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Am I too old to become an interpreter?
Thread poster: Sylvie Cappon
Sylvie Cappon  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 21:04
English to French
Jan 5, 2015

Hello everyone,

Here’s a non-politically correct question: I am too old to become an interpreter?

I will be 42 in a few months. I am French, I lived in the UK for 8 years and I have been based in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the past 10 years, which makes me trilingual. I have been working as a full-time freelance translator for the past 15 years but I am now looking for a fresh start and to do something else using my working languages.

I am thinking about taking the ESIT interpreting exam in March with the idea of eventually joining the UN or European Commission, but really, besides actually passing the exam, how realistic is that? Is ageism a problem in the interpreting industry? Would I be some sort of freak starting as an interpreter at say, 45, and what are my chances of actually finding work and passing UN or EU competitive exams?

Any comments welcome, positive or negative!


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 08:04
Chinese to English
There are plenty of interpreters in their 40s and older Jan 6, 2015

It's not obvious that your age should be an obstacle! You will need to do a lot of learning of techniques, and it's possible that that process will be a little slower for you, but if you're dedicated it shouldn't be a problem.

Your combination might be an issue, though. As I understand it, the EU has plenty of people doing English to French. What they really want are interpreters for the smaller European languages. But you might be able to start with your current pairs and learn extra languages as you go. Not sure about the UN. Alternatively, the private market should offer you plenty of work.


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Yurizx  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:04
English to Russian
+ ...
a demanding job Jan 6, 2015

Full-time interpreting is a demanding job. Even physically.
You need a trial period, so to speak, in order to test your fitness.

[Редактировалось 2015-01-06 05:56 GMT]


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
Portuguese to English
+ ...
No, you're not. Jan 6, 2015

I had four colleagues in their forties on my MA and one of them has already passed the EU accreditation test. Age in this profession actually works in your favour, except on days where you have to interpret standing for a few hours, so make sure you have an active lifestyle and go for it. Good luck.

[Edited at 2015-01-06 11:32 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
42 Jan 6, 2015

42 is not old !

An interpreter like yourself who obviously has considerable experience and a serious, professional attitude would probably inspire more confidence than a younger person.

Go for it!

But do take note of the other comments about needing lots of stamina etc.

BTW I have been told by an ESIT-qualified interpreter that it is very unusual for anyone to get qualified who is interpreting out of their own native language. If so, you would need to be interpreting into French only.

As for ageism in the EU: it's**illegal** in the EU to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their age.

[Edited at 2015-01-06 10:48 GMT]


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stephenward
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
42 where you start Jan 6, 2015

42 is just the number. You can become a good interpreter with your experience.

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:04
Russian to English
+ ...
I do not think age is a problem, plus 42 is young, Jan 6, 2015

but you can only work for the UN until the age of 62, I think. (as a full-time employee). There are various other opportunities in interpreting, though after you retire. I know some people in their 80s still interpreting just because they love it.

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Sylvie Cappon  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 21:04
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Define old Jan 6, 2015

Thanks people! I don't actually feel "old", and from a linguistic point of view my brain actually functions better now than twenty years ago, as for stamina... 42 is not 82

I know that discrimination based on age is prohibited in the UN and EU organisations but I was thinking, maybe that's on paper, and reality is different - say for instance, would a teacher, or a chief interpreter be willing to recruit as a trainee someone their own age or older or would they go for someone younger, more flexible maybe?

I read that interpretation is one of the few professions where age and experience actually help, the fact is I am now perfectly fluent in 3 languages which was not the case 15 years ago. Now obviously, I would be working into French only.

I really feel like giving it a go, at the same time going back to school for a couple of years at my age is not a decision to be taken lightly so I want to make sure that this is not a dead end.

[Modifié le 2015-01-06 15:41 GMT]


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
hard with your language combinations (for EU) Jan 6, 2015

Sylvie Cappon wrote:

I really feel like giving it a go, at the same time going back to school for a couple of years at my age is not a decision to be lightly taken so I want to make sure that this is not a dead end.


I have “researched” it a while ago and it turned out to be that EU institutions have more than enough staff members, as well as freelancers, for the "common" language combinations. Common languages being: English, Spanish, French, Italian and even German.

With your target language (French), you would need to acquire a source language that is in high demand at the EU institutions (Greek, Romanian, Czech, Danish, Bulgarian, Croatian, Finish, you name it). Otherwise, with your English and Spanish as your target languages, you might end up having hard time breaking into the profession, if you solely aim at EU (my personal opinion based on my own "research").

You are 42 and you will need 4 - 5 years to attain a decent command of a new foreign language, provided you work, at least, 5 hours a day (unless you are to languages what Mozart was to music).

Moreover, EU boldly maintains that they have no time nor are they willing to train people. They need finished product, period. Therefore, you are always better off if you start as a freelancer on the “private” market and once you gain that experience (that can be proved), you can knock on the EU’s door with more chances of success.

I would also mind the differences in personalities. Interpreters to translators are like Verdi baritones to Schubert baritone lieders. Bothe sing and both are baritones, but the former can “yield” 130 decibels (and probably deafen you at close distance) and the latter is just a “sweet” voice, with lots of nuances. You do have singers who do both things (Thomas Hampson, for example), but they are not good enough in both genres, by far not.


[Edited at 2015-01-06 18:57 GMT]


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Sylvie Cappon  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 21:04
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
translation vs. interpreting Jan 6, 2015

That’s a very good point. When I started as a translator, I much preferred the solitude of the freelancer and having time to ponder about how best to render a word or phrase. I didn’t study translation as such but always felt that I was a natural.

15 years later and having had the chance to try out live interpreting, I feel pretty bored sitting all day in front of my computer and would much prefer the adrenaline of a live performance, so to speak. I really enjoy interpreting on an informal basis. Now whether my brain can actually handle it at a professional level is another question, which I think could be answered by taking an entrance exam.

Regarding languages, that’s true, my language combination is very common and I don’t plan to learn artificially yet another language, so I think the best place for me eventually would be UN organisations but maybe that’s aiming too high.

Thanks for all your comments, they are very helpful!


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ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 03:04
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
You are never too old to become anything in this world. Jan 6, 2015

You are only limited by your imagination. If you honestly think you are too old, then you probably are. If you think you are young enough, then you are not too old.

I am about 53 years old. I do not feel too old for anything, let alone for translating or interpreting. However, I may feel too old to compete with youngsters.

Of course, this is my take on the topic. I believe our success is determined by how we view ourselves and the world around us, and not vice versa. Best of luck!


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Paula Loubier  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:04
French to English
+ ...
Definitely not too old! Feb 13, 2015

I agree that the only thing that limits you is your imagination. As for myself, I began interpreting at an age when many people are ready to retire! While many of the interpreters I work with are younger than I, I feel very comfortable with what I do and absolutely love it! I already had an extensive language background including teaching and translation, but started getting calls for interpreting, which I now prefer over both of the other professions. I got court and medical certification, and never looked back. I absolutely love it! I feel I am pretty well compensated and have enough work. Every assignment is different, and you're constantly meeting interesting people as well as helping your fellow man. What could be better?

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mjbjosh
Local time: 02:04
English to Latvian
+ ...
Too old! Apr 14, 2015

ATIL KAYHAN wrote:

You are only limited by your imagination. If you honestly think you are too old, then you probably are. If you think you are young enough, then you are not too old.

I am about 53 years old. I do not feel too old for anything, let alone for translating or interpreting. However, I may feel too old to compete with youngsters.

Of course, this is my take on the topic. I believe our success is determined by how we view ourselves and the world around us, and not vice versa. Best of luck!



We probably know each other, and yet I don't know who you are. Contrary to popular belief, anyone who is over 55, is not reallly suitable for interpreting anymore. I once had a freelance collleague who had fallen asleep in her seat to find her unresponsible after I had interpreted from German for like 40 min. I had to punch her to wake her up. But then she woke up and continued. Thumbs up!

I'm almost 40 years old, and while I am gathering experience and getting better and better, I really deplore why people over 60 are still allowed to work as interpreters. At that age, if I am still alive, I will sell everything I own and move somewhere to the Carribean.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
Hebrew to English
Bit unfair, no? Apr 15, 2015

Merab Dekano wrote:
Interpreters to translators are like Verdi baritones to Schubert baritone lieders. Bothe sing and both are baritones, but the former can “yield” 130 decibels (and probably deafen you at close distance) and the latter is just a “sweet” voice


This sounds a bit like John Le Carré in The Mission Song.

For the record:
Never mistake, please, your mere translator for your top interpreter. An interpreter is a translator, true, but not the other way round. A translator can be anyone with half a language skill and a dictionary and a desk to sit at while he burns the midnight oil: pensioned-off Polish cavalry officers, underpaid overseas students, minicab drivers, part-time waiters and supply teachers, and anyone else who is prepared to sell his soul for seventy quid a thousand. He has nothing in common with the simultaneous interpreter sweating it out through six hours of complex negotiations. Your top interpreter has to think as fast as a numbers boy in a coloured jacket buying financial futures.
(Page 16)


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
post deleted Apr 15, 2015

post deleted

[Edited at 2015-04-15 17:00 GMT]


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