Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Interpreter Training (Part 2)

Gefeliciteerd! You’ve been accepted into an EMCI programme, along with 10-20% of your fellow applicants. You are now part of something very special, the Oxbridge law set of the language professions, assuming you are part of the 30% who make it through your mid-term exams, of course.  
As an interpreting student, you will be expected to read up on any major news story and know the political ins and outs of any country where your language is spoken. (Sorry, those of you with Spanish, it’s going to take HOURS!) You will occasionally be grilled and subjected to impromptu public questions regarding what colour tie José Manuel Barroso wore last week, and what is so controversial about Denmark’s proposed fishery quotas, anyway?
Your professors and teachers will be seasoned professionals at the top of their game. Yes, you are taking coding from Mark Zuckerberg and Diplomacy 101 from Tony Blair.  Everyone will be better than you in every language, and probably more attractive, too.  Not that that means much. You won’t even comb your hair or brush your teeth until you get a dummy booth week at the Parliament (Speaking of hygiene, unless you are already married or able to shag the occasional starry-eyed translation student, resign yourself to total celibacy. If you are married, prepare for your partner to divorce you in a fit of resentment).
Your teachers and classmates will tear into the way you speak, every day. They will find fault with your accent, your vocabulary, tell you go to home and learn how to speak again. They will threaten to fail you from the programme- and half the time they will indeed translate (pun intended!) those words into action. Soon, the constant criticism will start to slowly choke your spirit, make you doubt your own intelligence, and resent your parents for not teaching you a more refined version of your mother tongue (that is, assuming you have one at all and aren’t a dreaded alingual!). You will develop unusually passionate opinions about EU policies, probably as a coping mechanism. Stockholm syndrome will take hold, and your raison d’être will be to please your instructors. This will probably reach the point where your trainers actively and snidely comment on your personal life, and unironically tell you to change any part of your life that isn’t good for your career. Your girlfriend wants to stay in a city with no organizations that need you? Drop her!!
While your family and non-interpreting colleagues are impressed (or perplexed) that you have made it through such a difficult selection process, you will hear over and over again that the teaching staff sees you as below dirt, a wannabe, a charlatan, a likely grey market thorn in their side. They will reiterate that they are unafraid to fail every single one of you, and tell you about how four years ago they did just that!  
You will be forced to perform with poise several times a day, and it will never be good enough.  You will then attempt to recreate the experience with your classmates during so-called “work groups”, for several hours each evening. You will then go home and read The Guardian, The Economist, Le Monde Diplomatique, El Pais, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and whatever it is the intelligentsia of Bucharest likes to read. You will wish you were an Arabic or Mandarin interpreter, because they only have to deal with one foreign language (but they work into their B!). Weekends are for having a grasse mat’ until 8:00 a.m. and catching up on all the news you missed while in class. And more work groups.  
On one hand, you will lose weight from lack of time or appetite. On the other, you will emerge but a shell of your former exuberant self, whose newfound mental illness manifests itself in the form of one crise existentielle apres l’autre- Where should I live, assuming I finish alive? Should I activate my English? Is it OK I learned Argentine Spanish and not Madrileño?  How long would it take to add Latvian as a C from scratch?  Can I go back in time and see to it my parents give me up for adoption to a Franco-British family so I can be a double A?  Should I just start learning Flemish now so I’m prepared for a life in Brussels?  Can I parlay that into a Dutch C eventually? Can I afford a Sprachreise in Germany during La Semaine Sainte?
If this all sounds like a lot of effort and suffering, despair not: the road shall be hard, but you must think of the endless years of freelancer glory (and professional psychotherapist fees) that await you!

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