“Is conference interpreting the right choice for me?” A letter from an aspiring interpreter

I’m a freelance translator with quite a bit of experience under my belt, and I also work as a court interpreter. I’ve always wondered about conference interpreting, but I’m wondering if it’s the right choice for me. I’m also fascinated with law and am actually in the process of getting my law degree, and I’m having a difficult time choosing between going on to get a conference interpreting MA afterwards or continue on with an LLM (law). It seems a lot of CI courses are prohibitively expensive and I want to make absolutely sure before committing. I know it’s not a decision to take lightly!

Do you think it would be possible to do both? Would have both an LLM and an MA in conference interpreting make me a better interpreter? Do I necessarily need a degree from an EMCI-accredited university, or would it be enough to do a short course in conference interpreting to get my foot in the door, so to speak? There is a conference interpreting course in Turin that is sponsored by the government and is completely free (Italian would be my B–I’ve been speaking it my entire life, I went to college in Italy and I lived there and visit often and it’s like a second native language to me), but when I mention it people freak out and tell me to only study into Italian if I want to work in Italy forever. Or do I have to go to the UK as an English A?

I’m kind of at that point where my life could go in two directions and I don’t know which to choose–do I want to continue with law and possibly work with policy somehow, or do I want to continue using languages which I also love?

Image: Oberazz / flickr

About author View all posts


is a freelance translator thinking of becoming a conference interpreter.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • A legal degree is more useful in terms of getting a good job, and having languages certainly won’t hurt!

  • Stick to the law. It has many more possibilities. A lawyer with languages even more. Work in the English interpretation booth is one long ordeal these days – in the EU institutions you work very little given the growing number of delegates who take a stab at English – the exposure to Globish is ultimately soul-destroying. I would not recommend it to any young linguist unless the plan is to work a little at interpreting to earn enough money to do something much more interesting like writing novels or making films or…

  • As previous commenters have said, stick to the law. Being a bilingual lawyer can be a real asset, whereas if you become an interpreter you’ll have at best a sporadic and superficial contact with law.

  • The decision is not really about money and the cost of courses but what you like doing, whether it is the right career for you and what the prospects are for that career.

    My experience as a teacher is that you cannot combine other studies (or a job) with conference interpreting (CI) studies. You need time to practice interpreting and you need to be on form when you do it. Students who work or do other things are shattered all the time and don’t get as much out of their studies as others.

    Short courses: I don’t think so. AIIC recommends a minimum of 1 academic year and many CI courses run for 2. That is because it takes time to become an conference interpreter. A short course (less than 1 year) would IMO be a waste of time and because 1) you won’t have time to develop the skills and 2) no one in the CI business takes these courses (or their students) seriously. That means teachers on these courses don’t have the connections to get you your first contracts after completing the course.
    Teachers (on longer respected courses) are often a graduates way into the market. They may give you, or recommend you for, your first contracts. International institutions likewise won’t touch any CI course (or student) that isn’t MA level with a bargepole.

    If you want to be a CI with Italian B then you are going to have to live and work in Italy. There is no CI market for that combination (EN A IT B) anywhere else in the world. As such I think you should also study in Italy because, as I say above, that’s where the teachers can say “we’ve got a talented new graduate who could take that contract…” Teachers in the UK can’t get you any work or introductions for IT-EN.

    You should have a small advantage in being EN A and IT B in Italy whereas most interpreters in Italy are EN B.

    My opinion… do what you love. You can come back to the Law if it all goes pear-shaped with interpreting.

    • ps… if you want more detailed and informed information about the market you will have to work in (Italian A-B) market then why not post your question to this Q&A where you’ll find a lot professional interpreters ready to answer

  • Hi everyone! Audra here.

    Thanks so much for the amazing replies. How lucky am I that the internet exists and that I was so graciously allowed to pose my question here? Otherwise I’d be totally in the dark.

    Anyway, I’ve had the opportunity to look around and I believe the program in Turin actually might do: it’s a year long free course which prepares students for work in the private market. I’ve looked around on LinkedIn for a few graduates’ profiles and it seems they have varied and interesting jobs with some great clients.

    I am still going to focus my studies on law, but I’m going to take a year out to complete this course and have the ability to interpret while attending an LLM the year after. I think that would be a really good alternative, and would allow me the ability to at least interpret sometime on the private market, which interests me most of all. I’m more than happy to work in the Italian market, as I want to specialize in Italian law for the future anyway–whether that means I’ll live in Italy forever or come back to the US (or go elsewhere) and work for companies dealing with Italy, remains to be seen.

    And if all else fails, I will have obtained the necessary training in CI and will always have translating to fall back on. Knowing Italian, Spanish, French and English (adding Dutch as we speak as I’m getting my LLB in the Netherlands!) can’t ever really hurt for employment prospects, can it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.