3rd CTS Professionalisation Talk

Barbara Bethäusser-Conte gave a professionalisation talk on introduction to the profession of conference interpreter.

Barbara Bethäusser-Conte is a freelance conference interpreter (simultaneous/consecutive) for international organisations, government departments and private sector, an interpreter trainer, and a member of AIIC

On Monday 14 June 2021, students from the MA and PGDip programmes in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies at the University of Leeds attended an online presentation on the conference interpreting profession given by Barbara Bethäusser-Conte, one of our external tutors for German. Barbara is an experienced practising conference interpreter and also a member of the professional body, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). In the webinar, students received practical advice on starting their careers as well as information on professional standards, ethics and codes of conduct. Barbara also gave a tentative outlook for the profession after the pandemic.

There are two main routes for a professional conference interpreter: either being employed as a staff interpreter for an international organisation, or working freelance, combining work for international organisations with private clients. These days it is often only possible to become a staff interpreter after gaining considerable freelance experience. However, both options are underpinned by the same professional ethics and global standards, as set by AIIC, the only international association representing the profession, which help to ensure optimal working conditions. AIIC also offers professional development and networking opportunities for its members.

Students were given tips on how to establish a presence on the UK market, considering aspects such as tax, insurance, invoicing, office equipment and the use of social media, bearing in mind confidentiality, one of the key principles which professional conference interpreters must abide by. Having a wide professional network is of the utmost importance when building a reputation as an interpreter, and Barbara explained the advantages of AIIC’s VEGA network, where experienced interpreters advise newcomers to the profession. She also gave a detailed breakdown of how to approach interpreting assignments, from the acceptance of the assignment to preparation and invoicing after the event. It is vital to have a proper contract, both for compliance reasons and also to prove your experience, as to be eligible for membership of a professional association you have to have worked for a certain number of days under approved conditions. Extensive preparation is key to success, so students were reminded about preparing terminology and doing background reading, as well as the importance of teamwork with colleagues in the booth itself. You can never be over-prepared, especially if it is your first interpreting assignment.

Like many professions, conference interpreting has had to prove its resilience in the face of the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Face-to-face conferences have often been replaced by online events, meaning that Distance Interpreting, such as Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI), has become far more prevalent than it was prior to the pandemic. This brings a new dimension to an interpreter’s work with both advantages and disadvantages. Events are more accessible and inclusive for attendees, but interpreters may suffer from reduced audio quality and a lack of visual information. They also miss the physical presence of a booth colleague, as conference interpreting is teamwork, so handovers and cooperation have to be managed virtually. AIIC’s unequivocal preference under Covid-19 has been for interpreters to work in interpreting hubs, studios that provide interpreters with technical support when they work remotely. Conference interpreters have worked hard to promote the best possible working conditions during the pandemic. However, in the UK, interpreters have also been obliged to work from their own premises, despite the potential technical and health risks.  

As we slowly emerge from the pandemic and readjust to the ‘new normal’, more hybrid interpreting settings may be used. Shorter meetings and webinars are likely to remain online, but face-to-face events will not disappear. In light of this, it is hoped that AIIC will provide further guidance on the optimum conditions for remote interpreting. For those starting out in their career, it will also be important to understand the extent to which remote working assignments will count towards the professional experience required for membership.

This talk complemented the practical, skills-based content of the MACITS programme and left students feeling better equipped for their first professional assignments. This contextual perspective is invaluable to students, who as a result should feel better prepared to face the uncertainties of the profession following the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further information on AIIC:







On Outreach & Mentoring at AIIC:


Author: Eleanor Stephenson