General Knowledge – How Much is Enough?

I’m sure we’d all agree that professional conference interpreters are expected to possess what is called “general knowledge”. But how does this translate into practice?

Does “general knowledge” simply mean keeping up with the latest headlines? What information sources can student interpreters use to add to their knowledge? And most importantly for aspiring interpreters: what degree of general knowledge is one expected to show at an aptitude test or final exam? These are the questions I am going to examine in today’s post. I’m warning readers now: this is a long post, but I decided against dividing it up into parts in favor of tackling these related ideas in a single post. Please stick with me to the end!

First things first

I once heard it said that an interpreter’s job is not simply to read the headlines, but rather “the headlines, the bylines, the back page, the sports scores, the financial pages, the arts and fashion supplement, the science column, the book reviews…”. Although a bit tongue-in-cheek, there may be some truth in this claim.

On at least two separate occasions, I have been approached by total strangers at the end of a long flight, who asked me in disbelief, “Did you actually just read that entire magazine from cover to cover?” Apparently the practice of reading every single article in a magazine or newspaper is not that widespread among the general public, although I’d argue interpreters should get into the habit of doing precisely that. You never know what might come in handy in the booth.

Get it from the source(s)

I’d go further and say that interpreters should not fall into the habit of getting their information from a single source. Of course, it’s good to have your favorite daily newspaper or news website to peruse over breakfast, but it is equally important to obtain a broad range of views from different sources. Global activists may be happy reading Noam Chomsky all day, and neoliberals might never consult anything but The Economist, but as interpreters, we should probably be reading both – and a range of other publications as well.

What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the periodicals that I try to read on a regular basis, as I have found that together, they present a broad range of views and cover many issues that are not in the headlines: Le Monde Diplomatique (which is available in 25 languages and 70 different editions!), Courrier International, The New Internationalist, The Economist, The International Herald Tribune, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Scientific American (this last one is more for my own enjoyment, but I do sometimes pick up stuff there that comes in handy in the booth!). Readers of this post are encouraged to add their own personal favorites to this list in the comments section.

It goes beyond periodicals, of course. Books introducing specific subjects to the layman can be very useful in filling gaps that we interpreters identify in our knowledge. Just to give a couple of examples of books that might come in handy for student interpreters, the Penguin History of Economics and the Economist’s Guide to the European Union made useful bedtime reading for me over the course of my interpreter training (albeit in older editions), as did a book called Internationale Organisationen from Heyne Verlag – in German, obviously, and possibly now out of print, since I can’t find an online reference. But it offered a great overview of the UN, EU, NATO, the GATT/WTO and NAFTA. This Handbook on International Organisations, coming out soon in English, might do the trick for many. A fellow instructor at the ULL also recommends students get hold of a good world atlas – not just for the all-important place and country names, but for all the additional information on population movements, main industries, weather patterns, etc. The CIA’s World Factbook is also great for information on specific countries.

Resources that fill in gaps in our knowledge of the cultures that go with our languages are also useful. When I moved to Spain and started learning Spanish, for instance, I found I urgently needed to get up to scratch on contemporary Spanish issues: The Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston and The Ghosts of Spain by Guardian correspondent Giles Tremlett went a long way to filling that particular gap.

I haven’t even begun to mention non-print materials. It goes without saying that the internet is a valuable source of information. These days, the websites that go with the periodicals and guides I have mentioned above are in many ways even more informative than the print versions. Again, readers are encouraged to share with me their favorite websites and online resources in the comments – where do you go in cyberspace to find out what you need to know?

Of course, as time goes on and one moves beyond training and into the field of professional practice, the learning doesn’t stop, it just becomes more focused on your clients’ specific fields. But the whole issue of professional specialization is probably best left for another day.

Back to the matter at hand…

Let’s look at general knowledge as it relates to the aptitude test now. What sort of “cultural baggage” will a candidate to an interpreter training course be expected to be carrying?

The best way to respond to this question would be to provide readers with a list of the general knowledge questions that I intend to ask in a couple of weeks at the University of La Laguna’s aptitude tests – but that wouldn’t be fair, would it? What I’ll do is publish that list after the tests have been run, at the end of June, and readers can test their own knowledge against it then (author’s note: you can now find that quiz here).

In the meantime, let me just say that this part of the test is really very difficult to prepare for. Essentially, at this stage in your personal and professional development, either you will have this “baggage” or you won’t. You can’t cram for a general knowledge test.

I do know of one candidate who apparently has been spending 20 hours a week in the library since January trying to expand her knowledge in preparation for the admission exams. I can only hope that after all of that, her languages are at the necessary level, because at the end of the day, being able to recite all of the European Commissioners in reverse alphabetical order won’t help you much if your language proficiency doesn’t meet  the required standard.

Fortunately for those candidates who have not been hidden away in a library for the past several months, the bar is not set overly high when it comes to general knowledge quizzes at aptitude tests. You would have to be pretty uninformed indeed to fail an aptitude test on the strength of the general knowledge component alone. Examples from real life: a candidate with Dutch who couldn’t name any famous Dutch people except Ruud van Nistelrooy and Frank Rijkaard didn’t fail the aptitude test due to his lack of world knowledge, but because he completely froze during the memory exercises. Similarly, the one who thought Dar es Salaam and Dharamsala were one and the same place may have looked pretty silly, but he didn’t get flunked for it.

In sum, as I said in my previous post on aptitude tests, if you show strong passive and active language skills, good composure, and perform well on the memory component, but reply incorrectly to the general knowledge questions, you will probably be accepted on the course – with a stern warning to pull your socks up and get informed in time for the finals.

Okay, so what about the finals?

However prepared you might be (or not) for showing off your general knowledge at the aptitude test, the good news is that you have eight months (and on some courses, longer) to get yourself informed and ready for those finals, where the bar will be set considerably higher. And you will not be alone in your endeavor. Instructors (and fellow students – it is a joint effort, after all) will be working hard to make sure that you not only learn the nuts and bolts of interpreting, but also broaden your knowledge in preparation for the day when you get into the booth for real.

At the University of La Laguna, each week is dedicated to a specific field of knowledge. During the week, students are expected to read up on the topic, prepare and share glossaries, and interpret speeches on various aspects of the field. Topics range from tourism to health care, from international finance to agriculture and fisheries, from telecommunications to sports. By the time the final exams arrive, students will have hopefully absorbed a considerable amount of knowledge in each of these fields, which they can then use as the basis for further learning and experience – and for acing their exams!

Of course, no matter how much students learn over the course of their interpreter training, it’s hard to know just “how much is enough” – which brings me back to the title of today’s post (and to my conclusion, weary readers will be pleased to hear!). This year’s crop of students, currently preparing for their finals, are of course wondering whether all the general knowledge they’ve acquired over the past year is going to be enough to get them through next week’s exams without getting egg on their face.

The best way to explain the level of knowledge that is expected at the end of a training course is by using an example. Let’s take fisheries – every interpreter’s favorite subject – to illustrate just how general knowledge evolves over the course of the training year, and what will be expected by the end.

Here, fishy fishy!

At an aptitude test, candidates might be expected to recognize the various species of fish and seafood that are likely to appear on a restaurant menu in their different languages – say, “tuna” or “lobster”. They might also be expected to know that the world’s oceans are being overfished. And that’s about it, really.

By the final exam, students should be able to readily identify a significantly higher number of species of fish beyond the menu mainstays (though not all the ones you can find on Fishbase!), will have learned the terminology used to describe some fishing gear and practices, will probably know more about which species are being overfished where (e.g. bluefin tuna in the Atlantic, Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean), will have familiarized themselves with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, will have heard speeches on other fisheries-related issues such as fish farming and whaling bans, will have hopefully at least visited the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd websites, and will probably have heard in passing of the IWC, the ICCAT, the CCAMLR and a few other fisheries organizations as well. And if something “fishy” turns up on their final exam which they have not heard of before, they will know enough to fake it!

So there you have my own personal answers to the various questions raised at the beginning of this post. For those of you still with me, thank you for sticking it out to the end. For aspiring interpreters out there, hopefully this information will help explain to you just “how much is enough”.

51 thoughts on “General Knowledge – How Much is Enough?

  1. Hi, Michelle.

    Some weeks ago I gave a lecture at the University of Alicante for 60-odd students about my two years and a half as a rookie interpreter. It goes without saying that I focused mainly on death and taxation – two major concerns for a freelancer – but this issue came up too.

    A couple of them were considering to give La Laguna a try this very year (you may very well know some of them by now), so I told them all I could remember from my aptitude test: “Apart from an electromagnetic pulse, do you know what an EMP is?”, « L’hexagone. Cela vous évoque quoi ? » Fairly easy questions – either you know the answer or you don’t – but some of them had been learning by heart the names of European commissioners and stuff like that, so they were terrified when I told them that this general knowledge test actually was about general knowledge… o_O

    Un besote.

    • Hola Ramon (sorry, I can’t find the Spanish letters on this computer, something else we interpreters have to learn…)

      I’ve been working for 20 years now as an interpreter and I must confess I don’t know what EMP is. It all depends on the context. Do you know what DWCP is? If you worked for the ILO you certainly would.

      As a first recourse I repeat the acronym as I hear it while perusing the documents until I find a) what it means and b) what the French equivalent is. It often stays the same, sometimes they use no acronym in French but say the whole thing. Sometimes, German or Spanish speakers will use the English acronym while speaking German or Spanish, although there would be an equivalent in their language. At that point I wonder: why bother? 😉

      We must do our best of course, but it is impossible to know all the acronym that roam the planet!

      • Hi Tiina, thanks for joining us! I think whoever tested Ramón must have been referring to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, although I am not used to it being referred to as the EMP – it’s either Euro-Med or the Barcelona Process to me.

        You’re right about acronyms being the bane of every interpreter’s existence. Many non-English speakers choose to use the English acronyms, to the great consternation of interpreters expecting something else, but there are also a number of French ones that remain unchanged in English (COREPER, OLAF…) – it really is a big headache!

        BTW, Google tells me DWCP is Decent Work Country Programmes in the ILO context – I guess I would only learn that if I were heading off to Geneva! And something tells me your keyboard problems are linked to the fact that you are there for the ILO right now – am I right? 😉

      • Hey there, Tiina. Yes, my bad. It wasn’t a good example. I should have explained that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership made the news those days for some reason I can’t recall.

        By the way, last week I learned of something that happened during a meeting of smallholder family farmers and artisanal fishfolk from around the world with a UN representative. Apparently, the point of the meeting was to provide them with some information about a new inclusive mechanism for them to participate and have a voice in decision-making processes, but this speaker lost the audience on purpose right from the beginning by piling up acronyms and more acronyms. The CSM for the CSO to be part of the ICC of the CFS… and such. After ten minutes, people were starting to leave the room with angry whisperings about neocolonialism and stuff when, all of a sudden, the interpreter sighed, stopped and shouted out loud: F*** the acronyms! And this was followed by an enthusiastic round of applause. ;o)

        I don’t know about you, but I need to have a T-shirt with that!


      • We’ve all thought that at some point, I’m sure XD – though I must confess I’ve never actually heard anyone say it on a live mike! Did this interpreter realize his mike was on?

        Sign me up for a T-shirt when they come out …

      • Indeed I am working at the ILC for the moment, CIT en français, there goes another acronym for you. And my keyboard problem is due to the fact that my new mini-booth computer is a Mac and I don’t know how to use it yet. But å friendly collægue shøwed me how to då it.

        And DWCP is indeed PPTD, Google is our best friend, isn’t he?

      • Oh, I get it ;). It’s just that another colleague was saying something the other day about the public computers there, and I thought that was the source of your typing woes. Let’s hear it for laptops and wifi in the booth – Google Translate may be every translator’s worst enemy, but being able to search for information online in the booth can’t be beat…

  2. Hi Ramón,

    I haven’t met the Alicante students yet, but I will in a couple of weeks at the aptitude tests, I guess! If you still have any contact with them, send them my way (I mean to this blog) – hopefully they’ll find the information here interesting. And thanks for making the point that “general knowledge” is precisely what its name implies ;).

  3. Hello Michelle,
    Thank you for yet another very informative post. I’m thinking of applying to La Laguna in 2012/2013 so I have a year to work on my Spanish, brush up on my general knowledge and save some money.
    My websites of choice are the BBC, The Guardian, The Economist, Le Monde, Liberation, Courrier International, El Pais and Euronews.
    I’ll hopefully see you next June.
    All the best,

    • Nice to meet you, Eoin, if only virtually – maybe meet you in person soon! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I take it from your list of news sources that you have French and Spanish in your combination?

  4. Thanks for the quick reply. My combination is English A, French/Spanish C. I lived in France for five years so I could probably upgrade my French up to a B if I worked on it but I’m not sure how valuable that would be. My aim is to work for the EU so a B language could be a lot of wasted effort.

    • If you catch me online, I can be very quick off the mark indeed ;).

      I want to talk about language combinations next week, but in response to your point about the French B, I’d say don’t sweat it for now. Concentrate on having two very solid Cs to get you through the course, and then expand from there ;).

      Hope to stay in touch – good luck!

      • Today’s a fairly slow day in the office so I’m quick off the mark too.
        Your potential post on language combinations is a terrific idea as there are quite a few conflicting ideas on the interpreting forums that I visit. There are lot of people who claim to be AA or to have two B languages. This seems like a pretty rare combination to me.
        Would you mind doing a post on the connection between translation and interpreting? To what extent is there an overlap between the skills required for the two disciplines? As a part of my entrance exam preparation I have been doing one or two translations a week in each of my languages. Is this a good idea?

      • Hi Ian,

        Thanks for the tip. I already follow your Facebook page and find it very informative. I especially enjoy the videos of interviews with working interpreters.
        Freom what I’ve seen my combination of English A and French/Spanish C would be enough to start with at the EU.
        Keep up the good work!
        All the best,

      • Hi, Ian, and thanks for your comment. Interpreting for Europe is an invaluable forum for discussion, as we know, which goes well beyond offering language recommendations for budding interpreters! Your work there is much appreciated by the interpreting community.

        FYI, in next week’s post, I won’t be making recommendations of my own regarding which languages to learn, just talking a little about the A-B-C classification and how it applies to interpreter training. That sort of thing …

        Enviado desde mi BlackBerry

  5. General knowledge is indeed a very vague term and hard to describe what exactly it covers. But as curiosity is one of the most important personal traits of any interpreter and interpreter-to-be (I believe you’ve already mentioned it in your earlier posts), I don’t think this really is a problem. 🙂 Interestingly, I just read an article by D. Snelling about this topic a few days ago in the Interpreter’s Newsletter (
    As for the list of resources: besides the ones you mentioned, I try regularly to check the New Scientist’s page, le Nouvel Obs, Le Monde, Le Figaro … I don’t really check for news articles, but for things that catpure me as interesting, funny, or when I don’t really have a clue about. That’s how I end up reading about finances (not really an expert), brains and neuroscience (not really a science fan), even fashion and gossip (Elle and stuff – though not really into all this) and sports (of all things…). But, I couldn’t have been more happy one day when in the booth recently, and the speaker made a short (funny) comment on the then upcoming finals between Manchester United and Barcelona – and later on in the same speech about the royal weeding in London… (btw: it was a European Olympic Committees conference). So, I guess everything we absorb can come handy someday!
    I hope my comment isn’t too long!
    I wanted to congratulate and thank you for this great blog and the topics you’ve covered so far! You’ve even inspired me to start thinking about a Slovenian blog on interpreting… hope sth will come out of it soon! Greeting from Slovenia!

    • Great to hear from you, Jana! You wouldn’t be the author behind Mezzopisano, by any chance?

      I agree entirely with all of your points. I wanted to mention the bit about having to know the results of the previous night’s Champion’s League match, since they inevitably come up in any sort of meeting, but my post was getting so long that I had to start cutting stuff. I’m glad you made that point for me ;).

      I agree that you have to go beyond the main news when you read – as I tell my students, the headlines will take care of themselves, you are responsible for reading up on everything else. After all, who on this planet hasn’t heard of DSK, Wikileaks, and the Spanish Revolution at this point? They’re everywhere.

      I am going to read that article you sent the link for right now. And please let me know if/when you set up your Slovene blog on interpreting – I don’t speak Slovene myself, but I have a couple of friends who would be very interested!

    • Yes, that’s me, my personal blog 🙂 I wanted to write interpreting realted stuff there, but then I thought of making a separate blog, though I problably won’t come even close to your informativeness and funnies, but I least I want to offer some bits&pieces + links I managed to gather in my short freelance career so far… Will let you know when this happens!

  6. The whole A-B-C thing is precisely what I want to tackle next, so if you can hold on until next week, we can discuss that then.

    Your idea for a post on the link between translation and interpreting sounds interesting! I’ll definitely take it up at some point. Of course, like all the posts on this blog, I’ll only be able to present my own humble opinion, and that is a topic on which views may range widely.

    Personally, I found my background as a translator came in handy for expanding my passive vocabulary in specific fields, since having to produce a written translation forces you to look up those pesky words that you don’t know 😉 – but it wasn’t much help in the booth! In fact, one of my teachers told me at some point in my training that I would have to stop being so perfectionist in the booth or I would never get anywhere (I think the perfectionism was a holdover from my translating years).

    Hope that helps …

  7. Jana, it’s interesting that you mention the references to a football match and the royal wedding. There’s a video on YouTube in which a senior interepter, Olga Cosmidou, says that you can be very well prepared for a conference but if you miss the speaker’s reference to the previous night’s football match you get off to a bad start. As a French friend once told me “il n’y a pas de sousculture.”

    • Thank you for mentioning the video, haven’t seen it yet! But it is so true, and I remember that during my training and when teacher mentioned that – especially football (:)) – I didn’t really believe that this is sooo important. But it is. Not only from the point of view of the message rendering and faithfullness, but I think also that it makes you feel more calm in the booth not setting you off in some crazy brainstorming trying to guess? what the speaker is getting at…

    • Is this the video you mean?

      Olga Cosmidou is the Director General of the Interpreting Directorate for the European Parliament, so I would heed her words very carefully, indeed! If she says to follow the football scores, then you probably should. I’m glad she agrees with me, at least! 😉

  8. I think it’s that video. What an amazingly articulate and wise woman she is! I’ve seen her in several YouTube videos promoting interpreting. Speaking of YouTube, the AIB channel is another great source of information for budding interpreters. I particularly liked you video dispelling myths about interpreting, Michelle.

    • Thanks! I did a public talk on that topic a few weeks back and got some great feedback from the audience (a shopping mall crowd at a language fair). The talk didn’t cover exactly the same myths as the video, but it was along those lines.

      As working interpreters, there is so much we take for granted, assuming people know who we are and what we do, but it’s not true at all. And people really do appreciate getting explanations, when they’re packaged properly, I think.

  9. Hi Michelle,

    For American culture (and often beyond) I recommend several NPR programs spanning various fields: Science Friday, Marketplace and Fresh Air. Then PRI’s The World and The World in Words. And last but by no means least, my favorite Democracy Now. Some of these offer video, all offer podcasts, and a few even transcripts of the programs. And all offer free podcast subscriptions via iTunes.

  10. As it turns out, I won’t be doing the aptitude tests in Madrid in the end, only the ones being held on Tenerife, since the Madrid trip coincides with my son’s end-of-year school concert – and one has to have one’s priorities straight! So I won’t meet all candidates to the aptitude tests after all… But I will still put together a list of the general knowledge questions asked at the Tenerife tests to run past readers in a few weeks.

  11. I can’t believe I have never come across this blog before!! I have been perusing your posts for the last 2 hours!! Can’t wait to pass this blog on to many of our interpreters. I love your open approach….thank you for this blog!

    Kind regards,

    Grace Bosworth
    President, Global2Local Language Solutions LLC

    • Hi Grace, and thanks for the kind words :). If you haven’t come across this blog before, it’s probably because it’s only been around for a couple of months! And please do send people my way – the more the merrier!

      There are some very good, authoritative interpreting resources out there for new/aspiring interpreters – if you haven’t checked them out yet, I would receommend the VEGA site and AIIC’s advice for students, as well as the Interpreting for Europe Facebook page (all on my blogroll). As far as I know, however, the blog format isn’t being used by anyone else to address this particular subject matter/target group (although there are excellent interpreting blogs out there – again, check my blogroll). So I guess I am filling a niche of some sort with this blog.

      As for the open approach, that’s just the straight-talking North American in me ;). But let me repeat, as I’ve said elsewhere, that this blog will not reveal gossip or insider secrets related to my work or employers. Everything I share is either publicly available information, or my own humble opinion based on my own experience.

      Thanks again for the support!

  12. Hi Michelle!

    First of all, congrats for your blog 🙂 Even though I’m currently (and maybe permanently) out of the interpreting world, I follow it and I think it’s very interesting and witty, I always stick with you till the end of the post 🙂

    General knowledge is a very broad subject and probably a dozen posts would be needed to tackle the whole issue! I still remember very vividly my aptitude test two years ago in La Laguna and at that stage general knowledge has more to do with curiosity than with learning a whole list of EU Commissioners by heart. Besides some news that had hit the headlines recently, the questions were very general: capitals of South America, administrative organisation of France, media in English language, wether Slovenia was part of the EU or not, … actually, lot of stuff that we all should have heard at high school!

    However, final exams is a totally different matter and ENOUGH IS NEVER ENOUGH! Still, the more, the better! And that when the reading of the whole lot of newspapers and magazines mentioned above should become a compulsory task for every interpreter in the making. And even then, curiosity should still play a big part, so reading anything can be very valuable, as you never know when it’ll come handy in the booth: an article about upcoming Southern Sudan in a travels magazine, a feature on forced marriages in a womens magazine, … the list is endless!
    Finally, I’d like to add that not everything is in the books (or on the internet, matter of fact) Experiences and people we meet also shape our general knowledge. I’ve been very lucky and I’ve got to know people from all 5 continents. I’ve heard a Chinese talking about real censorship in China or a person from Togo telling about life in Africa. That’s a great (and easier) way to get to know and understand the world a bit better 🙂

    Greetz from your neighbouring town of Tegueste and keep up the good work! 😀

    • Hi Irene, nice to hear from you! I’m pleased to hear at least somebody sticks with me to the bitter end ;). Thanks for making some very good points. In the end, life itself is the learning experience, isn’t it?

  13. Hello
    I found this article very interesting, however there is another thing that worries me for the exam, it´s the problem of memory. Are there some exercises or methods you could suggest to improve memory?
    Thank you

    • Hi Judith, thanks for joining us!

      I was planning to talk about memory after the summer break, when my students start tackling it in class. There’s not that much you can do in the next few days in preparation for the aptitude test, except try not to worry too much – and remain calm. 😉

      As a tip, I’d say try to listen to the memory exercise not as if it were a bunch of loose information to be memorized, but as a story that you plan to tell your mother over the phone later. That should help you focus on the message. Also, listen for an underlying structure – beginning, middle, end, lists, pro/con arguments, etc. – that you can hang the details on. And if you go blank, don’t just give up and sit down – move on to the next bit that you remember. It’s very possible that the part you’ve forgotten will come back to you later and you can always work it in at that point.

      Good luck!

  14. Wow! This was a thorough discussion. I’m reading up on your posts as I’m stuck at the airport in Madrid for a couple of hours 🙂

    I just wanted to add: My personal reflection is that I still haven’t come across an interpreter who isn’t curious – curious about how things work, interested in other people, wanting to learn new things. Isn’t this what actually helps building your knowledge base. If you actually WANT to know how things work/fits together/affect etc, your general knowledge follows as a freebie.

    • Hi Tulkur,

      I just whizzed through Barajas myself on a very tight connection – all the flights are delayed tonight, typical for a Friday :).

      Thanks for this comment, and the other one on alinguals, too. I will reply to it when I have more time and am at a real computer. One problem with WordPress is it lets you send email replies only to pre-approved commenters, so I can’t reply immediately to all the comments that come in. But your alingual point is a good one and worth looking at more closely.

      Thanks also for the links to other resources! Have a good weekend, hope you get home okay …

      Enviado desde mi BlackBerry

  15. Pingback: C is for … – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part II) « The Interpreter Diaries

    • Thanks, Alexander! I still have my old copy on my shelf – about 15 years out of date :(. I also had some books with names like “L’Europe des 15” and that sort of thing, which I didn’t add to my list of recommendations – wonder why? 😉

      • Hello, my name is Adam McNally and I currently studying conference interpretation in the UK. During my childhood I lived in the Czech Republic and therefore am fluent in Czech and Slovak and am studying Spanish and Polish. As I couldn’t find any courses that taught Czech, I opted for studying conference interpreting from Spanish to English and vice versa. I would be interested in finding out whether I will be able to work with Czech, Slovak and Polish in my future career, despite not having an interpretation degree in those languages?
        Thanks for your reply.

      • Hi Adam,

        Thanks for your question, and my apologies for taking so long to reply – blame the summer slowdown!

        Most interpreters do their initial training with a limited combination and then expand on it over their course of their career, so it’s quite feasible that you could train with SpanishEnglish and then add other languages to your combination later. However, you will most likely find that you have to do additional, language-specific training/practice in order to add these other languages to your repertoire.

        Hope this helps!


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  20. Dear Michelle,

    I’ve really enjoyed following your blog!

    I just wanted to ask how you find time to read all the newspapers in all of your languages? I’m currently in France working on my French and find it hard to keep up with the British and French press, let alone the German and Russian press. How do you manage?

    Also, another question that is somewhat unrelated to this post: do you recommend doing an interpreting course asap, or do you think it’s better to get a bit more life experience and to work on my general knowledge? My languages are already at a very high standard; I feel as though it’s just the gaps in my knowledge that would be a hindrance.


    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comments, and your interest in ths blog.

      I think everyone finds their own way to keep up with the headlines in their various languages. Personally, I tend to get the daily news in Spanish and English, whether online or on the evening radio or TV coverage here in Spain, or whatever. I usually buy a weekly news magazine such as the Economist or Der Spiegel whenever I’m at the airport. The monthly Courrier International and Le Monde Diplomatique (also available at most airports) cover my French. And in hotels, I try to alternate between all the TV news channels: Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, English, whatever they’ve got. I’ve only got one paper subscription, and that’s my dear Scientific American, which I read during takeoff and landing when all the gadgets have to be turned off ;).

      As for the idea of waiting before studying interpreting, why not check out these posts and then decide:

      Good luck!

      • Thanks for your reply! I see. So it’s not like you sit down and read newspapers for three hours straight a day?

        Thanks for the link but I don’t speak Spanish – at least not yet, anyway.

      • No, I most certainly don’t! 😉 But I think most interpreters are “information sponges” – they just soak up everything that comes at them, whatever the source (and language). And it all adds up in the end. This is sort of related to your other point about whether you should wait before studying interpreting: the longer you wait, the more time you will have had to develop a strong knowledge base. But of course, it’s up to you to decide the best time to study!

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