1. I am interested in becoming an interpreter for the EU institutions; what qualifications will I need?
A: To work for the EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament and the Court of Justice) as an English interpreter you will need:
- to have English as your main (or 'active' language) plus at least two other EU languages which you understand perfectly ('passive' languages) but which you will not use actively. Currently one of these must be either French or German.
- a bachelor's degree in any subject; whilst the majority of our interpreters studied modern languages, that is not a sine qua non. As long as you understand two foreign languages perfectly, you can hold a degree in any subject (law, economics or politics would be particularly useful).
- a postgraduate qualification in conference interpreting.
There are a number of universities in the UK and Ireland, as well as across Europe that offer postgraduate courses in conference interpreting. A good number of successful candidates at our tests in recent years actually studied interpreting abroad. Here is a non-exhaustive list of universities [2 MB] that work regularly with DG Interpretation.
2. Do I have to have a masters degree (MA) or do you accept other types of postgraduate qualifications?
A. In order to be eligible to sit our accreditation test you would need an MA or a PGDip (postgraduate diploma) in Conference Interpreting.
The DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) however is not sufficient as a qualification to be accepted at an EU accreditation test. This is because conference interpreting and public service interpreting (e.g. in courts, hospitals, police, social services, etc.) require different skills, which are taught on their respective courses.
3. I have been interpreting for years but have no formal interpreting qualifications. Can I work for you?
A: If you have a bachelor's degree, can give proof of your experience as a conference interpreter, then you may be invited to take the accreditation test (see below). No interpreter can work for us without having passed this test.
4. What is the accreditation test? And when can I take it?
A: You have to apply for our accreditation test online . All the universities with which we cooperate will be able to tell you how to go about it. You will normally apply once you have finished your final exams for the postgraduate qualification.
Before being admitted to the accreditation test, there are a number of previous steps:
- The selection committee will check that you are eligible for the tests (see question 1 above)
- If you are deemed eligible you will have to sit the pre-selection test (PST). This will take place at the end of August in 2016. It is an on-line test; you will be sent all the instructions to allow you to do one simultaneous interpreting test, record it and upload it for grading.
- If you pass the PST you may be invited to Brussels to sit the accreditation test. There will be three days of testing slots in November 2016 for the English booth. You will be tested in two languages – if you have a third language this will be tested at a later stage. Both interpreting modes (consecutive and simultaneous) in both of your languages will be tested in front of a live jury. Each test carries the same weighting. As this is an inter-institutional test if you pass you will be put on the list of accredited freelance interpreters for all of the European institutions mentioned above.
If you do not pass the accreditation test first time, you will have the opportunity to try again (up to three times in total).
5. Is there a lot of work for English interpreters?
A: English is in every meeting where there is interpretation, so we are one of the busiest booths. However, in 2015 demand fell quite substantially and this reduced the amount of work available. Whilst the hope is that there will not be any further decline, prospects are currently uncertain. However, ours is an old booth and a good number of our interpreters will retire soon so we shall continue to need young interpreters, although fewer than in the past.
6. What help is available for young interpreters who are just starting out in the profession?
A: DG Interpretation runs a 'Newcomers' Scheme' which provides recently successful candidates at our accreditation tests with a number of guaranteed days of work (100) over an 18-month period. It is open for people with only two passive languages, but the expectation is that a third language would be added as quickly as possible and ideally before the end of the 18 month period. Interpreters on this scheme must be based in Brussels, but they are still freelance interpreters and may work for other employers as well (e.g. translating or interpreting on the private market).
7. What languages should I learn and how many?
A: As stated above, you need at least two other EU languages (besides English) which you understand perfectly ('passive' languages) but which you will not use actively. Currently one of these must be either French or German.
In fact the combination of French and German is probably the most useful for us. In order to have the chance of getting some work it would be best to have two of 'the big five' (French, German, Italian or Spanish – the fifth is English). However, if you want to make a living solely from interpreting you would definitely need to get a third passive language as soon as possible. At this stage any third language that you can learn relatively quickly is useful (though be aware that from scratch it would take at least 3-4 years).
The current average in the English booth is four passive EU languages.
Rare languages are an asset, but only on top of (at least two of) the more common languages.
8. Do I have to be fluent in all my languages?
A: There is a distinction between active and passive languages, where active means you use it actively (so this will be your main language, and in 99% of cases that means your mother tongue – see question 9 below). This is the language that you interpret into and it must be absolutely fluent. On the other hand passive languages are the languages that you interpret from and so whilst you need to understand them perfectly, you will never be expected to work into that language; spoken fluency in those languages is therefore not tested at all.
9. I am not English-mother-tongue, but I speak excellent English. Can I still work for you as an English interpreter?
A: It would be highly unusual, but in some very rare and exceptional cases it is possible. As an English interpreter you must have the proficiency and linguistic resources of an English native speaker, even if English is not originally your mother tongue. If your mother-tongue is another EU language you might be better applying for that booth
10. I’m an English-French bilingual. Is that enough to work for the EU?
A: As mentioned above the minimum combination for the English booth is English plus two passive EU languages. If you have a 'retour' (i.e. if you are able to interpret into another language from English) as well as those two passive languages it could be a useful additional asset.
In the EU institutions most of the work is done in the booth into your mother-tongue. Retours are unusual, especially in the more long-established booths. There are more retours in the post-2004 booths.
However a retour would be essential on the private market, where the nature of the work and how it is organised is different. A retour is also essential for public service interpreting.
11. I understand Russian/Arabic/Japanese/Chinese? Can I work for the EU?
A: Russian as a passive language on top of two EU languages could be useful. However, meetings with Russian tend to be high-level and so beginners would not be put in those meetings.
Arabic is not used in EU meetings as often as Russian, but more than Chinese and Japanese.
You might be more likely to find work with Arabic, Russian and Chinese within the UN organisations.
12. Does my Irish/American/Jamaican accent matter?
A: As long as you are clear and comprehensible to all the people listening to you (who might be anything from Finnish to Greek) your accent doesn’t matter.
13. How much would I earn as an interpreter?
You can be either a staff interpreter (if you have passed an open competition and been offered a position – see question 20) or a freelance interpreter. Currently in the English booth there are around 65 staff interpreters and 70 active freelance interpreters based in Brussels.
Your salary as a staff interpreter depends on your level of expertise and experience. Young interpreters who are just starting out and only have two passive EU languages would be hired at level AD5, while experienced interpreters with three or more passive EU languages can be hired at level AD7. For more details see here.
There are two different salary levels for freelance interpreters:
- As a beginner your net daily rate is about 310€.
- As an experienced interpreter your net daily rate is about 400€. You will automatically be admitted to this category as soon as you have worked for 250 days for the European Institutions.
On top of the daily rate freelance interpreters will receive about 100€ (beginners) or 130€ (experienced interpreters) for every day worked, which will be paid into a private pension insurance. They are also covered for health insurance during the time they work for the institutions. For more benefits for freelance interpreters please see here .
14. What are the working conditions like? How long do you work at a time?
A: That depends on your language combination, the meeting and the languages spoken, but generally speaking you would never work for more than 30 minutes non-stop. Furthermore there is an upper limit of 10 hours in the booth per day and there is always a 90 minute lunch break. The working conditions are laid down in an agreement which covers all interpreters working for DG Interpretation.
15. Would I have to live in Brussels?
A: As a staff interpreter you must be based in Brussels. Freelance interpreters can choose where they live, though if you are on the Newcomers Scheme you would also be expected to be based here.
Generally speaking Brussels-based freelance interpreters will always be hired first. It costs us three times as much per day to employ someone from the UK as to employ a local freelance interpreter. So if you want to work regularly for us in Brussels it makes sense to be based here.
16. Do you have to travel a lot?
A: The vast majority of meetings where we interpret take place in Brussels, which explains the answer to the question above. However, there are frequent meetings held in Luxembourg and some further afield. English will always be one of the languages in a meeting with interpretation, so there is a fair amount of travel
17. Do I have to have EU nationality to work for you?
A: Freelance interpreters can be of any nationality. To be a staff interpreter, however, you do have to be an EU national.
Jobs jobs jobs:
18. Is it possible to work as an interpreter in the UK?
A: There is a not much conference interpreting work available. However, there is a lot of interpreting work in Public Service Interpreting (PSI). Any language can be useful but you need to be able to work both ways.
There is also work in business – liaison interpreting (where again you need to be able to work both ways) or as an in-house translator/interpreter. German companies in particular are very keen to find English speakers with good German
19. How about working for the UN? How do I go about that?
A: We suggest you look at their website . They also use interpreters, as well as translators, minute-writers and other linguistic staff.
20. How do I get to be a staff interpreter with the EU?
A: You have to pass an open competition, which does not only test your interpreting skills, but also includes computer-based-tests (e.g. numerical and verbal reasoning) and looks at your ability to work in a team ('assessment centre' and interview). You can find out more details about the competition by visiting the EPSO website.
Unlike freelance accreditation tests for the English booth, which take place once a year, competitions are organised only from time to time. In any case most people work as a freelance interpreter first for a few years before applying to take a competition.
The next competition for the English booth is scheduled to take place in 2017
21. Is it better to be a freelance interpreter or be on the staff?
A: That depends on your personal situation, your preferences and your character. Freelancer interpreters have more freedom as they are not bound to one institution or employer. As a staff member you are not only an interpreter but also on the staff of a big, international organisation with job security, improved life-long learning opportunities and possibilities for mobility. However, the work you do is essentially the same.