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.
- The EU has made available a cornucopia of information regarding accreditation tests. Among others, you might find these videos interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hKufxTAvrQ (German) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA2fWvtMPDU (English)
- Here’s a video of what a test might look like for the English booth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InpIBvAVRXE
- More basic information is available here: http://europa.eu/interpretation/accreditation_en.htm
- And don’t forget to check out this Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/interpretingforeurope
- You do not have to be an EU citizen to interpret for the EU as a freelance interpreter. However, EU citizenship is required for staff interpreters.
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.