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How to become a conference interpreter

Here at London Translations, we hire trained and vastly experienced conference interpreters to serve every business need. If you’d like to learn more about the skills involved in becoming a conference interpreter, we have all the information you need below.

What do conference interpreters do?

Conference interpreting involves sitting in booths at national and international conferences, listening to a speech in one language and then conveying that message in a target language via a headset, or streamed as a voiceover to the room. Like all interpreting, it involves effective oral communication skills, such as the ability to adopt the delivery, tone and convictions of the speaker and then repeating that message in the target language.

Conference interpreting involves what is called simultaneous interpretation. This is where real-time interpreting happens without the involvement of the original speaker. Simultaneous interpreters sit in a soundproof booth and interpret while the speaker continues talking.

Simultaneous interpreting is actually more demanding than whispering interpretation or consecutive interpretation. This is because translating while the original speaker continues to talk involves a great deal of concentration. In fact, an interpreter can only be effective for periods of up to 20 minutes. After that time, they will need to hand off to a fellow interpreter and rest. This is why conference interpreters often work in pairs.

What other skills does a conference interpreter need?

  • Fluency in two or more languages
  • A localised knowledge of different cultures, countries and dialects
  • The ability to remain calm and collected in high-pressure situations
  • A knowledge and understanding of current events
  • The ability to work as part of a team
  • The ability to concentrate and focus as a discussion unfolds
  • A clear speaking voice
  • Flexibility

What qualifications do conference interpreters need?

It possible to become a conference interpreter without any formal qualifications. However, this means that businesses, organisations or individuals looking to hire conference interpreters need to know how to decipher between the very best and the very dodgy. This is why accreditation is important for interpreters. For example, to work as a conference interpreter for the EU, you must pass an inter-institutional interpreting test.

Postgraduate degrees in translation and conference interpreting are offered by a number of European universities. These post-grad degrees cover a range of language combinations and can be undertaken on either a full-time or a part-time basis. To study one of these degrees, your undergrad degree does not necessarily need to be related to languages, although naturally it would help.

What are the career prospects of conference interpreting?

The average wage for a conference interpreter varies on experience and the languages you work in. Freelance rates vary but could be in the region of £30 to £60 an hour depending on experience, location and level of demand for the languages. Travel expenses are paid for, and as stated earlier, you’ll often work with a partner. Interpreters working in the private sector can expect to be paid more than those in the public sector.

Many conference interpreter jobs are based outside the UK, making it perfect for those who love to travel. The need for conference interpreters is particularly prevalent in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered. However, there a plenty of opportunities for conference interpreters in London too.

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