Do you really need interpreter training? A few reasons for not closing the Interpreting MA at the University of Westminster, UK

Bilinguals interpret all the time, for friends, family and others in need. Children who have grown up bilingually are used to interpreting. And since everybody is learning English nowadays anyway, why bother to train new generations of interpreters?

I’m not sure whether this was the way the University of Westminster reasoned when they decided to close down their MA in conference interpreting.

This is a course that has a long, and well-founded good reputation. It was established in 1963 (at the Polytechnic of Central London), actually one of my colleagues went there in those early years. Since then the school has produced many more colleagues working for the EU institutions of course, but also for the UN and even Canadian governement. Other than Swedish and English booth they have also trained colleagues for the French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian, Irish, Maltese, Russian and Chinese booths.

In the announcement from the University it says that the interpreting course

is a well-respected course that has been recognised by the EMCI, AIIC, the EU and the UN in various ways for the quality of its graduates. The closure of the course is not a decision that has been taken lightly and it has not been taken because of any quality, teaching, management or recruitment problems.

OK, so a good course, highly reputable. One of the oldest interpreting trainings in Europe. No problem when it comes to applicants, management of quality and yet it has to close down. Why?

Well, it’s not making enough money…

English interpreters are soon a scarcity. The European Union, for instance, fears that it will not be able to cover their need for interpretation into English in 5 to 10 years. Fewer and fewer people with English mother tongue learn foreign languages and therefore the access to people who can even be considered to become interpreters is decreasing. And on top of that, Westminster chooses to close down a good, well-functioning interpreting school.

So, I guess that since the school is not making enough money, we’ll just go back and rely on people who grew up bilingually and who probably learnt the trade when they were in diapers. Or, hey, maybe language students can do it as a student job, that way they can exercise their languages as well. I would like to quote my colleague Victoria who blogs at when she speaks about growing up bilingual:

And if you were “born” with two languages it’s even better, then you know everything, don’t you? Personally, I remember how my dad always used to talked about things like “enter into force”, “temporary asylum accommodation”, “tarsus”, “fenced pasture”, “percutaneous coronary intervention”, “the Administrative Procedure Act” and similar words, when I was a little girl. The languages ??just came flying at me, of course it was completely effortless.

Interpreting is a highly qualified job. Future conference interpreters are screened for interpreting aptitude, they have to pass entrance tests covering both language skills and general culture. It helps to have grown up bilingual, but it’s far from enough. After that they are trained in different interpreting techniques. If you have the language skills and interpreting aptitude it takes at least a year and you’re probably better off with a two-year-course. Despite language skills, aptitude and training there is still a high level of failure at the final exam. Between 50 and 70 % of the canditates make it to a diploma.

Unfortunately, very few community interpreters are screened and trained in the same way, I believe they should be, because their work is just as, if not even more, important.

And in a time where there is a growing lack of interpreters with English mother tongue, an increasing need for upholding standards and every reason to boost and improve our interpreting training programs; The University of Westminster chooses to close down one of the oldest and most well-reputed interpreting schools. It is a shame!

If you want to have your say on the closure of Westminster’s interpreting course you can do it here.

You can also read what other bloggers have to say about this at Bootheando, Interpreting Diaries, Traducción e investigación, Aventuras de una traductora-intérprete en Madrid and Dos Palabras.


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