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Currently doing an MA in Conference Interpreting, and coming from a pretty worried body of students. All of us have English A and two or three C languages. Are we kidding ourselves that we'll ever make it in the profession?

It seems like everywhere we turn, we're told that there's no point even trying. We can't work for institutions because we don't have any experience. We can't work on the private market because we don't have a B language yet. Plus we have no contacts or experience, and are unlikely to find any as novices in a crowded market.

Interpreting is what I want to do, I want to work to add more languages and I don't want to give up yet. But am I completely crazy in thinking that I could ever make it?

Any consolation/advice/information that I am in fact wasting my time all appreciated.

asked 21 Dec '15, 16:29

jf471's gravatar image


edited 22 Jan '16, 10:07

In a nutshell: If you can interpret and have the right languages, there is not much to worry about. You don't necessarily need a B in the English booth. Nor experience. Big employers do hire newcomers. Russian, French and Spanish for the UN is quite all you'll ever need. Three Cs for the EU, including French and German also will allow you to be recruited for a few years before having to consider to add yet another language.

The main problem is that most graduates don't know how to interpret. Reasons are many (and a matter of personal belief and experience). I haven't seen many good candidates coming from schools that have a one-year only course and/or don't have entrance exams. There are exceptions, but the majority still doesn't make it as conference interpreters.

Another problem that comes up is students who haven't done their market research, who study a language combination that isn't needed, in a school that didn't bother telling them about that detail. Or students who don't understand their (supposedly) C languages as well as they should.

The main problem isn't that much that the market can't absorb newcomers, it's simply that most of the newcomers aren't good enough to be taken even when there's a need for fresh blood. Big employers don't lower their expectations. If everyone were brilliant, there'd be a big issue of not enough pie for everyone, but that's simply not the case. For now, Bath, Manchester, London Met, Leeds, Galway, Salford, Westminster and the few other schools are pouring graduates on the market but only a few of them have the skills and competences needed to succeed. You can ask the alumni from your university and see what percentage works as conference interpreters two years after graduation and makes a living. My bet would be that the number is below 10%.

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answered 21 Dec '15, 17:19

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 21 Dec '15, 18:23


First of all, I agree completely with Gaspar. You have to have the right languages in the right combinations, and also be good. Those who hire won't lower their expectations because as soon as they do, delegates will start asking why they are paying good money for substandard quality, and decide they can get along just fine without, thus making the market even smaller than it already is getting.

It is true that few graduates are good enough as soon as they leave school. There are also fewer meetings in the international organizations that require interpreting, or if they do, are under limited language regimes (i.e. in the UN using only 3 of the 6 usual working languages, in the EU not using all the possible languages in all possible combinations for all meetings). And those who are already on the market are already seeing their piece of the pie get smaller due to budget cuts, so aren't hugely encouraging to newcomers, even though they know they themselves can't keep going forever.

But interpreting is a funny profession. You have to have an excellent command of your languages, and a real desire to help people communicate. But to really make it in the profession as a freelancer nowadays, you not only have to be a good interpreter but have good contacts, be good at marketing, negotiating, accounting, market research - in short, at entrepreneurial skills. Those interpreters who have made it in the last few years that I have been teaching are either those with the right languages in the right place at the right time, or else those who have very common languages, but who are very professional in their demeanor, proactive in their planning, and are self-starters, not only during class when they would practice hours every day on their own time, but also afterwards, when they went out and knocked on doors, and did what it took to get noticed.

So if you are good, and if you are professional and a self-starter, then you could make it in the profession, provided you have done your research and are focusing your attention on what will get you work.

I recommend that you go to link text and take a look at some of the texts there. One of them is called "Getting Started" and talks about all the skills you will need to be marketable when you graduate.

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answered 21 Dec '15, 20:17

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thank you for all the information - it's very useful and I will be sure to give the texts a look!

(23 Dec '15, 09:36) jf471

Salut Jessica,

si je ne me trompe pas sur ta combinaison linguistique (FR/IT?), j'ajoute quelques infos plus ciblées sur le client potentiel que pourrait être l'UE dans ton cas :

1) l'UE ne demande pas d'expérience et cherche même à tester les diplômés aussi rapidement que possible. La raison est que le service veut éviter que les diplômés n'aillent trouver un poste ailleurs et deviennent indisponibles à tout jamais.

2) En cabine anglaise, il est improbable qu'on demande une combinaison ACCC pour inviter les gens au test d'accréditation freelance. Cependant, il faut être pleinement conscient que seulement deux langues ne permettront pas de s'établir durablement (they will need to add a third language asap to make a decent living. That third language does not need to be 'exotic', but we are always interested in the languages of the new member states).

3) Des départs à la retraite, il y en aura d'ici peu. 10 des 64 fonctionnaires de la cabine anglaise de la Commission européenne prendront leur retraite d'ici 2020. La pyramide des âges parmi les fonctionnaires se répartit comme suit : there are 2 people in their 20s, 10 in their 30s, 20 in their 40s, 20 in their 50s and 12 in their 60s. The median age is 50.

4) Le taux de réussité freelance a été de 30% (6 sur 20) lors du dernier test, mais pas tout le monde est invité. A ma connaissance, sont invités en priorité les candidats issus des écoles dont les diplômés ont tendance à réussir le test.

out of 66 applications and after screening, 25 candidates were invited for testing. 20 actually attended and 6 passed from a wide range of training backgrounds, some already with experience in in the UN. 3 passed with FR/ES, 2 FR/IT and 1 with FR/HU.

5) Les concours pour devenir fonctionnaire ont pour objectif de recruter des gens relativement jeunes. Le taux de réussite est moindre qu'à l'accréditation freelance, et ça semble être la seconde étape d'une carrière. Au demeurant, il y aura des postes disponibles dans les années à suivre, vu les départs à la retraite annoncés. Mais là encore, il faut être à la hauteur des attentes. Les chiffres du concours de 2013:

Nombre de postulants : 121

Nombre de réussites : 02

6) Il y a une vidéo récente, réalisée par notre estimé collègue Mathew Perret, qui donne la parole à John Swales, chef de la cabine anglaise à la Commission européenne. On y entend, pour qui veut bien écouter attentivement, des informations intéressantes sur la situation actuelle. Et c'est sans doute plus fiable et plus nuancé que tout ce que tu peux entendre sur la situation du marché pour les débutants de la bouche de gens qui oublient de dire qu'il y a non pas un marché mais bien des marchés et qui ne font que répéter des on-dit, à défaut de savoir vraiment ce qu'est le pain quotidien d'un débutant.

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answered 22 Dec '15, 06:09

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 22 Dec '15, 06:38

Merci Gaspar! Vous avez même bien identifié ma combinaison linguistique - et toutes les informations sont très utiles. Je vous remercie encore!

(23 Dec '15, 09:38) jf471
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question asked: 21 Dec '15, 16:29

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