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EU bubble: Milota Hudecová-Westerbeek, an interpreter for the European Parliament

17:29 05/11/2018
We meet Czech-Slovak interpreter Milota Hudecová-Westerbeek to find out more about what her job involves

The languages I work in are English, German, Spanish, Dutch and Czech; I interpret from these languages into Slovak and sometimes from Slovak into English. We work in short blocks – usually we take it in turns to interpret for 20 minutes at a time – because there’s so much concentration needed and you can get tired easily. You have to work in a team and help your colleagues.

Interpreting is the main part of our work, of course, but we don’t spend 40 hours a week in the booth, that wouldn’t be possible. On top of the actual interpretation, the job includes things like preparing for meetings, travelling on missions, training, learning new languages, and administrative tasks such as coaching students and taking part in selection boards.

Some of the meetings we cover are more technical than others. There are general ones, talking about policies in general, but then you get hearings with experts giving presentations, and that can be challenging when the language is very specific. You have a mute button in the booth, in case you need to speak to your colleagues to check a word or a number or a name, but it’s very rare that there’s something you really can’t decipher. If you get it wrong, you have to apologise and correct it. But I don’t think we’ve ever caused a war from interpreting something wrong!

To qualify, you have to pass a test in two kinds of interpreting. One is consecutive interpreting, where someone reads a text and then you read it out in another language, then there is simultaneous interpretation, where you interpret someone’s words as they are speaking. For the first type, if you’re accompanying ministers on missions, you are also kind of representing that person. It suits someone who is confident, who likes to be in the spotlight.

For me that’s too much stress; I prefer working in the booth. Sometimes I feel like I’m performing, but I prefer not to think of people listening to me as that can be distracting. I focus on speaking as if to nobody, then I’m really calm and can focus on the job.

This article first appeared in The Bulletin spring 2018