Anthony Glass (MA, Conference Interpretation) started his interpreting career in the Netherlands with minimal interpreting qualifications. Now he is a professional conference interpreter based in Basel, Switzerland, and is awaiting confirmation of his membership of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). The illustration shows him (left) whispering to a client during an assignment.
Q: Anthony, how did you become an interpreter?
A: It was about 15 years ago. I was living in the Netherlands, but had grown up in Switzerland speaking (Swiss) German and English. I had completed an MA in English and Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam. At the time, court interpreters were still mostly recruited by the courts themselves. The court asked me to do an evening course with SIGV in Utrecht for certification, but that was the only formal requirement. I also worked for one of the big recruitment agencies. One day, I just went to their office and told them I would like to work for them. They signed me on without many formalities. Anyone can call themselves an “interpreter”, after all, since it is not a regulated profession.
Q: What did you learn on the evening course for the court?
I remember doing a lot of role-playing. We had two very committed teachers who were active court interpreters themselves. They exposed us to different situations from real life in order for us to become more confident and fluent in our delivery. However, I seem to recall that most of our practice was about consecutive interpretation only, while actual courtroom situations always involved a lot of whispering, too. It was great to be able to practice in safe surroundings, however – in real life, it was basically sink or swim since proper training for interpreters did not seem to be a top priority. I also appreciated the opportunity to get to know colleagues and do some networking.
Q: You have since obtained an MA in Conference Interpretation from Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland, and you are currently awaiting the confirmation of your membership of AIIC, the international body representing top-notch conference interpreters worldwide.
A: Yes, that’s right. I would have liked to continue my training even while I was still in the Netherlands, but there was no university-level training available. I obtained my Master’s degree following my move back to Switzerland.
Q: Was there anything you learned during your studies that you would have liked to have known during your early career?
A: It would have been great to know about the specific note-taking technique used by professional conference interpreters for consecutive interpretation. This would have been very useful in the courtroom. Moreover, the extensive training in simultaneous interpretation that I got in Switzerland would have been a great asset, too. Actually, it’s a pity that it is so difficult to convey to clients what the difference is between an excellent, a mediocre and a downright bad interpreting performance. But the degree of training someone has obtained is a good gauge of quality.
Q: What are your feelings about the future of our profession?
With regard to the Netherlands, I hear from former colleagues that the privatization of the court interpreting market has brought about a deterioration of the working conditions and interpreting fees. That is very regrettable, but unfortunately not unexpected. Another matter is the mandatory points system for lifelong learning that has been introduced for interpreters. (Note of the editor: this does not apply to conference interpreters.) In my opinion, while such a system might be a good idea in and of itself, it should not result in a situation where the primary focus is on sustaining a whole secondary industry of education service providers. Rather, it should serve the interpreters in their efforts to gain additional skills.
Learn more about how to become a conference interpreter here.
If you read Dutch, you can find out more about the difference between court and conference interpreters here.