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Hi everyone,

First of all, I've been scanning these message boards with a lot of interest recently. I'm British and currently living in Mexico, and I'm absolutely fascinated by the world of interpreting and how to get into the profession . I'm considering studying a Masters in Conference Interpreting, either in the UK or abroad. I feel encouraged by the interpretering job profile many experts have underlined, and believe that it really suits me - most of all, an incredible passion for languages, constantly sharpening up your working languages and picking up new ones throughout your career, being fascinated by current affairs and having a good general knowledge. So here are my doubts;


a) My languages would be English A, FR C, ES C. I speak some Portuguese (probably about B1 level). In total, I've spent about 2 years in total in Spanish speaking countries (mainly Mexico, but also a ten month stint in Spain.) and a year in France in Bordeaux as part of my degree. a) What, in your opinion, is the level that you need in regards to C languages BEFORE starting an interpreting course? Do you think at least a C2 level is vital? I would say that I can understand realistically all common conversation in FR and ES, and about 90-95% of complex discussions, depending on the accent of the speaker and how accustomed I am to it. Is this something I can reasonably expect to improve during a Masters course, or does it need to be at a much higher level before I start? Realistically, I'm probably an easy C1 in French but some way off C2, and probably between c1- c2 in Spanish.

b) Is this a reasonable language combination? Or is it unlikely ever to find me work in, for example, Brussels? I've read from some contributors that not having DE for the English booth in Brussels means you are unlikely to be selected. I speak almost no German and the idea of studying it from scratch BEFORE accreditation doesn't really appeal, although I would love to add it at some stage. Should I work at getting my Portuguese up to a C level before I start a Masters? Would this give me an edge? (I imagine it would be v helpful in, for example, the South American market).

2) Choice of schools. I've seen a number of contributors be fairly scathing, if not completely dismissive, of the preparedness of candidates from UK interpreting schools, following the completion of their degree. I was considering courses at both Bath and Manchester, but after research on here and around, am considering La Laguna in Tenerife. What are your opinions on these three courses? I was also considering the course in Lisbon, as it would help improve my Portuguese drastically, but I wonder if this might be biting off a little more than I can chew regarding how intense the course will be, juggled with an (almost) new immersion environment..

3) Ramifications of Brexit. I know that English is a working language of the EU, but I imagine Brexit would hugely impact on the need for accredited freelancers in the UK. It's all a bit up in the air (wretched Tories) but does anyone have any thoughts on this?

4) Having a retour. I feel this would be an advantage on the private market - but is it realistic? I feel I speak Spanish, my best second language, well - but I'm still someway off native level. How long do dedicated interpreters take to add a B language? Is it realistic if you haven't spent a large proportion of your formative years in an immersion environment?

Huge thanks in advance. Feel free to reply in EN, FR or ES. Cheers.

asked 16 Apr '16, 20:06

charlieH's gravatar image


Hi Charlie,

Congrats on asking yourself the right questions. Conference interpreting is not an easy road and the decisions you make right at the start are decisive.

As Gaspar points out, most of your questions have already been answered, but here are a few comments to help you start with.

1) a)

Do you think at least a C2 level is vital?

A C2 level is indeed vital to start studying conference interpreting, because you will need more than a C2 level for a language to be considered a C language. However the European framework of reference is not exactly reliable in this case because it does not give much indication on your knowledge of the culture and the people, which is key when interpreting. But since you've spent some time in countries where your two languages are spoken, I would say that your level in FR and ES might be enough to start a master in conference interpreting. The best way to decide of course is to enrol in a school that will test your languages before accepting you. Many students waste a lot of time studying interpreting with insufficient language skills, because there is simply not enough time to improve your languages in an interpreting course.


“Is this a reasonable language combination? Or is it unlikely ever to find me work in, for example, Brussels?”

Here the question should be: Will I be able to make a living as an interpreter with an EN A FR-ES C combination? And the answer is: most likely not. This is an extremely common combination that will not allow you to be competitive. I would strongly recommend that you add a third language or work on a B language BEFORE you start an interpreting course. You're not going to get enough work without a good language combination anyway, so studying conference interpreting right now would just be a waste of time.

Depending on your financial situation, you can either get a job or start a master while adding a third C or making a B out of one of your C languages. I recommend studying simply because it means that you'll have a master no matter what happens and you have a plan B if interpreting does not work out.

I personally recommend focusing on adding a B rather than adding a C language before starting studying interpreting because adding a B requires new skills and technique that are best acquired at school. Adding a C when you already master the interpreting technique "only" and mostly requires you to work on your language skills.
Plus, having a B when you graduate will allow you to find work on the private market more easily and you will not be entirely dependent on the Institutions tests. The EU tends to give priority to EN A with a third C language, but having a retour into FR/DE/IT/ES is also an asset.

For the languages, it depends on where you're planning to work. For your B language, if you're planning on working in Brussels or Paris, a retour into FR would be preferable. For the C language, German is obviously a big asset, but Portuguese is not too bad either.

2) Now about schools. To be honest, I think that for someone like you who had to add his languages from scratch, a two-year master programme is a must. You will need to work very hard on your languages while acquiring the interpreting techniques and one year will just not be enough. The school depends on where you want to work, but obviously choosing the best schools (ESIT, ISIT and Geneva), combined with the right combination, will guarantee that you have a career in interpreting (whether it is successful or not mostly depends on you and your attitude, but that's another topic). Once again, with an insufficient language combination and a lacking technique, having a degree in interpreting won't be of much use.

3) About the future of the EN booth, the subject has also been partly dealt with on this forum and as Gaspar rightly says, no one knows the answer. But all I can say is that more and more people are adding a B language (mostly EN) and you sometimes have meetings with no English booth and interpreters working into their A and EN B, so if you want to stay competitive, you need to be able to work into another language, and therefore have a B.


How long do dedicated interpreters take to add a B language? Is it realistic if you haven't spent a large proportion of your formative years in an immersion environment?

This has been thoroughly dealt with on the forum:

In a nutshell, it is doable, with a lot of hard work and the right decisions.

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answered 17 Apr '16, 08:01

Camille%20Collard's gravatar image

Camille Collard

What, in your opinion, is the level that you need in regards to C languages BEFORE starting an interpreting course?

Vois ici :

Is this a reasonable language combination? Or is it unlikely ever to find me work in, for example, Brussels?

C'est une combinaison très courante parmi les diplômés et il y a plus d'offre que de demande.

Les priorités actuelles sont publiées ici :

What are your opinions on these three courses?

Tu as les deux écoles de Paris et celle de Genève qui mériteraient aussi que tu t'intéresses à leur programme.

Si tu veux impérativement départager les trois écoles que tu évoques, tu peux te faire une idée toi-même en posant quelques questions. Une liste à titre d'exemple :

La question du Brexit : personne n'a la réponse et il n'y a que spéculations. Quant à une langue B, la question a été abordée de manière exhaustive dans de précédentes discussions.

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answered 17 Apr '16, 07:29

G%C3%A1sp%C3%A1r's gravatar image

Gáspár ♦

edited 17 Apr '16, 07:30

Hi Charlie - quick mise au point: the Lisbon course, sadly, is no longer :-(... a successor course might be set-up in the future, but as yet there are no news.

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answered 17 Apr '16, 09:35

msr's gravatar image


Hello Charlie,

I think Gaspar and Camille have answered most of your questions but I'd just like to add a few things.

I am an English A with FR/ES C too so understand exactly where you're coming from. It is obvious that someone with our combination needs to either add a C language or upgrade a C to a B in order to be employable. If I were you, I would look at interpreting as a medium to long term career option. Try to find another way to make money (e.g. part-time translation or teaching work) while keeping your interpreting skills up to scratch until a big opportunity comes along.

I am currently doing the MA in Conference Interpreting (MACINT) at the University of Manchester and can't speak highly enough of it. It is not ESIT or Geneva (nor does it claim to be) but it is a very well-run programme which gives you a good grounding in the skills you'll need to be an interpreter. The trainers are all professional interpreters who have experience of working on both the institutional and private markets. One thing that I really like about the course in Manchester is that you can do it part-time over two years. This means that you can focus on consecutive interpreting in the first year and simultaneous interpreting in the second year. You are also expected to practise as much as possible during the course which is easier when you're doing the course part-time. As you will see on the website, it is not a cheap course by any means (£8000) but by doing it part-time, you'll be able to spread the cost over two years and work part-time at the same time. I work as an EFL teacher which gives me lots of public speaking and language analysis practice which in turn helps my interpreting.

If you have any questions about the course, send an e-mail or a Facebook message to the Admissions team. The teaching staff are very friendly and approachable.

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answered 19 Apr '16, 05:27

opentointerpretation's gravatar image


It is not ESIT or Geneva (nor does it claim to be) but it is a very well-run programme which gives you a good grounding in the skills you'll need to be an interpreter.

Good groundings would be enough if the situation on the market were different, i.e. if clients would need more interpreters than the schools are supplying. But it's rather the opposite, there are more and more graduates, more than there is work, and only the best get a foot in the door:

I can think of a few graduates from Geneva who, with the same combination, started working at the U.N. right after graduating. While the few Manchester graduates I have met seem to be having a much harder time. They seem to be working pro-bono here and there, but few people would hire them for money, or they do six month internships that have little to do with actual interpreting.

Also, having had the training in interpreting techniques before having a suitable language combination for the market one wants to work on makes things even more complicated: you have to find a job that will pay the bills, while finding the time and energy for not only perfecting your skills (to reach the same level your competitors have from day one after they get their diploma), but also learning a new language.

To this day, I haven't seen anyone manage to learn a language from scratch before getting trapped in a job with that would eventually offer long term prospects. And I haven't seen anyone turning down a decent offer and rather opt for the uncertain investment that comes with the project of adding a language to then be able to apply to take a test (not everyone gets invited) which for the past years had a pass rate somewhere between 3% and 20%. And which, if passed, doesn't guarantee you regular work.

(19 Apr '16, 16:52) Gáspár ♦

I cannot speak about graduates from the University of Manchester. I was just giving my opinion as a current student. From a student perspective, the course at Manchester is very well-organised and comprehensive. However, the trainers here are very realistic and honest about how tough things are out in the real world. Based on what I've heard from working interpreters, the school you train at is important but you also need a lot of motivation, discipline and resilience to make it as an interpreter. If you want to do this job more than anything else, I would say give it a go but find another way to make a living in the short to medium term.

(22 Apr '16, 10:28) opentointerp...

To answer your questions: 1) I suppose "C2" is the level you'd want, (as far as listening comprehension goes), but like the others said, the European Framework is only so helpful when it comes to gauging someone's C language abilities because there is so much more involved when you're interpreting. English A with French and Spanish C is like the others say, very common. You would want to pick one and make it a B. It depends what you like more, where you have more ties, where you see yourself living, but as far as strategy goes, I'd pick French if I could do it over again.

I was in the exact same position (with the same languages!) when I decided interpreting was what I wanted to do. I did in fact spend a little longer working on Spanish (about a year) and then went to work on my Portuguese to make it a C before applying to EMCI programs. My Spanish was a strong C when I started (with 3 Cs they discouraged having a B too given the workload), and I "activated" it after graduating. It may have been better to start with an ABC combination instead in training, but I was worried about forgetting my Portuguese at the time.

2) Some UK schools are very good and I wouldn't write them off. Bath is good and has people working all over. I've never heard of Manchester, but I've heard good things about Herriot Watt. You can't go wrong with the French schools) ESIT, ISIT, ITIRI), or ETI though (plus they're way, way cheaper!)

3) No one knows with the Brexit (hey, it might not even happen!) but just in case, there is more out there than the EU. Interpreters work all over the world and in all kinds of strange places. In any case, even if the Brexit happens, English isn't going away any time soon, at least in our lifetimes.

4) How long depends on you and where you are, what you do, who you are with all day long, what you read... Keeping up a B language is a never-ending task, really, when it's a language you acquired, and even when you grew up speaking it.

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answered 28 Apr '16, 14:21

InesdC's gravatar image


Note that in some schools there are restrictions on the languages you can have in your combination (there is no Portuguese or Croatian C in Geneva for instance). I know one person with such a “hidden” language who passed the EU accreditation test with her full combination (“hidden” language included), but it was not easy as she didn’t have teachers nor lessons for that language. And that “hidden” C language was already at a native (or above) level I think.

I also know one recent ETI (now called FTI) graduate who now works at the U.N. with ACC EN-FR-ES (so there is some demand in the English booth) but the expectations of accreditation tests examiners are very high there (and there seems to be little demand for that combination outside, though I am not best placed to speak about that market).

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answered 19 Jun '16, 19:37

mflorian's gravatar image


edited 19 Jun '16, 19:39

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question asked: 16 Apr '16, 20:06

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