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How important is a degree in interpretation?
Thread poster: Baozi
Baozi
United Kingdom
Oct 30, 2013

Hello, fellow language lovers.
I have a thousand questions in my head and quite a dilemma at hand, so any advice would be appreciated.
Long story short: Is it a necessity to have a Bachelor's/Master's degree in interpretation? Would it be enough to be a skilled interpreter, or having done some kind of courses? Is a BA/MA degree a significant advantage when finding a job in the UK?

Long story long:
I will finish secondary school next year in a European country. I have a passion for languages and my dream is to become an interpreter in English and Russian (the latter being my native). My plan is to first go to a university in my home country (Bachelor's degree in "English language and culture") and then, having saved enough money, go study in the UK for a Master's in interpretation.
It's not a bad plan, in my opinion, however... I know for a fact that the BA degree would be a complete and utter waste of my time. I would basically do it for the sole purpose of getting to do the MA in the UK. The Bachelor's program in my local university involves a total time-waster of a program - completely useless in practical terms, and there is no BA in translation/interpretation at all in my country. Going abroad to study for my Bachelor's in not an option due to financial reasons. And I can't get an MA without getting a BA first, as I understand it.
So my question is: are the 3 wasted years of Bachelor's degree worth the 1-2 years of Master's in regards to finding a job in the UK? Are there any courses that don't require a prior degree, and would I potentially be able to find a job as an interpreter after taking them?
I do realize that no degree or course will magically make a person a good interpreter and it all depends on skills. However, what I'm asking is, how important is the BA/MA piece of paper in terms of getting a job and would it reflect on my salary?

Your kind help is much appreciated.


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Václav Pinkava  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 14:05
Member (2013)
Czech to English
+ ...
Important? No. Useful? Probably. Oct 31, 2013

I discovered my ability for simultaneous interpreting aged 33. I think it might be genetic, because my uncle was a multilingual simultaneous interpreter. So personally, I don't think a degree makes you into an intepreter, if you are not inherently up to it. Being fluently bilingual is not the same skillset. But studying will make you better, if you have the aptitude. So will practice. No doubt some institutions will judge your prowess by the qualification. That is the "wonderful" thing about interpreting - people who need you are those least able to judge if you are any good. (A bit like being blind and relying on a sighted person to chose your wardrobe.)
Learning about interpreting might help you acquire a few tricks of the trade sooner than real-world experience, but you can gain a lot just by being around other interpreters. Once, at a conference, I witnessed professional interpreting at its best. The speaker was telling a joke, and I thought "Ooops!", so switched to the interpreting channel to hear what they might do with it. The result?
"The gentleman is telling a very fine joke, which unfortunately does not translate. But, it would be polite to laugh."


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xxxxxLecraxx
Germany
Local time: 14:05
French to German
+ ...
You need a Master's degree Oct 31, 2013

Hi,

contrary to what Václav said I deem it very important. You need a Master's degree in order to become a (conference) interpreter. Not only do many interpreter jobs require a Master's (institutions such as the EU Commission, UNO, etc.), but you also need the training. I don't think it's possile to do simultaneous interpreting without extensive training. You certainly need some talent, it is true, but it is also something you have to learn.

Just make any kind of B.A. program that interests you. Hone your language skills.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:05
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Useful to get jobs, not for the work itself Oct 31, 2013

I think the "language and culture" programmes at any university are a waste of time. but your CV will look much better with a degree -:) I would recommend studying something more useful, a subject that you feel might be your translating specialization. Personally, I have no degree at all, and it tends to be a problem when proposing my services to clients. It would be a much bigger one for somebody young (I make up for it by having 25 years experience). Good luck!

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Texte Style
Local time: 14:05
French to English
I agree with EveVer Oct 31, 2013

If you're interested in working for the EU or the UN you will need more than one source language.

If you're not really interested in studying for a BA in languages, then I would suggest studying something else to BA level. Law would be a good option, because then you would be able to do legal translations with more confidence, and it's a field in which language plays an important role. Other than that, you can study whatever interests you, and then that subject can feature on your CV as a specialist area for translation.

Look into courses with possibilities for studying abroad (Erasmus etc.) and keep on studying languages no matter what.

Another option is to find work in an area of interest for you, which will help finance the MA and give you an opportunity to learn about whatever field you happen to work in, familiarise yourself with specialist terminology etc. A job in a fashion retail outlet is an opportunity to learn about textiles and clothing for example.

(EvaVer you might want to look into doing a course like mine: I first submitted an application showing that I already had experience as a translator and was dispensed from 95% of course requirements. I wrapped up the few classes in just one year and went from nothing but secondary-school qualifications to MA. I didn't learn a thing but it does wonders for my confidence level and reassures clients no end. )


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:05
Russian to English
+ ...
Degrees are not important in interpreting at all -- at least in the US. Oct 31, 2013

You need some sort of education to apply for various interpreting jobs -- like a BA in any field is usually required almost everywhere, although there might be exceptions --I am not sure. There are almost no interpreting degrees in the US, so no-one would ask you for one, or expect one.

What is important in interpreting is full billlingualism (close to "native"level in both languages), and full proficiency in interpreting, which is usually only gained through years of practice -- mostly on your own. If you cannot do it, no degree will save you -- in interpreting. It is like acting, sort of. If you can do it -- fine. If you cannot -- even a prestigious degree would not lend you jobs.

I think language studies programs are very helpful, if you are planning to become an interpreter. You need some solid linguistic background -- this is very important. I think you are making the right choice.

You don't need a Master's Degree-- even for the UN, by the way. Knowledge on an MA or PhD level to pass their exam -- definitely.

[Edited at 2013-10-31 13:59 GMT]


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xxxxxLecraxx
Germany
Local time: 14:05
French to German
+ ...
US vs. Europe Oct 31, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

even for the UN, by the way. Knowledge on an MA or PhD level to pass their exam -- definitely. ]


Sorry for the mistake, I thought you need a Master's in order to interpret for the UN, and I don't know about the situation in the US. But wasn't Baozi asking about job opportunities in Europe? And seeing that you need an exceptionally high level of competence to work for high-profile institutions such as the UN, wouldn't it be wiser to get a Master's degree in it, if only for the training you will get there? I can't imagine doing this all alone without instruction...


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Baozi
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Nov 2, 2013

Thank you all for your input, this is definitely some food for thought. :3

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degree is important but... Nov 3, 2013

Hello,
In my opinion the degree in interpretation is important but also there is important your talant to the language how you feel another culture because you can interpret a lot but how you interpret depends on your feeling of language, its culture and that sort of things. And the degree helps you because you can train your skills. You will understand better the sphere in which you are. You will learn some interpretation nuances...


Baozi wrote:

Hello, fellow language lovers.
I have a thousand questions in my head and quite a dilemma at hand, so any advice would be appreciated.
Long story short: Is it a necessity to have a Bachelor's/Master's degree in interpretation? Would it be enough to be a skilled interpreter, or having done some kind of courses? Is a BA/MA degree a significant advantage when finding a job in the UK?

Long story long:
I will finish secondary school next year in a European country. I have a passion for languages and my dream is to become an interpreter in English and Russian (the latter being my native). My plan is to first go to a university in my home country (Bachelor's degree in "English language and culture") and then, having saved enough money, go study in the UK for a Master's in interpretation.
It's not a bad plan, in my opinion, however... I know for a fact that the BA degree would be a complete and utter waste of my time. I would basically do it for the sole purpose of getting to do the MA in the UK. The Bachelor's program in my local university involves a total time-waster of a program - completely useless in practical terms, and there is no BA in translation/interpretation at all in my country. Going abroad to study for my Bachelor's in not an option due to financial reasons. And I can't get an MA without getting a BA first, as I understand it.
So my question is: are the 3 wasted years of Bachelor's degree worth the 1-2 years of Master's in regards to finding a job in the UK? Are there any courses that don't require a prior degree, and would I potentially be able to find a job as an interpreter after taking them?
I do realize that no degree or course will magically make a person a good interpreter and it all depends on skills. However, what I'm asking is, how important is the BA/MA piece of paper in terms of getting a job and would it reflect on my salary?

Your kind help is much appreciated.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:05
English to Polish
+ ...
... Nov 3, 2013

A degree per se is not necessary, but you need to learn the trade somewhere. Might as well do it at university and receive a formal degree in it in the end.

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Baozi
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
BA is a time waster. Nov 3, 2013

The thing is, the BA would not be useful for my interpreting or language skills at all. I would be studying in a language other than English or Russian, and it is a useless language. I'd just learn some history, theory, literature... While studying I would also get a part-time job. It's impossible to find a part-time job that would contribute to my future without having a degree or experience. Hence, I will not have time for polishing my language skills. The MA, on the other hand, would provide me with indispensable training for my future profession, even though it's so darn expensive (that is why I need to work throughout my Bachelor's).
Basically, it would be just perfect to jump straight to the MA without the BA... I wish there were some kind of similar courses for interpreters. Those 3 years of Bachelor's degree could have been so productive in terms of attaining new skills and polishing my language. Why does it have to be so complicated...


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:05
Chinese to English
Why not do a better first degree? Nov 4, 2013

I can't quite understand why you don't think you can do a useful first degree. If the course you're talking about isn't going to be helpful, then don't do it.

Subjects that would help you in a future interpreting career: politics, business, economics... learn some good content that will help you to understand the speeches you will later interpret.

I also don't understand why you don't think you can get a job that will help your future career. Any kind of sales job will be useful: a big part of good speaking is selling yourself to the audience, and the interpreter has to be a good speaker in order to do justice to the speaker. And you're trilingual, right? So if you can find a job that involves sales to English/Russian speakers, then all the better. Even working in a shop can be a sales job; telesales (if you can bear it!) would be good.

Perhaps it would be helpful to try to think a little more broadly about what it means to be an interpreter. Your focus seems a bit too narrow at the moment.


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Texte Style
Local time: 14:05
French to English
I agree wholeheartedly with Phil Nov 4, 2013

Don't go thinking because you get by in a language that you know it all. You don't.

We live in a youth culture, with youngsters getting rich because they're Internet savvy, but here you're looking at a profession where ripeness is all. To be a good translator or interpreter, you either need to specialise in something like law, engineering, medicine or finance (which you can't just pick up, you'd need at least a degree in one to look at all credible when starting out) or you need to be highly cultivated, with a keen sense of curiosity for whatever subject your work is focussing on.

I have a few specialisations. Just looking at my jobs from last week I worked on translations on the following subjects:
- digestive problems (aimed at the general public),
- an exhibition in an art gallery, with reference to Renaissance classics,
- another exhibition about an Egyptian Pharaoh,
- new trends in towels and wallpaper,
- press pack for a famous lingerie and swimwear designer,
- instructions for a life jacket made from a new material.

I haven't studied any of those subjects but if I'm capable of translating them and earning a good living from them now, it's because I studied the Renaissance at school, have attended loads of exhibitions, because I have learned a lot about fabrics via my dressmaking hobby and because I'm also fascinated by food, cooking and the effect of what we eat on our health. I've read about all these subjects for my own pleasure, I watch documentaries on TV, I'm on a perpetual learning curve and I don't intend ever to stop learning. This is a necessary attitude for our profession.

And during all of these informal studies, I have listened and read not only to absorb the facts but also to see how people express these facts, soaking up everything to do with language. I have spent a lot of time reading and improving my knowledge of my working languages.

So instead of whining about how a BA in languages is of no use to you, find a course that will not only be useful but also be at least interesting but preferably fascinating for you. And don't take the attitude that you already know everything you have to know about your languages. If you want to go into interpreting or translation, you have to have in-depth knowledge or feel for language, you have to have a canny knack for coming up with neat ways of putting things. It can come naturally to you, but it comes even easier when you've had plenty of practice.

And as I said, working, even in a relatively unskilled job, can help. I once hired a translator to work with me on a huge project about running gear, and I chose a girl who had paid her way through uni working in a store selling sports clothing. She knew the sports and fabric terminology from her job and she had her degree in translation. The partnership proved very fruitful. As a PM in an agency, I hired an in-house translator who had previously worked as a buyer for a pharmaceuticals firm: he was able to translate some highly technical translations for a lab that we had previously had to outsource to an expensive translator (with a PhD in pharmaceuticals).


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Baozi
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your replies. Nov 12, 2013

I don't get why people have the impression that I'm stuck up and that I think I know everything there is to my languages. I never said anything close to that. Quite the contrary - I think I'm worthless and I don't even know how I'm going to survive in this world with such smart people around. I'm not "whining", I'm only asking for help to have a better idea of how things work in the translation world. Feel free to think of me anything you please. However, I would appreciate a neutral tone please, not an accusing one.
If only it were as simple as to "go get a useful degree". If I could do that, I would probably not even bother contemplating about becoming a translator/interpreter - I'd just find work in that field.
Law, business, medicine - I'll be honest, I don't find genuine interest in such subjects. I would firstly need to actually get in, which is hard enough (I probably can't anyway because they require strong mathematical skills and high exam results). I would have to dedicate all of my time just trying to keep up with the subject itself and I would not have the time to focus on the language aspect at all (I repeat that I would be studying in a language other than Russian or English). In addition, I have some friends studying subjects like economics and IT in our universities, and they, even though they are quite smart themselves, say that our education is complete crap and you will be taught nothing, you have to pretty much self-study everything if you plan on graduating. It's easier to just study by myself to begin with.
My biggest interest - I can safely state that it is not only my interest, but my purpose in life - lies in East Asian countries, especially Korea, Japan and China (in that order or priority). Absolutely everything related to them is endlessly fascinating to me. Culture, food, politics, economics, history, music - anything, you name it. My absolute dream would be to translate from those languages, but I'm afraid I'm merely a beginner as of the present moment. I don't know how to use this passion to my advantage career-wise, that's why I'm considering more realistic subjects to translate.
At this stage I am very confused about how I can make my future profession match my interests and be a decent source of money. I would really like to avoid just getting a job that pays the bills - I only have one life to live after all.
As far as the part-time job goes, no, I cannot get one in Russian or English. I only have my current customer service job thanks to my (low but enough) knowledge of the Norwegian language, which is rare in my country.
By the way, even if I were to get a degree in, say, economics, how would I even be able to get a Master's in translation/interpretation? Every university in the UK that I check clearly states that one has to have a BA which is relevant to translation in order to get in. However useful in translation, I don't see how economics/business/law etc can be considered as something related.

In any case, thanks guys for expressing your thoughts and giving me some information to process.


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ParlInt
Local time: 14:05
EU interpreting Nov 13, 2013

As a staff interpreter at an EU institution, I can confirm that potential recruits need an undergraduate degree (in any area) plus a post-graduate specialist course in conference interpreting. This doesn't have to be a full MA, but the most commonly accepted course is the Euromasters (EMCI).
There have been cases where this latter requirement has been waived in light of professional experience, but it is an exception and doesn't happen much anymore.
Many people think that a degree in Law, Economics or suchlike is actually more useful, providing your languages are strong enough.


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