What does conference interpreting really mean?
The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) defines interpreting as the practice of conveying the meaning of a speaker's message orally and in another language to listeners who would not otherwise understand. Conference interpreting is carried out at multilingual meetings between for example representatives of national governments, international organisations or non-governmental organisations, to name but a few.
At the European Commission, conference interpreters can be either staff or freelance interpreters, and they can work either for the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions as well as the various European agencies. Most of the work takes place in Brussels, but there are also a good number of 'missions' accompanying ministers or officials to meetings abroad.
What skills does an interpreter need? Besides a solid mother tongue and excellent understanding of at least two or three other languages, interpreters also need to have many other skills and qualities, such as the ability to analyse a message quickly and communicate it well. They should also be resilient, able to cope with pressure and stress and be endlessly curious - interpreters can be put in a meeting on any subject. DG Interpretation has produced a number of videos which attempt to explain exactly what interpreting is and what you need to be a successful interpreter.
There are two main types of interpreting practised at the European institutions, namely consecutive interpreting, which tends to be done in smaller settings, and where the interpreter takes notes and simultaneous interpreting, where interpreters sit in booths working in real time.
The vast majority of the work is done in this mode.
The European institutions also webstream some proceedings and you can hear interpreters in action:
How to become a conference interpreter
As stated above, there are a number of skills and qualities that are needed to become a successful interpreter. These are skills and qualities that can be learnt and there are many postgraduate courses in conference interpreting available in universities in Europe and beyond.
The European Commission and the European Parliament collaborate closely with the consortium of European Masters in Conference Interpreting, which groups together those postgraduate programmes in conference interpreting which adhere to certain standards.
Recruitment to the EU
You can work as a freelancer and a staff interpreter for the EU institutions.