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What level of proficiency does the Eu expect of interpreters?
Thread poster: bello82

bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
Sep 27, 2012

Dear professional interpeters and translators,

I am writing this post because I am being haunted by this doubt:

I am plannning to go for a postgraduate course in Interpreting or Translating and maybe I would attempt the accreditation test at the European Union but I am not really sure.

What level of proficiency is expected of interpreters?

I always come across articles about the fact that the EU is always short of staff, short of English native speakers or short of qualified and skilled interpreters and I would love to know what kind of human beings they are looking for. Are they looking for human beings or sort of cyborgs, computerized individuals with an impeccable memory?

You hear about these interpeters who know 7 languages but I think that it is scientifically impossible to know all those languages perfectly or memorise vocabulary and terminology. We are human beings, for Pete's sake. Even in our native language, we dont know everything. I have been in the UK for 10 years and sometimes I feel I am forgetting my Italian; I can express myself better in English or sometimes I cant remember certain words in Italian but I know them in German. It's very hard.

The EU makes their test very demanding (thats what I heard) and the level of proficiency has to be near-perfection and then I say to myself: "No wonder why they are always short of staff"!
They may as well invest in building a T 300 Schwarznegger-like cyborg coming from the future or in cloning a Kyle XY human prototype with an excellent brain (have you all watched that American series?) ha ha ha ha ha I am just joking:) so they will deliver a great interpretation. We all make mistakes as human beings , so please!

Could you guys please elaborate on this? I am so eager to listen to professional advice

[Edited at 2012-09-27 09:26 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-09-27 09:28 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-09-27 09:32 GMT]


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
A glimpse at the EU Sep 27, 2012

I had a glimpse at interpreting for the EU earlier this year as I did dummy booth practice for 2 days.

I would say that English, French, German and Dutch are languages that EU interpreters understand thoroughly.

The rarer languages, it seemed to me, weren't. Sometimes, the interpreters left really long gaps and then attempted to summarise the information, while it was obvious that the speaker had gone into much greater detail. I think that, because of this, a lot of speakers with rarer languages simply speak in English.

I also saw how when some speakers spoke, they had an assistant who would listen to English booth to check the interpretation. I was told that sometimes proceedings are stopped for the purpose of correcting the interpretation.

Something that struck me was that the speakers seemed to be very conscious of speaking in a multilingual environment. They tend to speak slowly and repeat the thrust of their message at least twice. But I think that the opposite is true in the Parliament. There, interventions are timed and speakers speak quickly.

You are supplied with a fair amount of information before an interpretation so you can prepare. Glossaries are also made available to you.

BTW, I find it hard to believe that the EU are short of interpreters. I think they just want to have a to play it safe, by having a large database of interpreters. The interpreters on the roster for the meetings I attended all had at least 4 passive languages. Some had 7.


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bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That is rather comforting Sep 27, 2012

That motivates me now because from what you are saying I can infer that interpreters were not proficent in those languages and they were trying to summarise, so one needs not be a genius in Hungarian or Latvia for example.

I already speak Italian, English, German and Spanish and I wouldnt have problems understanding Romance languages as they are similar but I am learning Icelandic and Polish and imagine how hard it is to become proficient in these languages; therefore, I had these doubts in my mind (does one really need to be absolutely proficient in these languages?)

What happens then if the interpreter doesn't understand properly and cannot follow the speech being so quick?

7 passive languages? Wow, that is amazing but how well you need to know them? How can one keep themselves up to date with 7 languages?


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 17:52
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
SCIC Sep 27, 2012

Why not ask SCIC directly (scic-euroscic@ec.europa.eu)?

Anyway, this might be useful:

http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/scic/become-an-interpreter/index_en.htm


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bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your pieces of advice Sep 27, 2012

Thank you very much. I am going to send an email to SCIC and let's see what their answer is. This interpreting stuff really fascinates me and I would really love to give it a go but it scares me at the same time 😃Keeping up to date is so time-consuming 😃

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ParlInt
Local time: 18:52
How well you need to understand your passive languages Oct 9, 2012

I can categorically state that all languages have to be up to the same (high) standard regardless of how exptic they are. The idea that a more obscure language can be treated in a more slapdash fashion just doesn't hold water. Consider a 23 language meeting such as plenary. A Latvian colleague working into EN or someone working into FR from Lithuanian can be pretty sure that there will be only 2 booths doing that language directly. The rest of the booths (and the entire plenary chamber) will therefore be dependent on them. If you can't understand the Finnish expression or the Maltese idiom then you will be in some trouble.

Now, it's obvious that supply and demand comes into it, and an Italian booth interpreter with French and English will have beaten a huge amount of competition to become the interpreter sitting in that chair, so you can be assured that they will be among the best. But the same rigorous standards are applied to every booth, every language, so if you can't do it you won't get in. Ask all those who failed along the way.

So just how good do you have to be? Well, you need to be sure that if an entire room full of people are reliant on you, sometimes standing up at a rostrum or interpreting important events, you're not going to pull a blank. That doesn't mean you understand every word (noone does, not even in their mother tongue), but you have to be confident enough in your understanding to be a safe pair of hands. A lot of that is confidence, smooth delivery, papering over cracks, background knowledge, it all helps. But you still have to know what they're saying pretty much every time they switch on the mic. That is becoming increasingly difficult as new concepts emerge, international politics change, the EFF turns into the EMFF, the ESM and the bailout fund aren't really understood even by the native speakers, senior debt turns into sterilised loans, and the whole thing becomes very confusing.

Speaking personally, I learnt my languages some time ago, and while I do have to keep working on them, I find I put much more work into keeping up with what's going on in international politics in order to stand a chance when it's my turn on mic....


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bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you very much Oct 18, 2012

Thank you very much ParlInt

I really appreciate your piece of advice.

But isn't interpreting supposed to mean conveying the message clearly not word for word? I mean an interpreter, from what I read, should never interpret every word but understand the gist of the speech and render it into the target language.

If you are telling me that an interpreter is to understand every single idiom, then it would humanly impossible to find the right one because nobody knows everything even in their mother tongue.

I guess that chunks of speech can be omitted as long as the message is clear and conveyed in a good way. Especially during simultaneous interpretation, an interpeter doesnt have the actual time to think of the right idiom even in his mother tongue and European Union interpreters are not an exception because nobody is perfect.

I watch speeches from the European council live and I listen to the interpreters when they interpret into Italian, my language ,and to be honest with you, few of them pause, they are behind what the speaker is saying and omit many things that are not important, especially when the politician is trying to be philosophical and borng. To me it is normal as the job is not a child's play but it is very demanding and stressful and they dont seem to be geniuses. That's why I asked the question in the forum to understand it better.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
I don't know what the EU requires, but it cannot be that different from the US Oct 18, 2012

Most types of interpreting exams are very challenging. You really have to be practically bilingual (close to perfect competence in both languages). You also have to have really extensive knowledge in the field you want to specialize. Then, practice is essential as well, because you have to gain speed, and be able to interpret almost automatically. Interpreting is a very interesting job, but it is one of the hardest jobs in the linguistic field. So you may want to take these factors into consideration as well. It is not such a great idea to interpret from and to a few different languages. I agree with you -- I personally don't think many people can do it. I speak about seven languages, but I could only use three languages for interpreting purposes. I have never met anyone who uses more then four languages as an interpreter, and even this is rare.




[Edited at 2012-10-18 20:25 GMT]


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:52
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Useful video link Oct 18, 2012

Here is a two-part video where you can see a part of an actual exam at the EU; it gives a pretty good picture about the expectations.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InpIBvAVRXE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ0CMyey5V8&feature=relmfu

Best
Attila


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bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you very much Oct 18, 2012

Thanks to all of you for sharing your views

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FarkasAndras
Local time: 18:52
English to Hungarian
+ ...
chunks Oct 18, 2012

bello82 wrote:

Thank you very much ParlInt

I really appreciate your piece of advice.

But isn't interpreting supposed to mean conveying the message clearly not word for word? I mean an interpreter, from what I read, should never interpret every word but understand the gist of the speech and render it into the target language.

If you are telling me that an interpreter is to understand every single idiom, then it would humanly impossible to find the right one because nobody knows everything even in their mother tongue.

I guess that chunks of speech can be omitted as long as the message is clear and conveyed in a good way. Especially during simultaneous interpretation, an interpeter doesnt have the actual time to think of the right idiom even in his mother tongue and European Union interpreters are not an exception because nobody is perfect.


Well, interpreters should never interpret "word for word" because the same word or phrase might have a different meaning in the target language. But we (I'm a freelancer at the EU institutions) are expected to convey the meaning of what is said in full, without leaving out anything relevant if at all possible. I.e. we are not allowed to synthesize or sum up what is said. If a speaker, for instance, repeats a phrase while looking for words, that will of course be left out by the interpreter, but "chunks" will certainly not be left out unless something goes badly wrong. As to thinking of the right idiom or phrasing, that's a nice bonus if you can manage it. Most of the time, we concentrate on conveying the meaning, often using simpler phrasing than the original speaker. Verbal flourishes are definitely optional.


I watch speeches from the European council live and I listen to the interpreters when they interpret into Italian, my language ,and to be honest with you, few of them pause, they are behind what the speaker is saying and omit many things that are not important, especially when the politician is trying to be philosophical and borng. To me it is normal as the job is not a child's play but it is very demanding and stressful and they dont seem to be geniuses. That's why I asked the question in the forum to understand it better.

The aim is to leave out nothing of substance. Of course, interpreters are human and they make mistakes (which is especially understandable as many colleagues have four, five or even eight passive languages, and some of the speakers are very difficult to interpret due to speed, incoherence, a thick accent or any number of other factors).

Being behind the speaker by about 3 to 10 seconds is normal and in fact inevitable. You have to wait to see where the sentence is going... but that doesn't necessarily mean that anything will be left out, just that there is a slight, constant delay. Normally, interpreters have a pretty good feel for where a contribution will end and they try and catch up by then so the participants don't have to wait too much for the interpreters to finish.
That said, a certain amount of collateral damage is often inevitable in interpreting, simultaneous or not. That simply comes with the territory. It's difficult to quantify and it depends heavily on how "good" or "easy" the speaker is, but if a speech is delivered well, interpreters are expected to get everything of importance correct. For instance, at an admission test, if the speaker lists four countries at a reasonable pace and you leave out one, or you get a couple of figures wrong, you'll probably fail. If you get everything largely correct but your phrasing is very awkward, you sound very nervous and unconvincing and you're difficult to follow or understand, you'll probably still fail.
The EU pays pretty good wages and offers pretty good working conditions, so it generally has a lot of candidates to choose from, and it picks the best ones. Of course, this depends on supply and demand. The institutions need to fill a certain number of positions, for which they hire the best candidates available at the time. In the coming 5-20 years, the demand for new native English interpreters will be relatively high, and the supply of good candidates is said to be relatively low, so one would expect that it will be somewhat easier to make the cut. They say there will be a shortage of Italians as well, but it's certainly not the case right now.


Overall, I'd say you need to excel to be hired, but you don't need to be a cyborg. As a rule of thumb, if you go to a good interpreting school and you are among the best 10-30% of students, you'll have a good shot at it. Remember that the people with 6 or 7 languages are usually people who have been been working at the EU for a decade or three, adding a new language every 5 or 6 years. You're not expected to start out with 6 languages, more like 2 or 3.

[Edited at 2012-10-18 17:52 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I agree that you are technically not supposed to skip anything. Oct 18, 2012

Some phrases are rephrased to save time, sometimes, but the full meaning has to be retained. Of course interpreters are human, so some skipped parts of the text are possible, but this is really what most interpreters try to avoid. Sometimes it cannot be helped, but it is not something generally acceptable. I am really surprised that some interpreters are attempting to interpret from ten languages -- I personally don't believe it is possible to interpret well from more than two or three languages (unless the languages are almost the same -- they just have different names for political reasons -- like Serbian, Bosnian, or some other languages that close). Also, the passive language notion really surprises me. If you are a professional interpreter, you are supposed to have active knowledge of both languages -- the target and the source. It is impossible in court environment to talk about passive and active languages -- you have to interpret both ways. Even the seminars in the US, usually use interpreters who can interpret both ways. How do you imagine consecutive interpreting with one language being passive?

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bello82
Local time: 17:52
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
8-9 languages? Oct 18, 2012

you wrote 8/9 languages? Are you serious?

But how well do they know these languages? How can someone keep up with them? Do they know them at the same level?

I can speak 5 languages and I am struggling to keep up because I have to memorise vocabulary.

Could you please elaborate on that? ( how well you need to know the languages)

LilianBlonde I think the EU interpeters are allowed too interpet only into their native language and B language if they have one and I totally agree with you about how to do consecutive with a passive language. Most of the time I think they do simultaneous into their mothertongue that is why they have so many passive languages becuase they only have to understand them very well.

Thank you

[Edited at 2012-10-18 19:39 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
I personally don't understand how someone can interpret from a passive language, Oct 18, 2012

but everybody is different. I could never interpret from Spanish, for example, although I understand that language really well. I think you have to speak the language you interpret from it, or even translate. Translation is slightly different, because you can always consult a dictionary, or Google some terms. When you interpret, you either know something instantaneously, or you don't. There is no time to think about the right word, at all.






[Edited at 2012-10-18 20:41 GMT]


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 18:52
English to Hungarian
+ ...
many languages Oct 18, 2012

First of all, re: passive languages. Some people will tell you that nobody should interpret into a language other than their mother tongue, because it's impossible to do a good enough job. I'm not of this opinion at all, and I happen to work into a B language (English) myself. This is just to illustrate that "there and back" is not necessary the dominant paradigm.

Anyway, the language profile of interpreters follows the local needs. E.g. in the US, you get a lot of En-Es work that can be handled most conveniently by a single interpreter, or one pair in case of simul. In the EU, many meetings are done in 12, 15 or 21 languages. You can't cover that massive language range with the "there and back" paradigm - there's no way to find interpreters who do Lithuanian into Maltese and back from Maltese to Lithuanian. What you need in such a multilingual environment is people who can interpret into their mother tongue from many languages. That's the way to cut down on relay - we still need relay, but the less of it, the better.
In this scenario, there's no need for a native English interpreter to work into Spanish because there are 3 people in the Spanish booth who can do it better. Retours are only needed from people with a "small" native language, i.e. native Czech or Hungarian interpreters working into English (of French or German). That's because this direction might not be covered by English (French, German) natives.

And yes, quite a lot of people do have 6 or 8 passive languages. I'm not going to pretend that they have the same level of proficiency in all of them, but it is possible to do a decent job in so many languages. Perhaps not excellent in all of them, but decent. Again, these are people who have been doing this full-time for decades, adding new languages one by one.

Here's a wild language profile for you to shudder at:
into PT from FR-EN-IT-ES-EL-RO-AR
into RO from FR-EN-IT-ES-PT-AR
into AR from FR-EN-IT-ES-PT-RO
into FR from EN-IT-ES-PT-RO-AR

Yes, this is all one person. She has a total of eight languages, four of them active (including Arabic). I don't speak any of her active languages so I never got the chance to listen to her work.


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