Comments: 539 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

PistachioPlz325 karma

Does anyone verify what you translate or are you just trusted to not start World War III ?

1nterpreter309 karma

I sometimes worry about that! Often, Members of parliament listen to the interpretation of their own speech and complain if we got anything wrong. It can be taken down from the website if they insist. By then of course, it's too late. All we have is the disclaimer that interpretation should not be taken as a verbatim record of proceedings, and the common sense of a politician to double check before starting the launch codes...

Plundermistress138 karma

What's the weirdest thing you've ever had to translate?

1nterpreter268 karma

Weirdest: (as a man) interpreting the account of a woman who'd been victim of FGM. Having to talk in the first person about parts of the anatomy was a weird (and harrowing) experience. I also once had to interpret a group of kids (aged about 7-8) addressing a conference on poverty. It was weird because I had to use a completely different register.

laurenbug218659 karma

Did you have to use a dictionary for that, or did you already know all those words?

1nterpreter187 karma

No time for a dictionary, this is simultaneous. We do a bit of prep before the meeting, make sure we know any words likely to come up, then hope we're good to go.

hezwat20 karma

You aren't allowed to substitute "the speaker's" for "my"? e.g. temporarily start kind-of talking in the third person? then just say,"she says:" to open a quotation, and switch back to the first person?

For exampe, (I googled a different text)

“This is kind of an embarrassing question, but I wonder if you can help. My problem is that I think my vagina is too loose – or too wide. Is that possible? If so what can I do? What is a normal size?”

Which you could say as:

This is kind of an embarrassing question, but I wonder if you can help. (The speaker says she believes her vagina may be too loose - or too wide) Is that possible? If so what can I do? What is a normal size?"

1nterpreter117 karma

No, we always put ourselves in the role of the speaker. It might sound strange, but in a debate people would get confused with switching between first and third person (particularly as they can't see the interpreter). We only ever say "says the speaker" to distance ourself from a clear mistake. I.e. "On 31st June - says the speaker" or if they address us directly.

hezwat21 karma

thanks! what do you mean "if they address us directly", could you give an example?

Also: have speakers learned not to make puns or jokes? If not, what do you do in these cases.

CreepyOctopus36 karma

I've worked as a simultaneous interpreter, and would only refer to "the speaker" in a few cases:

Obvious mistakes - impossible dates, wrong titles (say, the speaker refers to a minister as president), and the like. Then it may be needed to make clear it's the speaker's mistake, and not mine. This is a tough call to make though, sometimes I'd just correct the mistake.

Addressed directly - the speaker might ask interpreters to provide a corresponding idiom in the target language, or to explain some cultural term. Sometimes it's just instructions to the interpreters, like "I'm going to be showing some slides, just translate the titles". Then I might say something like "the speaker is giving some instructions for the interpreters".

They switch to another language - that is, a third language that is neither the source nor the target language. For example, the speaker is quoting some source. Then I'd say something like "the speaker is talking in French".

1nterpreter8 karma


MrLaughter5 karma

Hypothetically, if a speaker were to attempt to convey the same message in the various languages they know, lets say in an attempt to personally connect with those particular delegations in the room - would you translate what s/he is saying if you understand it? Would you ask your delegate if they would like to hear it translated?

1nterpreter3 karma

Speakers quite often switch language to show how gifted they are ;) in which case we keep working as long as it's not English. We tend ti mention what language is being spoken, as other interpreters might be taking us on relay and might end up working back into the language being spoken without realising it.

1nterpreter13 karma

"Thanks to the interpreters for agreeing to give us another half an hour" is usually given as "the chair kindly thanks the interpreters..."

kaeldragor17 karma

When interpreting for kids, using a "completely different register?" As in a different vocal pitch? If I am understanding that correctly, why is that a necessity? Is it to avoid disconnect between the speakers/improve impact?

allwordsaremadeup112 karma

I think he means that kids use different words, grammar, structure. You have to bring that across to the other language as well, so it sounds like stuff a kid might say. Probably pretty weird if you're used to doing eurocrat lingo.

1nterpreter139 karma

Yes, exactly. They'll say "it's really cool" instead iof "an outstanding proposition."

actionrat106 karma

What kind of learning experience did you go through for each language?

1nterpreter273 karma

I studied French and German at school, college and university in the Uk. I did a year at a German Uni as part of that, and a semester in France. I met a group of Portuguese people in Germany, and after uni decided to go and live there for a bit. I picked up the language, did two Master degrees and spent a couple of months in Spain over the course of my ten year stay on the Iberian Peninsula.

SlyRatchet27 karma

Is there a large demand for more translators at the parliament, or are they staffed sufficiently? I'm currently in university and considering interpreting as a career option afterwards.

I read that the European civil service has a bit of a dearth of British civil servants, because non of us speak languages, so the employment prospects are good?

1nterpreter36 karma

The second of your comments is absolutely true. Getting enough people with a second or third language to be officials is hard. Interpreting is different. If you have two solid passive languages and a possible third, it could be an option. fR+IT and FR+ES is what we always get, and don't have enough work for. Other interesting EU languages are another matter, though. PL, DE, DA for us at the moment, weirdly. Unfortunately there is currently a recruitment freeze because of budget cuts, so it's hard to recommend interpreting. General EU staff is a good career though, and same pay as us.

SweetboyRomero10 karma

When I was at school my German teacher could speak and write seven languages fluently. English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian and... maybe Mandarin? I forget.

Why she chose to be a secondary school teacher over a UN translator I'll never know. I'm sure she could have earned a fortune.

PolyamorousAmphibian20 karma

I usually take the assertion that someone speaks 7+ languages fluently with a large grain of salt. You rarely hear it said about someone that they speak languages X and Y fluently, and Z, W at an advanced intermediate level. It's always so and so speaks all these languages fluently. Acquiring fluency in Arabic for example is extremely hard for someone from Europe, unless they live in an Arabic speaking country for several years. There are definitely many people who speak 3 or 4 languages fluently, but when you get to 7 or 8, it's just an extremely difficult skill to even maintain once you achieve it.

1nterpreter11 karma

Very true. Fluency is a bizarre concept: I can converse fairly easily in Italian, even though it's not one of my languages. With a mix of foreign words thrown in, and making some grammatical mistakes, I can have conversations with Italians without too much trouble. Yet I don't claim to speak it because I have high standards as a linguist. When someone claims to be fluent in a language, how do we know how high their standards are? For me, fluency is being able to say anything you might reasonably be asked to say, immediately and without too much hesitation, in the language in question.

entropydecreaser84 karma

How did you get land this job?

More specifically, during the hiring process, how did they test your fluency in all 5 languages?

1nterpreter187 karma

Well, I'm English so that is my A language. They test my ability to communicate in that language only. The other languages are passives, meaning that I listen to them and interpret them into English...no need to speak them professionally. The test consists of several speeches in all of the passive languages, which I interpret into English. If my ability to communicate the speech isn't good enough, I fail because of my A language. If the content of the speech doesn't match the original closely enough, then my knowledge of my four passives is at fault, and I also fail.

irrelevantPseudonym19 karma

If you don't speak the passive languages how do they know what is being said by everyone else? Are there two people for each language, one to translate each way?

masasin52 karma

The passives are usually ones that you have learnt or are multilingual in. You don't need to be able to speak fluently (even though you may), but you at least need to be able to understand what is being said.

edit: There are usually two people per pair, one for each direction.

irrelevantPseudonym15 karma

I get that, but in a multi lingual conference if someone speaks and it gets translated to English, when someone replies in a different language, the first person needs to be told what the reply was. Who tells them?

1nterpreter40 karma

Just to add to the reply already given: each language booth works exclusively into their language. The French delegate will listen to the French channel, and whatever language is spoken, my FR colleagues will put it into French. I work in the EN booth, so ignore anyone speaking English in the room.

im-a-new8 karma

How many persons work in one language's booth? Do you cover all of the EU official languages? Do you bring in extra interpreters for guest speakers from countries outside the EU?

1nterpreter15 karma

3 per booth in full language regime. We cover all major languages directly and smaller ones via relay, so all are covered fully. Yes, we recruit Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian interpreters for example, or sometimes visiting delegations bring their own and other booths use that relay.

iprefertau66 karma

how do you handle lexical gaps?

1nterpreter138 karma

It depends. Most are not problematic at all, and you just phrase it differently using more words to explain the same message. There are complex cases of concepts which don't exist in other languages, and you feel you're not giving the listener the full range of meaning. 'Tenho saudades' in Portuguese is a good example. It can be 'I miss (you/it/whatever)' or 'I feel a sense of nostalgia/melancholy' but in truth it means a bit of both. As one singer said (paraphrased), 'Saudade is tidying up the room of a dead son'. Hard to get across in a few seconds...

FlyingCcat31 karma

mournful longing?

1nterpreter11 karma

Yes, but weirdly you can also feel it for something which is still around...the President of Portugal once said that every time he visits the Portuguese parliament he feels saudade. I interpreted it as a sense of nostalgia, but in reality it is so much more.

Spicy_food3 karma

I'm portuguese and "saudade" is probably our most ambiguous word. It can mean so much. It's generally used as longing for something but can also be used as mourn for something.

Espero que tenhas gostado de viver neste espaço a beira mar!

1nterpreter5 karma

Gostei tanto, que costumo dizer que tenho pelo menos uma costela portuguesa!

tinasharp55 karma

What is your typical daily schedule? Is it as exhausting as I imagine? Thanks for the IamA!

1nterpreter81 karma

The month is divided into committee weeks, political group weeks, plenary weeks and travel. Committees are 9-12:30, then 15-18:30. We work with around 15-21 languages and we are three to a booth. We tend to work 30 mins at a time (longer gets too draining) but it also depends on language coverage. Same goes for group weeks, but plenary is full 23 languages, shorter shifts (2.5 hours x 2) and much more pressure. Travel weeks can be anywhere around the world, working morning, noon and night. Good fun but taxing.

Fideua19 karma

Do you still get to do a lot of traveling? I've heard amazing stories from older colleagues of all the interesting places they got to work in, but from what I've gathered, our booth rarely gets to travel outside the seats of the EP anymore.

1nterpreter32 karma

Depends a lot on the booth. An average year for the EN booth will involve 12 weeks away in Strasbourg, and about 8-10 weeks on delegation visits or committee. Quite a lot if you have a family, but travelling is declining because of videoconferencing, money-saving, etc.

higgs854 karma

How did you learn to translate "live"? Although I'm fluent in three languages, I struggle with translation and keep having to think of the simplest of words. Although I know the words in each language, it's like the connection between the languages is difficult. Does this come with practice or do you have to have the right kind of mind for it?

1nterpreter85 karma

Practice, practice, practice. You gain automatisms the more you do it. Get some headphones, listen to political speeches in your foreign language of choice and imagine you're interpreting for a friend to understand. Just get the basic message across to begin with (forget numbers, etc) and work up to adding more detail as you go. Wearing headphones on just one ear helps you monitor your own output. It's not easy because its unnatural, but most people can get there eventually.

TaehlsGolightly20 karma

Did you undergo any formal training in the theory, process or ethics of interpreting?

1nterpreter5 karma

A little, but mostly during downtime on the interpreting course. There might be more done on other courses.

Fideua49 karma

Hey, I'm one of your ACI colleagues from another booth.

Which languages do you find the hardest? I currently work from French, Spanish and English, and out of those I find French to be the hardest because their way of thinking suits me less and I sometimes find it hard to distinguish words, to hear everything correctly. I have considered adding Portuguese for a while (am at a C1 level now), but I often find it almost impossible to understand in spoken form, did you experience the same problem? And if so: does it ever get better? :)

And maybe the opposite question can be fun too: Do you have a clear favorite among your working languages, and why?

1nterpreter29 karma

Hi there colleague! Of my working languages, German is the one I find hardest to interpret but also the most fun...I guess I like a challenge! Keep going with PT. I spent about ten years there, so of course no real problems with pronunciation (except for some parts of the Azores!) but I think you just have to get your ear attuned. Listen to the radio, and I recommend Gato Fedorento or Mixórdia de Temáticas (a podcast) for comedy in PT. C1 is already pretty advanced, so I'm sure you'll get there. Boa sorte!

AlmostPepe41 karma

How do you feel about film dubbing in the EU? In my country we usually just use subtitles and I feel like that has been an important part of my english-learning process.

1nterpreter80 karma

Dubbing = bad Subtitling = good That's my personal opinion, of course. In Spain, things tend to be dubbed, in Portugal subtitled. I think it contributes to making the Portuguese more familiar with the English language, which is an advantage these days.

AGneissDay41 karma

Have you ever had to interpret anything outrageous or incredibly controversial, that you felt embarrassed about saying in the first person to everyone else in the room?

1nterpreter122 karma

Yes. Without getting political, we intepret the communist groups and the radical right wing. Everyone from Marxism to Holocaust Deniers. We hear something which offends us on an almost daily basis, but these people democratically represent the people of Europe, so they have a right to have their voices heard.

xexm13 karma

If a member swears (wrongfully), do you also swear in the translation to carry the shock factor to the other members?

1nterpreter6 karma

Yes, but I make damn certain that it's what I heard first. If I am In doubt, I tone it right down or miss it out entirely. Not great, but better than getting the sack.

trentosaurus-rex39 karma

How common are mistranslations and have you witnessed any major faux pas in you time?

1nterpreter72 karma

Mistranslations happen pretty regularly, actually. We all do it when tired, if we mishear, if the speaker is fast. Normally it's not too serious, and the audience are used to piecing it together if the message is slightly off. If it's important and the message is unexpected, the Members know it best to confirm it. I won't embarass colleagues, but I've made a few big mistakes involving the words 'au-dessus' and 'au-dessous' (above and below) which can sound similar to a non-native if spoken quickly or mumbled.

BrevityBrony31 karma

How about sign language?

1nterpreter50 karma

We have one or two Members (MEPs) who have hearing impairments. They sign to their SL interpreters, and we interpret what the interpreters say, in a process called relay. I actually learnt some British Sign Language as a kid, but it's now useless to me in an international professional context.

will_holmes13 karma

Oh wow, the chaining up of translators must get really complicated at times then!

1nterpreter24 karma

We never do double relay, but for a lot of the Eastern Baltic and Slavic languages we rely on a relay through French or German.

bastboost23 karma

I'm holding a presentation on Wednesday in Brussels with conference interpreters. What should I think about to make their job easier?

1nterpreter6 karma

Not much to add to what's been said. As long as you remember that interpreters are generalists and won't necessarily understand all of the technical details, so go carefully through your explanations, I'm sure it will be fine.

003399xFFCC0020 karma

As someone that has likely listened to your voice quite frequently for professional reasons these past five years: Thank you.

In my experience the English simultaneous translation in the EP is significantly better than those of the other languages I speak, notably German. You English interpreters are my #1 choice.

Q: What are your top complaints about your passive languages that make translation difficult some time?

I would imagine that German verbs being at the end of a sentence may be frustrating at times as you have to wait to hear the verb and those sentences may also be extremely long winded.

1nterpreter24 karma

Oh, thanks for the compliment. The speakers often aren't sure exactly what they want to say when they start, which makes our life unbearable. The classic verb-at-the-end in German subordinate clauses is tough, but actually not as tough as adjectival phrases like: "The in June by the Greens after the delegation submitted amendments." Which we have to rephrase as "the amendments, which were submitted..." Having said that, Germans tend to have a clarity of expression which helps. Top complaints would actually be non-linguistic: not having access to a document that everyone is quoting and redrafting like "I'm ok with the 'and' but prefer an 'and/or'" can sound like gibberish to an interpreter if you don't have the text. Also, being brought into a meeting ar last minute, with no prep and having to discuss the niceties of European succession law, for instance, is practically impossible.

calicojackrack20 karma

What kind of education do you have? Did you initially study interpretation or was it something you kind of just fell into?

1nterpreter29 karma

I already spoke three foreign languages and was doing some translation work, working at Arthur Andersen. I saw a Conference Interpreting MA and thought it sounded interesting. I hadn't given it much thought before that. After that course, I applied for and sat the test for the European Institutions, and was successful.

calicojackrack10 karma

I do medical interpreting in the US. Somewhat similar story of already speaking another language and doing translation. Hadn't planned on doing much interpreting, but it just worked out that way.

You required to be certified by any specific organizations? Or just the test you did?

Also, you said that you speak 5 languages, but what is the minimum number of languages you have to speak to get a job there? Is it like the UN where you have to have at least a third passive language?

1nterpreter15 karma

To work freelance you need to pass the EU's interinstitutional accreditation test, after which you can work for the Commission/Council, the Parliament and the Court of Justice. To become staff, you have to sit an EPSO competition (check out their site), but they don't come around every year. Languages: the EN booth is the only one that requires two passive languages, all others require three. It helps to have one up your sleeve though, as they won't be able to recruit you much anyway.

Affect_reason20 karma

Do you like the pay?

1nterpreter41 karma

Yes. I can't complain, even though I would currently be earning more as a freelancer. Our pay is that of a European Civil Servant, made up of a mix of civil servants' salaries from EU countries with an extra expatriation bonus. In the current crisis our career progression has been severely curtailed, but when I see the well-qualified people out there still unemployed, I know I am lucky.

morku2z16 karma

Are local dialects a problem? How do you handle speakers that have a dialect. Guenther Oettinger i.e. comes to mind.

1nterpreter19 karma

Aarrggh! Yes...one of the biggest problems is dialect. If the speaker uses a word that doesn't exist in the part of Germany where I lived and studied, I'm much less likely to know it. So we have to listen to as much as we can from varied sources. Latin American Spanish is a particular problem!

entropydecreaser14 karma

Have you used softwares/websites such as Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to complement your knowledge of a language? If so, what were your thoughts?

1nterpreter31 karma

I've been learning Russian for 7 years and Greek for about 6 months. At the beginning I used Michel Thomas and a few others like Asimil and Rosetta Stone. They're ok, depending on your learning style, but they can only take you a very small way along a very long road... There's no substitute for being in the country, and having friends/romantic interest in that language!

allwordsaremadeup11 karma

Are there many non-native speakers that choose to speak English themselves? Evolutions or thoughts on that?

1nterpreter15 karma

Yes! It's a pain, but it's one that other booths have to deal with not me. Sitting in meetings listening to bad English can be soul-destroying, but it often means we work less. Evolutions: it is getting worse each year!

findacity11 karma

Are your Master's degrees in translation and or interpretation? Any advice for someone who loves and is good at learning languages but is a few years out of school? (I'm American, used to have very good Spanish but am a bit rusty now.)

1nterpreter22 karma

Advice if you love learning languages: keep doing it, and go for ones that you feel some pull towards even if it doesn't seem easy and you can't see a professional outlet. No-one knows what the future holds, but languages are mostly very useful / impressive to employers. It's hard to recommend interpreting, simply because of the small percentage that actually ends up working in this profession (tests are very tough). In the US, Spanish is easy to get exposure to and useful, but there are lots of people who speak it well. I'd expand, learn something like French, Italian, German etc. and see where it takes you! Good Luck! EDIT: I have a Master Degree in Conference Interpreting and an unrelated Master in Portuguese and French Literature. I also have a BA in French/German and a BSc in Physics and Maths, because I enjoy studying!

fancyunicorns8 karma

First of all, I tried interpreting at Uni and found it super difficult so congrats on your skills, I am very much jealous! I have an MA in translation, I am a freelance translator and not enjoying my job very much. I am studying Japanese to keep myself busy and active in the language field but still I would rather do something else than freelancing.

Any advice? Did you love your job instantly? Many thanks!!

1nterpreter6 karma

Yes, I did love it instantly, but it took me a while to make the grade and get good enough. Japanese must be a real challenge, but I'm sure it's rewarding. Interpreting is mighty hard from Asian languages, and there is a problem with them only ever using natives to work into and out of them. A tough nut to crack. My advice is to learn languages that attract you to them, even if you don't know where they will lead you.

calicojackrack5 karma

If you're looking to study translation or interpretation there are several universities that offer online master degrees. NYU and University of Texas at Brownsville are two that I know for sure. Kent State has anything from a bachelor to doctorate (not online though). The most respected one I know of is the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

If you're just looking to learn more languages there are lots of options available online like Duolingo.

1nterpreter5 karma

We have one or two colleagues who graduated from Monterey. It does seem to be quite well respected.

strangeplace4snow10 karma

Do you ever translate speakers who have a really thick and impenetrable accent? If so, how do you handle that?

1nterpreter12 karma

Yes. I suffer a lot ! Just trying to follow the message, listen intently. If it's a member of parliament, we can listen to his/her archived speeches and try to improve our ear.

entropydecreaser10 karma

Are you planning on learning any other languages, European or otherwise?

1nterpreter17 karma

Russian I've been learning for 7 years, but I won't be using it professionally. Greek I've just started, out of personal interest, and I don't yet know whether I will add it professionally or not.

entropydecreaser9 karma

Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA and answer all of my questions :)

1nterpreter10 karma

No problem :)

kitteninabox27 karma

Why wouldn't you use your Russian professionally?

1nterpreter9 karma

A few reasons: I've lived in countries where all my other languages are spoken, and I will not be able to go and live in Russia unless there are drastic changes to my life! It's not a prerequisite, but I find it helps so much in understanding. Also, it is hard to cut your teeth on basic stuff once you've started. I'd be the only one on staff with Russian, so I'd be straight in at the deep end. Recipe for a nervous breakdown! More practically, Euronest was going to require regular Russian from us, but now that has folded it would be once or twice a year. Not enough to warrant the constant reading of current events and language maintenance.

fernandopox8 karma

Hi, I have a few questions:

Is it mandatory to have a masters degree or other type of study in interpretation? I would love to work as an interpreter in the European Parliament or other European institution in the future but I'll just start a masters degree in translation and document edition.

Have you had experiences interpreting to the other languages you know? For example from German to French? I have read they usually want you to interpret to your native language in order to be more accurate.

What are the most difficult challenges to become a conference interpreter in general?

Thank you very much.

1nterpreter9 karma

Requirements have changed since I sat the tests. Back then you needed just an undergrad degree, now probably some conference interpreting postgrad or experience, but contact the institutions for more info before starting anything. Working into foreign languages: no, although I dabbled with working into PT while living there. Here there isn't much call for it, but I know it's almost mandatory in some domestic markets. Go for whichever option best fits what you want to do! Most difficult challenges: lots taking the test, very few ever making the grade. It's a declining market, as lots of bad English is taking our place.

Centaurus_Cluster3 karma

It's a declining market, as lots of bad English is taking our place.

That's interesting. Is it really a noticable trend that more politicians speak more English? Do you have any idea why that? Are there any countries where you saw a lot of changes in that aspect recently?

1nterpreter3 karma

Lots of politicians from small countries speak English because they think it makes them sound more international, or they fear noone from Europe will understand their language properly (everyone thinks their own language is the richest, most subtle). There are politicians from the larger countries that think it is practical and saves money fir everyone to speak English, so they'll happily speak to compatriots in English to everyone's bemusement. They're entitled to speak whatever they want, but they get jnterpreted back into their mother tongue (and all the others) anyway, so it's a bit pointless.

VoatWasDownAgain7 karma

Are all (official) EU languages covered by a translator in every session?

I'm sure you know of that incident a few years ago when a Maltese MEP was pissed that nobody translated his speech. Does that still happen?


1nterpreter3 karma

Since the cutbacks, you have to specifically request intepretation in order for it to be provided in committee and political group meetings. There were people who never used their own language so it made no sense to provide it. It still happens that someone forgets to request a language, or decides to speak it last minute, and the members can get annoyed. I'm not sure what happened in this Maltese case...

sarsat6 karma

Do you feel there are other qualities that a person should have, and that it's not just a matter of knowing the languages, to be a translator at your level?

1nterpreter18 karma

Absolutely! A colleague once said if you think you can interpret because you have foreign languages, you probably think you can play the piano because you have hands! You need to be a good, clear communicator, deal well with stress, enjoy travelling a lot, and you need to have quite a bit of resilience in training and testing along the way. Languages are almost a sideline...if you can't grasp and report a complex argument quickly in your own language, it doesn't matter how many languages you have.

Hybyscus6 karma

Hi, do you have an opinion on Esperanto and how it might affect/simplify the translation issue within Parliament?

1nterpreter3 karma

I don't believe in artificial languages. I think there have been many attempts to influence the spoken word over the years, and most of them failed miserably. Just trying to get the French to say "fin de la semaine"'instead of "weekend"'should have been easy, but it failed. Language is a truly democratic vehicle...it rises up from the people who speak it. You can't impose an artificial one, no matter how useful it would be. English might end up being a lingua franca, however, which is another matter entirely.

NuttinButAOHThang5 karma

What would you suggest would be the best way to become fluent in a desired language and which language took you the longest time to pick up fully?

1nterpreter13 karma

Go to the country, and ideally get friends and/or a partner who speaks it exclusively. You'll be fluent in no time if they don't speak English. Russian is the hardest language I've learnt, and I still feel on shakt ground with it. The grammar is complex, the declinations are messy, and they speak fast. I've also spent least time in the country, as it's not easy for Brits to get a visa if they work in official posts. It's still one of the most beautiful languages I've spent time on though.

zxjams5 karma

Hi, I'm a freelance translator in France, where I received a master's degree in translation last year. Are you equally skilled in each of your respective languages? What level did you have to demonstrate to be hired by the European Parliament? Are you able to speak your working languages as well as you can understand them, and how much did that factor into the hiring process? Thanks for the AMA!

1nterpreter6 karma

Nice to meet you. No, I've never met anyone who would say they are equally skilled in all of their languages. Most have one or two they feel more comfortable with. As it happens, the biggest comfort factor is who is speaking: there are good and bad speakers in all of my languages, and that is a more telling fact in how well I'll manage to interpret them! I can speak all of my passives reasonably well, but theoretically I only have to have a working knowledge of one foreign language actively in order to be on staff, and none as a freelancer. It's a pro-forma requirement though, as it applies to all staff regardless of function.

dschuuuu5 karma

How do you deal with judgment calls in subjectively translating idioms?

Do you ever feel you've taken liberties too far and accidentally misrepresented something another had said?

1nterpreter15 karma

Yes, it's a big judgement call. Particularly when it comes to swearing, which is more commonplace in some languages than others. You have to have a feel for how annoyed the speaker is. Sometimes we misjudge it, and sometimes it can come back and bite us. I remember a colleague interpreting "estamos jodidos" as "we're in something of a predicament." You might thing that's wrong, but looking around the audience, and the context, that was great intepreting!

samwise09125 karma

On a more personal level, what are your favorite films?

1nterpreter13 karma

Magnolia, De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrêté, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin, Amores Perros, El No, anything by Woody Allen

SharpKeyCard4 karma

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?

1nterpreter10 karma

I'd travel less and spend more time with my family.

CBarnovski4 karma

Thanks for doing this AmA! As a translator, you get to witness first hand the debates, discussions and I guess decision making. What is your insight about the criticism usually adressed to the European Parliament?(bureacratic? technocratic? lack of transparency? Attendance of the members?)

1nterpreter13 karma

A difficult one because I don't want to get too political. I'm not blindly pro-European but I think that the whole thing is worth maintaining, on balance. It's going through a tough moment because there are different ideas on what it should become, and they need to be sorted out before we make any progress. Bureaucracy: yes, it's a real problem in such a large institution. Our operating expenditure is actually very low (about the same as the city of Cologne) but decision-making procedures are slow and cumbersome. Technocratic: that's more a criticism of the Commission, but I think the Parliament is more political and often the criticism is that they don't know the tech details well enough. There should be some way to marry the two. Transparency: that's getting much better, as everything is webstreamed etc. But noone wants to watch it! I can understand why. So all in all, I understand the criticism people have, but I don't think going back to deciding everything individually in splendid isolation will be a solution. Things like the refugee crisis are showing that we need to coordinate. All of the above is my own, personal opinion.

IsHARI4 karma

Have you ever encountered mr. Janusz Korwin-Mikke?

EDIT: or mr. Nigel Farage?

1nterpreter4 karma

Yes, both of them. I imagine Farage listens to me regularly for the languages he doesn't understand. I've passed them both in the corridors on occasion, but haven't spoken directly to them.

Massiovic3 karma

How do you organize the languages in your mind? I speak three languages and it is always difficult for me to switch from one language to another, the words don't vome easy at first, and by the time the do i'm too self-conscious while speaking and i lose confidence. How could i solve this?

1nterpreter6 karma

Just practice. Never mix languages up, make sure your sentences are always 100% one language or another. I only ever focus on English, which is my working active language. The rest, you could say, I only speak in my free time!

bajaja3 karma

Are you able to pick the best from all cultures that speak those 5 languages for your enjoyment? Which culture do you like most?

1nterpreter11 karma

Yes, I like to think that each culture has its own positive bits and you can enjoy the best of all at your leisure! Realistically, it's just literature and films (etc.) that you can enjoy more directly by knowing the language, and I've enjoyed Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Goethe, etc. in the original versions. Big confession: I watch most films with subtitles and read most books in translation these days. It's a guilty pleasure, because I have to concentrate much less!

glyko3 karma

Have you ever been to ECDC in Stockholm Sweden? My dad works there and always raves about how much you make and that I should become an interpreter...

1nterpreter3 karma

Haha! No, I haven't. Our pay is good, as I've mentioned. We are on the same salary rank as all Euro civil servants and comparable to the German civil service. If you fancy it, contact EPSO. At the moment it's hard to find people with the requisite skills.

MuggleWizard3 karma

What's it like to work for a EU institution?

1nterpreter8 karma

Good. Stable job, good pay, interesting work. Only occasionally getting it in the neck from my Eurosceptic friends!

koreo1373 karma

Hey there, thanks for doing this AMA!

What inspired you to get into interpreting and translation? Also, do you have a particular opinion on the status of multilingualism in the European Parliament?

1nterpreter7 karma

Love of languages and opportunity - I saw an MA opening at a time when I had no other plans. Multilingualism I must admit, confuses me. Some seem to think it means everyone being able to speak their own mother tongue and having language services to make that bridge, other people think it means getting everyone to speak more foreign languages at every opportunity. The first of these is good for interpreters, the latter might lead to cost-savings but might stifle cultural expression.

belgianwitting3 karma

Favorite EU language and/or country?

1nterpreter6 karma

Hmmm...PT as my wife is from there and I spent so long there. Greek is now sweet-sounding to me, because I am starting to learn it. German is the most fun to work from.

calicojackrack2 karma

Do you like reading about or studying the history of translation and interpretation? Any recommendations? I read Is that a fish in your ear? by David Bellos a few years ago and enjoyed it. Pretty easy read.

1nterpreter3 karma

I read a few things while studying, but interpreting is so vocational that I think you learn more by practice than theory. It's interesting though, so if only for that reason I might read more.

nihmhin2 karma

Which languages do you think in most often? And which do you dream in if any? Why do you think that is?

1nterpreter15 karma

I'm in a minority among colleagues here, but I dream in almost all of my languages fairly regularly. Weirdly, people speaking languages I know they don't speak in real life, and also words that don't exist but I know what they mean somehow. I think it's because I make a conscious effort to think in my passive languages regularly as a sort of practice. PT most frequently as my wife and children are lusophone.

wifewithalife2 karma

Which language has the highest amount of swearers in your line of work? Cliches say French, but I could see the Spanish getting fiery.

1nterpreter7 karma

Definitely Spanish. Of course it depends on the members though, and there are some Polish/Greek/French members on the extreme right who don't mind getting sweary. Mostly it's just insults though, which is almost more challenging.

AlwaysALighthouse2 karma

Who really (as in their unofficial position) hates who?

1nterpreter3 karma

The left-wing hates the right-wing and vice-versa. There are plenty of political machinations, but it's that straightforward really.

Lewey_B1 karma

How did you learn so many languages so quickly?

What advice would you give to someone who would like to do interpretation in chinese?

1nterpreter1 karma

It took me quite a while, really. I just enjoyed studying them, and meeting people from different cultures, and I suppose I had some natural ability thrown in. I started learning FR and DE at the age of 11 and am still learning them 27 years later. Advice re Chinese: be cautious. The Chinese tend to use Chinese citizens in all official roles, and very few people hire outsiders to interpret at meetings. I'd say the chances of becoming a Chinese > English interpreter were extremely slim indeed, but why not learn the language as well as you can and see what happens. You don't need me to tell you that relations with China are in constant flux right now....good luck!

GlassLikeSpider1 karma

I've recently started doing medical interpretation and find that it very difficult to find organizations who value using an interpreter who is present for the session, as oppose to having an interpreter via phone line. Do you often do your work via phone line or are you present with the clients? Also, how were you able to find job opportunities? Clearly you are very accomplished in regards to the language but I often hear actually finding work is very difficult. Thank you for the AMA! I can't wait to read your responses to everyone's questions.

1nterpreter4 karma

So you'll obviously know that being there in person is much easier and much more reliable! We've been trying to resist video linkups for a long time institutionally, but I can understand why they seem so good (much cheaper than travel). As long as sound quality and tech standards are met, I think we might have to accept it in the future. I'll welcome less travelling, but we'll have to see what the equipment is like.

jimthewanderer1 karma

How do you account for cross-cultural social faux-pas, and idioms that translate poorly?

1nterpreter2 karma

Not much we can do, except explain when we think the speaker is implying something which the listener might not be aware of. Idioms: we try to find suitable idioms in our own language, but it's not always possible. Usually they just have to be explained.