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Salary for EU Conference Interpreter?
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VictoriaL
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Working hours of staff interpreters Nov 18, 2010

Hello!
Does somebody know how many hours a day a staff or a "full-time" interpreter normally works? 8 hours of interpreting a day would sound like really tough work!
I know that a staff translator can be asked to work more than 8 hours (own experience;) ), but I guess interpreting is a more demanding work as it requires very high concentration while one is in the booth...
Thank you!


 

FarkasAndras  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:25
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depends Nov 18, 2010

VictoriaL wrote:

Hello!
Does somebody know how many hours a day a staff or a "full-time" interpreter normally works? 8 hours of interpreting a day would sound like really tough work!
I know that a staff translator can be asked to work more than 8 hours (own experience;) ), but I guess interpreting is a more demanding work as it requires very high concentration while one is in the booth...
Thank you!


First of all, it depends on the institution.
At the Court, "not a lot" would be my guess - but then hardly anyone works at the Court so let's see the two big ones.
At the Parliament, there is no work on Monday mornings and they have every Friday entirely off... not exactly slavery.
At SCIC (Commission), there is a proper, full 5-day week. Not sure how many hours the contract specifies, but it's pretty much "as long as the meeting lasts". Usually 10-18:00 with a 1.5 hour lunch break in the middle. The thing is, they rarely get a week with 5 days of 10-18 work... there's usually at least one meeting in a week that ends before lunch and they have the afternoon off, or there is a whole empty day... I think the regulations say people need to have at least half a day off every two weeks or something like that.

It's a lot of work, especially early on when the preparation for meetings takes longer, eating up a lot of your free time, but it's totally doable. Note: I'm not a full-timer, I just freelance so this is a bit of an outsider's perspective.

BTW usually there are 3 people in a booth as opposed to the 2 that you may be used to, so the workload is not that heavy.

[Edited at 2010-11-18 14:34 GMT]


 

Parrot  Identity Verified
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Depends II Nov 18, 2010

FarkasAndras wrote:

First of all, it depends on the institution.


A lot of the institutions Farkas cites observe AIIC standards; i.e., the most one will get on a gruelling day will be under 6 hours total (and that, when you're partnered with a newbie or someone who's losing his voice or something of the sort. But yes, you'll be partnered). I understand that even the Asian Development Bank (mainly English, so not that many language jobs) observes this.

Courts have their trials scheduled as per docket, and the next parties waiting outside will probably guarantee you won't have more than 3 hours.

What I do not know is private companies, who may have somebody in-house to tackle every language (yes, I know this is a comedy we've all seen), which somebody may not have any work for 2 weeks straight and then suddenly have to be there 14 hours a day. I've heard it happens.


 

FarkasAndras  Identity Verified
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Institutions Nov 18, 2010

The whole thread was about interpreters employed by EU institutions, so I replied with only these institutions in mind, i.e. by Court I meant the European Court of Justice.
At national courts or on the private market, all bets are off, of course.
I'm not sure what you mean by 6 hours. Obviously, no interpreter will interpret (i.e. actually speak) for more than 6 hours at an EU meeting in any normal situation - that would take a really long meeting and a really uneven work distributio
... See more
The whole thread was about interpreters employed by EU institutions, so I replied with only these institutions in mind, i.e. by Court I meant the European Court of Justice.
At national courts or on the private market, all bets are off, of course.
I'm not sure what you mean by 6 hours. Obviously, no interpreter will interpret (i.e. actually speak) for more than 6 hours at an EU meeting in any normal situation - that would take a really long meeting and a really uneven work distribution. Spending more than 6 hours in the booth is perfectly normal, though, interpreting 2-3 hours and resting/listening/supporting the colleagues the rest of the time.
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Parrot  Identity Verified
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Presence hours Nov 18, 2010

FarkasAndras wrote:

I'm not sure what you mean by 6 hours. Obviously, no interpreter will interpret (i.e. actually speak) for more than 6 hours at an EU meeting in any normal situation - that would take a really long meeting and a really uneven work distribution. Spending more than 6 hours in the booth is perfectly normal, though, interpreting 2-3 hours and resting/listening/supporting the colleagues the rest of the time.


All accounted for, professional organisations may grant up to 7 presence hours, but are happy with 6. But if you're paired with a lame duck, the ratio of "rest" goes down. And if you're an active partner, you'll somehow still feel the stress, even though you just scribble notes.


 

FarkasAndras  Identity Verified
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rations Nov 18, 2010

Parrot wrote:

FarkasAndras wrote:

I'm not sure what you mean by 6 hours. Obviously, no interpreter will interpret (i.e. actually speak) for more than 6 hours at an EU meeting in any normal situation - that would take a really long meeting and a really uneven work distribution. Spending more than 6 hours in the booth is perfectly normal, though, interpreting 2-3 hours and resting/listening/supporting the colleagues the rest of the time.


All accounted for, professional organisations may grant up to 7 presence hours, but are happy with 6. But if you're paired with a lame duck, the ratio of "rest" goes down. And if you're an active partner, you'll somehow still feel the stress, even though you just scribble notes.

Tell me about it - I'm occasionally the only one with English in the Hungarian booth... in situations like that during the Spanish presidency, I had to cover all the English and all the Spanish, which was probably well over 50% of the time.
Anyway, I don't think EU institutions subscribe to the whole "6 (7) hours total presence in booth" idea. They'll happily give you an 8-hour shift if there's an 8-hour meeting somewhere, or even a 10-hour shift on very rare occasions (with extra rest the next day and such). As far as I can tell, each booth always sends one team for a single meeting. If the meeting is long, it could be a long session for the interpreters as well.


 

Parrot  Identity Verified
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Spanish presidencies Nov 18, 2010

(nothing political, mind you) were never the summum of compliance with good interpreting practice

More than one politician, for instance, believes in the superstition that IF YOU TALK LOUD ENOUGH ... the interpreter will work better

And working groups (particularly when they're far from home base) also tend to override the practicabl
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(nothing political, mind you) were never the summum of compliance with good interpreting practice

More than one politician, for instance, believes in the superstition that IF YOU TALK LOUD ENOUGH ... the interpreter will work better

And working groups (particularly when they're far from home base) also tend to override the practicable limits.
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VictoriaL
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Thanks! Nov 21, 2010

Thanks to all for the insights into the third most stressing job in the world!

 

veratek
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which other jobs? Nov 21, 2010

VictoriaL wrote:

Thanks to all for the insights into the third most stressing job in the world!


After which other two?


 

ParlInt
Local time: 02:25
Setting the record straight Dec 3, 2010

xxxsumill wrote:




I was a qualified but less experienced interpreter who didn't pass the exam. Fingers crossed. If you have a headache on the test day or haven't had a proper sleep because you had to travel to Brussels, or if - like me - you were left waiting for over two hours until you were exhausted for your test in spite of your appointment - tough luck. No matter how qualified you are, if you are not resilient enough and immune to the examiners' tactics of distracting and unsettling the candidate, you won't pass. As I was told "You may have interpreted for the Pope - we're not interested. This is your moment, if we don't feel we can put you in the booth straightaway, that's it."

However, if it's one of your lucky days and you do pass, you can expect a life of luxury. It's sickening that we pay for it through our taxes, while having to negotiate for every penny of our own freelance fees. As I recently learned, even as an EU freelance interpreter you're paid 2/3 of the day's fees (plus of course your travel expenses and per diem) even if you're not needed. No wonder the EU budget for interpreters is so overblown.

I never wanted to try again. I know I'm as good or even better than EU's staff interpreters with all their perks. Because of those perks, these jobs are guarded by mafia-style examiners who wouldn't allow just anyone to join their team.

Good luck and let us know how you fared.


I'm sorry, but as an EP interpreter I feel I have to react to this. It sounds a lot like sour grapes.
Some elements are true: you can be a great interpreter, but if you have a bad day on test day, you will fail. It's unfortunate, but all the examiners have to go on is how you perform on the day...they can't really take past experience into account. They have to take into account what you will be like if you are hired the next day to interpret for the institutions, and in many cases people aren't quite there despite their experience.
- The argument that you can simply "get lucky" is also false. You can be close to the borderline, and be lucky enough not to have your flaws demonstrated on the day, but you still need the technique, the knowledge, the skill and the talent to survive the rest. It's like saying you could get lucky and win Wimbledon...impossible.
- Your contention that you are "as good or even better" than the staff interpreters is a bold one. There is a range of talent in a range of languages across the institutions, but staff have one thing in common. When the going gets really tough, they can hold things together in a professional manner.
- The comment that staff are somehow guarding the jobs is ludicrous! There is a small core of staff, who feel overworked and tired from all of the missions (particularly EN booth). They desperately, desperately want more people on board, as it will diminish their workload and not affect their recruitment/job prospects in any way, shape or form. It is true that freelancers may want you to fail...more work for you means less for them...but freelancers don't attend tests and don't sit on juries (unless you have a non-EU language which is not covered by the staff). Examiners will not try to distract you or unsettle you, but they expect you to overcome your nerves and they certainly will judge you on how well you react to a difficult sentence, a strange concept, a word which is less commonplace, etc. This is what it means to be an interpreter.
I will address some other questions about the pay and perks in another post, but your comment about "not needed" and 2/3 pay sounds like a misunderstanding. What happens is essentially the same as a well-organised private market deal. If a freelancer is hired non-locally, and then the contract is cancelled (meetings get cancelled and then rescheduled regularly), the other institutions have the right to "take over" your contract for free. Your pay is not affected and you simply work for someone else. If you are not taken, then you have the right to 2/3 a daily salary (with no per diem and no travel) to compensate for a contract you may well have turned down elsewhere in order to take this one. Leaving questions of how much we earn aside, this seems like a fair deal to me, considering that many freelancers are pretty much booked up every day and would have had to reject work to accept the original contract. In fact, it is an agreement which undoubtedly stems from general contract law.
I hope that clears up the misunderstandings. I would encourage you to resit the exam - if you are as confident as you say you are, then you will stand a good chance of passing...particularly because no-one wants you to pass more than the exhausted staff.
Best wishes


 

ParlInt
Local time: 02:25
Working hours Dec 3, 2010

VictoriaL wrote:

Hello!
Does somebody know how many hours a day a staff or a "full-time" interpreter normally works? 8 hours of interpreting a day would sound like really tough work!
I know that a staff translator can be asked to work more than 8 hours (own experience;) ), but I guess interpreting is a more demanding work as it requires very high concentration while one is in the booth...
Thank you!


This is a difficult one to answer, as has been mentioned already. Unlike translators, we cannot regulate exactly when we work and when we rest, so the comparison doesn't really hold.
On an average committee day at the EP, I'd say you would work 9:00-12:30, then 15:00-18:30. The theory is that you will do half an hour every hour and a half, but it remains theoretical because of the language regime. If you are the only one with the committee chairman's language, for example, you will be working pretty heavily all day. There may be very few speakers with your languages, in which case you might sit there doing very little. The concentration is really the difficult thing. You have to remain attentive just in case your delegate pipes up on a technical matter - if you haven't been following it could be disastrous!
In any case, some days are tiring, some are less tiring.
In the EN booth we are (fortunate/unfortunate) in that we spend some meetings sitting doing nothing. Most of us would prefer to work, even if colleagues from other booths don't believe us! About the hardest things you can do (in my experience) are:
a) plenary, because you get exhausted by half an hour of it, and you can be doing three hours sometimes;
b) missions, because all of the rules go out of the window and you can find yourself working from 08:00 until midnight while travelling on buses, doing embarassing consecutives and traipsing around the most weird and wonderful places; and
c) long group meetings where you get stuck as the only one with a very dominant language. In the most dire cases, though, you can phone for backup.

Hope that answers your questions
Best wishes


 

ParlInt
Local time: 02:25
EP working week Dec 3, 2010

FarkasAndras wrote:

VictoriaL wrote:

Hello!
Does somebody know how many hours a day a staff or a "full-time" interpreter normally works? 8 hours of interpreting a day would sound like really tough work!
I know that a staff translator can be asked to work more than 8 hours (own experience;) ), but I guess interpreting is a more demanding work as it requires very high concentration while one is in the booth...
Thank you!


First of all, it depends on the institution.
At the Court, "not a lot" would be my guess - but then hardly anyone works at the Court so let's see the two big ones.
At the Parliament, there is no work on Monday mornings and they have every Friday entirely off... not exactly slavery.
At SCIC (Commission), there is a proper, full 5-day week. Not sure how many hours the contract specifies, but it's pretty much "as long as the meeting lasts". Usually 10-18:00 with a 1.5 hour lunch break in the middle. The thing is, they rarely get a week with 5 days of 10-18 work... there's usually at least one meeting in a week that ends before lunch and they have the afternoon off, or there is a whole empty day... I think the regulations say people need to have at least half a day off every two weeks or something like that.

It's a lot of work, especially early on when the preparation for meetings takes longer, eating up a lot of your free time, but it's totally doable. Note: I'm not a full-timer, I just freelance so this is a bit of an outsider's perspective.

BTW usually there are 3 people in a booth as opposed to the 2 that you may be used to, so the workload is not that heavy.

[Edited at 2010-11-18 14:34 GMT]


I just wanted to add to this comment on the EP working week (I can't really comment on the other institutions). The question was about staff: on Mondays, staff usually only start interpreting on Monday afternoon, once the MEPs have arrived for the week. However, there are quite often meetings to attend, training courses and/or language courses, not to mention occasional trialogues or conciliation meetings which can crop up then. On Fridays, we have the Committee of the Regions now, as well as missions, to add to the list of things which can crop up. As there are no freelancers around on Fridays, these things must be dealt with by the staff. So I would say, depending on seniority and languages, that you have about a fifty percent chance of not working on a Friday or a Mon morning, but in any case you have to be on call (unless you book leave). Some colleagues fare worse (I spoke to a colleague last week who hadn't had a single Mon morning or Friday off this year), and some better, so it depends. It's worth noting as well that preparation for meetings is not included in this working schedule, you do that in your own time.
In any case, I think overall there is less on-site presence than if it were a Mon-Fri 9-5 deal (as tends to be the case more in SCIC, with only one half-day off a fortnight, I believe, and as noted above, it is doable.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
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Interpreting is not translation. Dec 3, 2010

xxxsumill wrote:
I was a qualified but less experienced interpreter who didn't pass the exam. Fingers crossed. If you have a headache on the test day or haven't had a proper sleep because you had to travel to Brussels, or if - like me - you were left waiting for over two hours until you were exhausted for your test in spite of your appointment - tough luck. No matter how qualified you are, if you are not resilient enough and immune to the examiners' tactics of distracting and unsettling the candidate, you won't pass. As I was told "You may have interpreted for the Pope - we're not interested. This is your moment, if we don't feel we can put you in the booth straightaway, that's it."



If you can't meet standards on a bad day or when you haven't had enough sleep, or in a quickly-changing environment ( all the things you mentioned that happened to you on the testing day), you can't be an interpreter. It is precisely how interpreters are tested: under pressure. You need to demonstrate the level of capability which no pressure can jeopardize.

It's not like translation, where you can sit down and check each unclear word in a terminology dictionary. No pressure to do it in a second, like you have to do when interpreting.


 

mjbjosh
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Full day Jan 12, 2011

ParlInt wrote:
As I recently learned, even as an EU freelance interpreter you're paid 2/3 of the day's fees (plus of course your travel expenses and per diem) even if you're not needed.


Being an EU freelance interpreter, I can set this one straight - you're getting paid the FULL rate even if you're not needed. Usually they know it well in advance and tell you to stay home (to avoid travel costs). Your usual Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg contract is modified to a local one, which means that you have to cancel all the travel arrangements (flight, hotel) and be on permanence at your home. Theoretically, the EU has business everywhere in the EU, yet I have never been sent to a meeting at home. Per diem (there are NO travel expenses) in these cases is not paid. A contract can be only cancelled 60 or more days before the actual work. Otherwise you get paid the full rate sans per diem.


 

mjbjosh
Local time: 02:25
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Net salary Jan 12, 2011


Does anyone know how much EU interpreters are paid?


Experienced freelance interpreters (250 days of proven experience for international organisations) earn about 390 euros a day, beginners (less than 250 days of proven experience), about 250. It doesn't matter if you only have to work for just 1 hour or the whole day, you are still getting paid the full day. Being a freelancer, do not expect to be hired EVERY day though.

[Edited at 2011-01-12 20:38 GMT]


 
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