Portrait of a Conference Interpreting Course

This week, classes started on the Master’s in Conference Interpreting at the University of La Laguna. By now, students will have received the course outline and schedule, met their fellow students and some of their teachers, and will have a rough idea of what to expect over the next nine months.

Since the next several entries in my blog are going to discuss various aspects of interpreter training using mainly this course as my reference, I thought it might be useful to share some of this basic information with my readers. What I’m going to do today is offer a general outline of the Master’s in Conference Interpreting (or MIC, as we like to call it). This “portrait” of the course will be more like a pencil sketch than a full-blown, life-sized portrayal, but my intention will be to add colour and detail to this sketch over the next few months.

The MIC started this past Monday and will run for 33 weeks, stopping only for Christmas, Easter and a couple of bank holidays. The first four weeks will be dedicated exclusively to memory exercises, after which there will be a five-week introductory module for consecutive interpreting. The introduction to simultaneous technique comes in the last week of November, and from then on classes will alternate between consecutive and simultaneous technique. The (non-eliminatory) mid-term exams for consecutive are held in February and the mid-terms for simultaneous are scheduled for April. The finals will be held in the first week of June.

Each week, a different topic will be the focus of the speeches and exercises given in class. This is to help students broaden their general knowledge and learn preparation and terminology-building skills. Topics range from such “light” matters as tourism, education or culture in the first few weeks to the “heavier” fields of science and technology, energy, trade, fisheries and agriculture nearer to the end of the course.

Every year, the MIC also includes a trip to Brussels to visit the EU institutions, student mobility exchanges with other Master’s courses in Europe, and classes and lectures by visiting trainers from the EU, UN and private markets.

A Week in the Life of the MIC

Classes on the MIC run from Monday to Friday, starting each day around 9 a.m. and running until lunchtime (which in Spain means around 2 p.m.). An average week will include classes in consecutive and simultaneous technique from all of the students’ passive languages into their active languages, as well as a lecture on the European institutions (first term) or Economics (second term). This year, I will also be running a monthly lecture series that I launched last year which looks at different aspects of the theory and practice of interpreting (you will be hearing more about that in future posts, I can assure you!).

Afternoons will generally be spent on self-study, either individually or in groups. This will be guided by teachers in the beginning, but students will increasingly be responsible for organising this self-study on their own.

The Student Body

The MIC generally accepts 16 to 20 of the 100-odd candidates who apply to attend the course in any given year. This year, there will be 19 students. The majority of students at the MIC work in the Spanish booth, but other booths (such as English, German and Italian) have also been trained at the MIC. This time around is no exception: I will have four English booth students to work with (picture Michelle rubbing her hands in anticipation)!

The passive languages offered on the course vary from year to year and depend on the students’ language combinations. This time, we will have German, French, Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and Greek; in other editions, the MIC has covered passive Polish, Slovene, Dutch, Danish, Czech and others.

An interesting note: the vast majority of students on conference interpreting courses are women, but this year there will be five men on the MIC, which means they will represent more than 25% of the total. That’s got to be some sort of record! Without wanting to reveal any personal details of individual students, I will add that the age range for this crop of students is between 22 and 41, with five students over the age of 30 (if you’re wondering why this matters, read this post I wrote on when to study). Also, the academic backgrounds of three of the students are in fields other than language studies or translation/interpreting.

One Portrait Among Many

Now that I’ve told you about the Master’s in Conference Interpreting at the University of La Laguna, I want to hear from you about other training courses. I know many of my readers either study or teach on similar courses around the world, or have done so in the past, and what I would like to know is what those courses are like. As you were reading the above description, what did you notice was the same as or different from the way things are done on your course? Please share your observations in the blog comments section below (or on my Facebook page, if you prefer).

On a related note, Lourdes, the conference interpreter responsible for the video series on interpreting to be found on YouTube at Lourdesaib, just recently interviewed one of the senior instructors on the MIC. Here’s the video, for those readers who might have missed it:

13 thoughts on “Portrait of a Conference Interpreting Course

  1. Hello! I’ve just graduated from a postgraduate in Conference Interpreting in Brussels. Our classes began the last week op September and end in May. The hours were not fixed and could vary very often (from 8.30 AM until 18.30 PM). We started the first semester (until Christmas) with both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting into our mother tongue (Dutch) but also the retour (we had to practice both; in my case French and Spanish). This was very hard because both languages have similarities but also many differences and the ‘faux amis’ are everywhere! Just like the students of the university of La Laguna we had to prepare each week different subjects, but not in order of difficulty: finance, economics, EU institutions, fisheries, agriculture, millennium development goals, politics, etc. Active or passive practice was offered outside the university (Benelux, BPost, European commission, the Belgian Chamber, etc.). The second semester we had to choose which language we wanted to work on as our B-language (which means we have to take for the external jury in May). From then on classes get focused on that retour until the one and only exam in May. An advantage at the university of La Laguna is in my opinion that they have study afternoons and the fact that they do everything step by step.. So far my comment 🙂

    • Hi Nathalie, and thanks for being the first to jump into the ring ;).

      Is that the course at the ISTI or the Marie Haps you are describing? Wait a minute, you said you were working into Dutch, and I don’t know if those courses only work into French or not… Anyway, it was very interesting to read your description. I hope to hear about more courses from other readers!

  2. Hi again 🙂 no it’s not at Marie Haps. I’ve studied at the HUB (which stands for Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel). We work into French, but those are our retour classes. At Marie-Haps they only work into French.. 🙂

  3. Interesting as usual. In Stockholm we’ve just kicked off the now two year master of interpreting. When we had to deal with Bologna adaptation we decided to extend out conference interpreting course from one year to two years. We are keeping the same amount of teaching hours, but spread them over two years. The students can choose if they want to do a full Master and will then also take academic topics and write a thesis or a “professional” master with only the interpreting part. In hours this means that we now have interpreting classes Wed-Fri instead of all week. We hope that this will have two benefits: 1) Students who do not pass the practical interpreting test can go for the theoretical MA in Translation Studies instead. 2) There will be more time for students to practice and hopefully for interpreting techniques to settle.

    Having said all this, the program in Stockholm is practically identical to the one at La Laguna, trip to Brussels included. If I understand it correctly you also teach A-C-C and no B-language?

    We only have Swedish A though, no other booths.

    • Thanks for the comments. It will be interesting to see how many of your students end up opting for the full M.A. with the thesis and all. We had that option at Westminster in the year I did it, as well – and I ended up being one of only three students (of a total of 27 who started the course and 11 who passed the finals) who chose to do the theoretical component and write a thesis at the end for extra credit. Will this be the first year you offer this, or has it been done before?

      And to answer your question, the ULL does sometimes allow students to prepare a B for the final if they show that they have their A+Cs under control, but it is more of an exception than the rule. And of those who do try to take a B, very few end up passing it. We tend to try to focus on making sure they leave the course with a degree under their arm – the minimum requirements for that are one A plus at least two Cs, and anything above and beyond that is bonus. Of course, students are free to expand their combination in the years after graduation – and they are actively encouraged to do so!

      • Yes, this is the first year. So we are very curious as to how this will work out. Basically, it has to one way or the other “thanks” to Bologna. But obviously we would prefer that it turns out to be an improvement. I should have said that we don’t offer B either. I was just curious to know how other schools feel about it.

        I have tried to encourage our school to teach a B-program as a graduate course, but people are reluctant to do so, basically I think because then you have to get in there and critisize and discuss you colleagues performance.

  4. In Ljubljana, classes will start next week and last until end of May, final exams normally take place end of June. In the past years, the programme was not so well defined – contentwise, and was left to professors’ choice (only some guidelines, but not setting specific subjects for each week or so…). Which I hope will change eventually (and I will try to pass this idea on). Some theoretical subjects (interpreting, EU) are included in the first semester. We have a few PA visits throughout the year (usually from the European Commission) and there is a trip to Brussels, too. Regarding languages, we now offer only A-C-C with a few introductory hours to retour interpreting (usually English, as you cannot avoid it if working as a freelance on the market). C-languages vary according to the students who pass the entry exam, usually English, German, French; this year I hear we will also have Italian. The number of students is relatively small compared to your courses, usually from 5 to max 10. Of and yes, after the Bologna changes, the MA course lasts 2 years, but the first one is more dedicated to theory, reinforcing languages and some translation, while intepreting is done only in the second year and the thesis is obligatory…

    • Will you be teaching in Ljubljana this year? Then say hi to Jasmina and Andreja from me :). Andreja is a former student of mine at the ULL who gamely agreed to tutor me in Croatian in her spare time – if I understand anything on my trips to the Balkans, it is thanks to her! 🙂

      She did mention to me once that the class size in Ljubljana was much smaller than what we’re used to here. Lucky you!

      Enviado desde mi BlackBerry

      • Well, I will be helping out more as a backup not to lose classes when “proper” trainers go to Brussels or other work assignements, and doing some of my research work for the PhD. Monday we’re having a meeting so if I see them I will pass on the greetings! 😉
        Croatian – that’s cool! Maybe another language to add after the Portugese 😉 Yes, you can speak one of our Balkan languages and understand/be understood practically everywhere!

      • Croatian came before Portuguese, actually, but I gave up on it when my first was born – suddenly had no free time on my hands, strangely enough ;)… I have never been to Slovenia, only to the Croatian-Bosnian-Serbian speaking parts. But I hope to change that soon!

  5. I did my MA in Strasbourg, and it was a 2 year program. For M1 the CI students had a tronc commun with the translation students, which allowed them to get a M2 in translation if they didn’t pass into M2 for conference interpreting. M1 was just sight translation and consec, and in about October of M2 we started sim.

    Languages really vary from one group to the next, sometimes everyone is a French A, sometimes there are three or four different A languages. In M2 we started with different topics- the environment, military, research and development, health, technology, etc… We had a set schedule but never once did we follow it as the professors were all working.

    There are B languages but the standards are relatively high so the focus is really on getting a M2 with your A and C languages. In addition to interpreting courses, in M2 we had to take current events in English, French for French speakers or for foreigners, and law. Though it varies depending on the group’s language combinations, the focus was definitely on the EU/Council of Europe market and French private market.


  6. Pingback: Aspiring Interpreters: Where Will You Be Next Fall? | The Interpreter Diaries

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