Interpreting for Europe


While Dagy was getting her master’s degree in conference interpreting at the University of Vienna, the EU’s recruiting efforts for freelance interpreters kicked into full gear. A lot of freelancers will be retiring soon, which means that especially the German and the English booths desperately need new talent. That is why the EU started a serious campaign to get young conference interpreters to apply for what they call an inter-institutional accreditation test. We don't know how many people actually get invited to the test, but we do know that the application process is highly competitive. The EU reimburses candidates for their travel expenses (certain restrictions apply). The lucky 20% who pass this notoriously difficult test are then qualified to work as accredited conference interpreters (ACI in EU jargon) for the European institutions: Commission, Council, Court of Justice and Parliament. The EU advertising efforts struck a chord with Dagy. She applied right after she got her diploma and was invited to take the test shortly after that, which she passed. In this blog post, we will focus on some basic information and Dagy’s personal impressions of her freelance test and hints on how one might want to prepare for it. 

General info:

Please note that a master’s degree in conference in interpreting is required to apply (exceptions  may be made for languages of lesser diffusion, such as Slovak) or significant experience as a conference interpreter (we are talking 300+ full days of conference interpreting). The minimum number of languages for the German booth is your native language plus three (again, fewer languages may be acceptable for languages of lesser diffusion).

Here are Dagy’s impressions of the test, which took place in Brussels on November 16:
  • Contrary to popular belief, the jury DOES want you to pass. They need you and I could tell. They took really good care of us during the 6-hour process, which involved a lot of waiting (actual test time was about one hour).  More about the “Bogeymen myth”: http://theinterpreterdiaries.com/2012/10/31/bogeymen-in-brussels/
  • Long consecutive is six minutes, simultaneous is 10 (you can use your own headset). Note: on the consecutive, the entire segment is one segment that lasts 6 minutes, which means you will be listening for six minutes, taking notes, and then interpreting the whole thing, which is a huge challenge. Many American court interpreting exams also have six-minute consecutive portions, but during those, the individual segments are only 20-75 words long, so we wanted to clarify that this is not the case here. One of the speeches has EU-specific terminology, the others are fairly general.  The speed was not a problem. There were no crazy long sentences, no tricky idioms or jokes, no unfinished sentences, very few numbers. The structure of all speeches was logical and easy to follow.
  • The recently introduced new system provides that two people listen to their consecutive speeches (read by a real person, no recordings) together. Then, one of them leaves the room (taking her notes with her) while the other does the interpretation right away. For the second language, it’s the other way around. Obviously, none of the candidates gets to listen to the other’s performance.
  • You may ask a question right after the speaker finishes her or his speech in the language of the speaker. It might be wise to limit your question to essentials, such as a number you would like to double-check.
  • After a short deliberation at the end of the day, they jury will tell you if you have passed the examination  There is no official score nor a precise breakdown of your performance in terms of percentages or anything else. It's pass/fail, and yes, we agree that there is some room for improvement  on that front, as it does not seem very transparent and test-takers don't know what the metrics are. For instance, do you need an 80 to pass? Or a 95? We don't know, but we do know that you have to be excellent.
  • According to the new system, only two languages are tested (which you cannot choose yourself). After I passed Spanish and English into German, I will be tested for my third and last language, French, on December 19.
While the jury is friendly (but very down to business) and they certainly need you, they will not lower their quality standards. An excellent performance in consecutive interpretation is essential, including a logical structure, good delivery, eye contact with the jury and lots of self-confidence. And of course they expect excellent command of your native language, which might sound like a no-brainer, but often turns out to be a problem. In simultaneous, they expect top-notch technique, which includes not sticking too close to the source text. Which brings us to test preparations:
  • What you learn at the university is not enough. You need to practice on your own, preferable every day (I did for about a year and a half; no excuses). Record your interpretation and listen to it. Be self-critical. Candidates will get access to the EU’s excellent “multilingual speeches” database (also used by students enrolled in interpreting programs). The ones labeled as “test-type” are similar to what you will get at the test. After I exhausted that database, I started using www.ted.com and www.tedx.com. Most speeches are in English, but quite a few are available in other languages as well.
  • You need to have an excellent command of your native language. Read good newspapers and magazines on an everyday basis and don’t forget literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • You need to know what’s going on in the EU and in the countries where “your” languages are spoken. www.europa.eu offers a wealth of information, and I also recommend subscribing to the “Eurotopics” (www.eurotopics.net) service, which will give you a digest of EU-related newspaper articles once a day (available in German, English and French). If you work with French, you might find this behind-the-scenes blog interesting: http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/
  • Try to control your nerves (pop an herbal pill if you need to). The setting can be intimidating – after all, you will be taking your test either at the European Commission or the Parliament in an impressive room with quite a large jury. If you’re nervous, try not to show it. Try imagining the situation ahead of time and prepare for it mentally. And don’t forget that these tests cost a lot of time and money and that it’s a privilege to be there in the first place, even if you don’t pass on your first try. Not many do.
  • I believe that listening to international radio stations in all my languages (Radio France Internationale, BBC, NPR, Radio Exterior de España, etc.) really helped.
  • On the day of your exam, warm up first. I had two short speeches on my iPhone (don’t exhaust yourself) and did those before I headed to my test.
Good luck to anybody planning on taking the accreditation test soon! If you like a challenge, this is for you!
Don’t hesitate to post any questions you might have.


22 comments:

Interpreter Diaries on December 10, 2012 at 10:23 AM said...

Nice post! Lots of useful information in there.

I just thought I'd share with your readers some figures that one of my readers shared on my blog post about pass rates for the EU accreditation tests. They're quite eye-opening:

During 2011 the inter-institutional Selection Office managed 42 ACI accreditation tests. Following the screening of 1.616 candidate files, 520 candidates were invited to take pa
rt in tests, 428 candidates were tested and 101 candidates finally passed. The success rate of 24% is slightly lower than in 2010 (28%). During the course of 2011 the Selection Office also organised 130 SCIC language adding tests (136 in 2010) with a success rate of
48%.

These figures were taken directly from the Annual activity report of DG SCIC for 2011 (http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/synthesis/aar/doc/scic_aar_2011.pdf)

So yes, Dagmar, you are one of the lucky few :). Congratulations!

Corinne McKay on December 11, 2012 at 7:05 AM said...

The only purpose of this comment is to say CONGRATULATIONS Dagy on passing the test! WOW! That is incredible; wonder twin power...activate!

céline on December 11, 2012 at 7:53 AM said...

Congratulations! What an amazing achievement.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 11, 2012 at 3:37 PM said...

@InterpreterDiaries: Thank you so much for sharing this highly interesting data with us and our readers. Great stuff! And yes, Dagy is pretty over the moon -- we both are.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 11, 2012 at 3:38 PM said...

@Corinne: Thanks so much, girl! It's all been a very amazing blur!


Anonymous said...

Firstly, congratulations!!!

Thank you for this post! I'm in the EMCI course now and I am as excited as I am overwhelmed by the amount of information I must digest.

Your article is a little kick in the butt - I hear what you're telling us from my trainers constantly but it seems one can't hear it enough times!

I've been very pleasantly surprised at how supportive interpreters at institutions have been. It's very reassuring :)

Ian Andersen on December 13, 2012 at 3:37 AM said...

Great account - and congratulations to Dagy!! Well done!!!
Allow me also to draw attention our very substantial pages on how to become an interpreter, including for the EU, currently available in EN, FR and DE. See: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/scic/become-an-interpreter/index_en.htm

Katka said...

Congratulations and having sat an accreditation/language-adding test...let me count...3 times (ES, then EN, then EN retour) I can confirm that all of the above is accurate and very useful!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 13, 2012 at 7:31 AM said...

@Céline: Thank you very much for your sweet comment! The Jenner family is quite proud. :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 13, 2012 at 7:34 AM said...

@Anonymous: Glad to hear you find the post useful (+ a kick in the butt). And yes, you are right: fellow interpreters at the EU institutions are wonderful and supportive, aren't they?

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 13, 2012 at 7:44 AM said...

@Ian: Thanks a lot. And we really appreciate you sharing the link with us and with our readers -- you are right, there is a lot of great information there!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 13, 2012 at 7:46 AM said...

@Katka: Thank you very much! How did you do on the tests? Surely you passed. Awesome that you think the info is useful -- that was the idea! There are so many myths circulating about the exam that we figured it was time to give a true account of how it all happens.

Anonymous said...

Hi and thank you so much for posting this, it's an eye opener for me since I didn't know anything about this test. I have a question, in order to be an applicant you have to know at least three languages right? including your mother tongue or an additional 3, which means 4 in total?

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 15, 2012 at 10:24 AM said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for the post. Yes, the EU institutions usually require a total of 4 languages (native language plus three) for the most "common" languages, but they will make exceptions for languages of lesser diffusion, such as Latvian, Estonian, Slovak, etc. We do think this is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. What's your native language?

Claudia Corriero on December 18, 2012 at 3:24 PM said...

Congratulations! Not only for having passed the examination! But also for your amazing book on entrepreneurial linguists :D (I can't hide I dream of setting up a business with my sister and you two inspire me!!)
I want to thank you as well fro the encouragement and have a question (as I'm attending a Conference Interpreting course): how much time did you practice every day?
Thank you, Dagmar, and wait to read more about you, twins :D

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 18, 2012 at 4:54 PM said...

@Claudia: Thanks so much for your very kind comment, Claudia! We are so delighted to hear that you like our book. You should definitely set up a business with your sister, you can do it! :)

In terms of practicing, it varied, but we'd say at least 30 minutes a day. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but that's about average. Sometimes up to an hour.

Anonymous said...

Congratulation Dagmar for the French test of this morning! Seems like someone passed with flying colors! Pity I did not stay to make the photo like last time. Michel

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 20, 2012 at 1:49 PM said...

@Michel: Thank you so much! It was so great to see you again. :) It's great to see friendly and familiar faces at the EU.

1Globaltranslators on November 5, 2013 at 2:09 AM said...

What a great post, and a challenge I might want to take up!

1Globaltranslators on November 5, 2013 at 2:10 AM said...

What a great post, and a challenge I might want to take up!

Vivi's Chinese Interpreters and Translation on June 18, 2014 at 7:06 PM said...

Seems the requirements are even more strict than the UN exam as far as number of languages required goes.

Dolores on July 24, 2014 at 4:36 AM said...

Congrats Dagy!!! You are both Super Woman! You really deserve this new accomplishment! Keep on dreaming!

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