It's like being a brain surgeon who'd want to offer his services to patients needing cardiothoracic surgery. You're no lesser doctor, but you can't just change your specialisation in a day.

Also bear in mind offer and demand. FR & ES as passive languages are very common. Plenty of people graduating in conference interpreting from Bath, Leeds, Manchester, La Laguna, etc. have those languages. I don't know if having a Spanish retour would make you competitive enough to pay your bills.

(18 Jan '15, 06:46) Gaspar ♦♦

A word on the DoS Conference level accreditation exam: Rumor in DC has it that currently there is a moratorium on tests for ES<>EN (barring exceptional circumstances) because demand is covered with the current supply of freelancers and staffers. Don't know whether this is true or not; it is just what people say. Te lo vendo al costo.

(18 Jan '15, 09:39) Anyuli Ináci...

Hello! Are you looking to move to Europe and work as a conference interpreter there, or are you planning on making the transition and working as a conference interpreter in the US?

I have worked as both a court and a conference interpreter in the US, as well as in Europe. First of all, no matter what level court interpreting you do (state courts in the US or an international tribunal in Europe), there is an enormous difference between the approaches. In court, you are expected to say exactly what the witness, judge, etc said so as not to change any meaning; one tends to stay much closer to the original speaker and be much more literal. In conference interpretation, we pass the message along, and have a bit more leeway in how we do so. Yes, there are times when we are being monitored, and there are always exceptions. But overall, having helped teach several interpreters making the transition from being court interpreters to conference interpreters, this is the greatest difference between the two types of interpretation.

Depending on which continent you will be working, I have also heard that there is a huge difference for EN<>ES interpreters: since so many people in the US think they speak both languages, the interpreter tends to stick much closer to the original in their interpretation, using syntactical structures native to the source language in the target language, to avoid being called out by someone in the audience. In Europe, interpreters are expected to speak good Spanish and good English, and not something in between the two.

So to make the transition, you will have to focus on more than you think. No certification from the US other than a CI degree or having worked for an international organization such as PAHO, the World Bank or the US Dept of State conference level, will help you in Europe. If you are indeed moving, then with your language combination you could work on the private market or possibly for a government, depending on the country you are moving to. I recommend taking a look at Chris Guichot de Fortis's article on Getting Started at link text.

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answered 17 Jan '15, 11:04

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Hi Julia,

I don't really know where you heard the rumor that Spanish-booth conference interpreters in the US use structures that are native to the source language. This is not true. Bona fide conference interpreters in the international institutions (IMF, IDB, OAS, WB, PAHO, DoS, and company) are expected to speak good Spanish and good English, NOT something in between. We are regularly monitored by chief interpreters, and we can be fired (or not rehired) if our work or the quality of the languages we use is not up to scratch. In fact, many of us have trained or worked in Europe as well. Just thought it is important to dispel this myth, since it seems to be quite pervasive. I think this is the effect of many untrained or poorly trained "talented bilinguals" trying to break into the conference interpreting market.

(18 Jan '15, 09:32) Anyuli Ináci...

Hi Anyuli, I heard it from conference interpreters, both in the US and in Europe. Granted, only from a few and certainly not from all of them, which is why I said it was a rumor. But if I've heard it from even one person, I thought it could be something that should be at least considered. Having Russian myself, and having interpreted while being monitored, I know the pressure in both conference and legal situations when the client or a member of the audience stops proceedings to give their own version, which is usually much more word-for-word. It's a pressure many of us suffer from, and so we need to keep our approach in mind when we train/ practice/ perform.

(18 Jan '15, 09:46) JuliaP

Hi Julia,

Yes, there is a lot of monitoring going on...I know this happens in the Russian booth too. It is so stressful hahaha!

However, (at least in my experience) I have never heard anyone use poor syntax just to please a delegate. Also, our European colleagues say a great many things, only a few of them have have ever been 'round these parts and. It would appear there are many urban myths about living and working in the US :-)

(18 Jan '15, 14:48) Anyuli Ináci...

There are many urban myths about many things interpreting I find! This particular one I heard from conference interpreters who do not work in international organizations as they do not happen to live in DC, NY, Ontario... - AIIC members, both from the US and not. Not from a lot of them, true, but it obviously must happen sometimes. You are very lucky to have a good market!

(23 Jan '15, 14:00) JuliaP

Will US federal cert benefit me in terms of accreditation in Europe?

Unfortunately, having only EN<>ES won't allow you to work as an accredited conference interpreter for the EU or UN. You need at least two passive languages.

Also, you either need a university diploma in conference interpreting or professional experience as a conference interpreter to be invited to sit an EU test. Court interpreting doesn't count as professional experience.

To become an interpreter for DG Interpretation you need:

  • An excellent command of your mother tongue
  • A minimum of 2 or 3 other EU languages (depending on which booth you are applying for)
  • A bachelor's degree in any subject
  • A postgraduate qualification in conference interpreting OR significant professional experience as a conference interpreter (work in court interpreting, community interpreting, etc cannot be considered as relevant experience)
  • A passion for languages
  • A wide interest in current affairs

You are not legally required to have any accreditation or diploma to sell your services to private clients. But you get hired by word of mouth, so you got to be overall better than your competitors.

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answered 16 Jan '15, 19:48

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Gaspar ♦♦

edited 17 Jan '15, 11:39

Working in Europe as a conference interpreter is not synonymous with working for the EU or the UN.

(17 Jan '15, 11:24) Carla

Hola Matt:

En los mercados de Washington o NYC (los dos mercados de conferencia grandes en E.E.U.U.) se te hará sumamente difícil conseguir suficiente trabajo con una combinación EN<>ES. De hecho, muchos colegas con esta combinación no logran vivir sólo de la interpretación de conferencia. Además, estarás compitiendo con personas que tienen el español como lengua A pero se han formado en los Estados Unidos, y por lo tanto, tienen un excelente nivel en su lengua B.

Podrías añadir el portugués o el francés como lenguas C, pero esto conllevaría años de esfuerzo y trabajo sin probabilidad de éxito garantizado. Mi consejo es que, si trabajas en los tribunales y te va bien, que te quedes en este campo ya que la interpretación de conferencia es una rama de nuestra profesión muy distinta y que requiere unas aptitudes y destrezas particulares que no pueden cultivarse de la noche a la mañana.


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answered 18 Jan '15, 09:26

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Anyuli Ináci...

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question asked: 16 Jan '15, 19:35

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