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Good evening I have some inquiries about the MA in conference interpreting, Arabic<>English and I was hoping some of you might have some answers for me.

-Do you think more Arabic-English conference interpreters are needed, either in Europe, the UK or anywhere else?

-Is it true that in the UN interpreters in that language pair work one-hour shifts because they are so scarce? Moving on to universities, I have shortlisted the following three universities that have my language pair in the UK: Manchester, Leeds and London Metropolitan. If any of you would be so kind to assist me in answering the following inquiries about any of the three programs regarding the Arabic group, I would be very grateful:

-What is the student experience like, and are the students satisfied?

-What do graduates do afterwards?

-How many of the graduates are working as interpreters?

-Which University has an Arabic group on a yearly basis?

-Who are the teachers and what are their experiences as trainers and conference interpreters?

I have noticed that some of these programs teach both translation and interpreting, while some of them boast focusing on interpreting only, which might mean learning more skills and practicing more, perhaps? I would love to hear your opinion on that as well.

Kind regards,


asked 24 Feb '16, 12:18

Mohamed's gravatar image


edited 24 Feb '16, 15:53

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Thank you for your time, Gáspár :) I'm looking forward to hearing from you. I agree, those one-hour turns do sound scary and nerve-wracking. :D

(24 Feb '16, 13:13) Mohamed


In the UN, the interpreters in the AR booth work a full shift just like any of the other booths, but they have 3 people in the booth instead of 2, as they are going in two directions: either AR<>EN or AR<>FR. Each interpreter tends to work 20 minutes, so that the same interpreter comes up at the same time every hour during the shift, so the FR and EN booths can predict when they will have to interpret or when they just listen. The same goes for the ZH booth.

This has come about because it is a rule in international organizations (and as much as possible on the private market, thanks to AIIC manning strength recommendations), that if the people in the booth work in only one direction, i.e. from 2 or more passive languages (or C languages) into their native (A) language, they can be two in the booth. (Obviously if the booth has to cover more languages, then they can be more.) However, if the interpreters work in two directions, such as AR<>EN, then they should be 3 in the booth.

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answered 24 Feb '16, 13:25

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thanks Julia. :)

(24 Feb '16, 15:49) Mohamed

If you're two in the booth, switching every half hour or every hour won't make a difference, human resources wise. You need two interpreters anyways (but they'd be dead by the end of the day and unable to work the next day if they'd only switch only every hour, so that'd make little sense).

But it is true that there is a demand for highly qualified interpreters for the UN system.

Schools in the UK and elsewhere are teaching and graduating galore, but only few people end up with the required skills and competences.

Leeds is probably the course that has been existing for the longest. But not necessarily with Arabic since day one.

I'm afraid I can't answer your questions with certainty, so I'll just add a few more to your list, so you'll be able to address them to the respective course leaders to get an idea whether the courses smell funny or not.

The problem with UK schools is that they are far away from the UN family duty stations (Geneva, Vienna) and organisations (UNESCO - Paris, FAO - Rome, etc.). Meaning that it is unlikely that staff members of the faculty will be working there -if they are at all accredited-, while having any guest trainers from those cities will cost the school a lot - hence be a scarce resource during the year.

Which leads to one, quite rhetorical, question: if your main trainer won't be working for the UN, how can they prepare you for the UN test?

To attract students, schools will be happy to name UN or EU accredited interpreters teaching on the course. Make sure to find out how many hours those people would be teaching during the year. What ratio will that be, compared to courses taught by other trainers? Are those trainers conference interpreters as well, or do they mostly work in public service interpreting? Do they belong to a renowned professional association of conference interpreters (e.g. AIIC)? Are they maybe linguists or translators, who will teach interpreting while they've never seen a real booth from the inside?

Also, how are courses taught? Are students divided up by language combinations, or are the classes mostly all languages practicing at the same time? The latter makes little sense but is cost efficient.

What courses are actually being taught, apart from consecutive and simultaneous intepreting? Are the classes hands on, or mostly theory? Do you have to do a zillion hours of research and academic papers rather than learn the craft of interpreting? Will those hours of research, dissertation and academic paper writing teach you another skill (e.g. translation) or is it entirely useless for either profession?

Do the graduates the universities brag with on their websites actually work as paid conference interpreters on a highly competitive market? Or did they end up working as translators? Or one shot interpreters in a context and language pair where there isn't that much competition? Or do they just spend their time doing pro bono gigs, because they're unable to provide the quality of service required to actually get paid for their work?

Don't get fooled by the fact that universities will tell you that their students get to practice at the UN, at the EU, etc. The students of all universities get to participate in that kind of outreach programme. It doesn't make the courses good. It simply means that big employers are desperate to spot the one in a million talent who might succeed against the odds. Having to advertise a course with that kind of argument is a bit deceiving and worrying - would a good course need that kind of fallacious advertisement?

Since universities are very fond of putting success stories on their websites or Facebook feeds to convince you to enroll with them rather the competition, you can be sure that almost every success will be documented with pictures, interviews and what not. Can you find any Arabic native graduate in interpreting whose story is online?

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answered 24 Feb '16, 12:43

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 24 Feb '16, 14:18

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question asked: 24 Feb '16, 12:18

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last updated: 24 Feb '16, 15:53

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