A day in the life of a conference interpreter

An illustration in three acts.


  • The day usually begins the evening before when you make your final preparations and lay out everything on your desk or dresser for the next morning or, if working away from home, when you arrive at the hotel, check on colleagues and get the conference documents. Set your own alarm clock wherever you are as hotel systems are not always reliable.
  • Wake up, allow yourself one delicious stretch in bed and then hit the shower. Go easy on the perfume/aftershave as you’ll be working in a confined space. Go down to breakfast and exchange the latest information with colleagues.
  • Make sure you’ve got everything you need for the meeting: contract, city map, paper, pens and documents. Set out in good time if you don’t know your way around.
  • Buy a newspaper on the way to work – most interpreters are news junkies. You never know when a delegate will refer to a breaking story.
  • At work, locate the booths, greet colleagues and introduce yourself to the technician.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with the equipment: turning the mike on and off, using the cough button, operating the relays. Locate a discreet route to the toilets.
  • Now concentrate: it’s not about words...
  • Relax and take a deep breath before your turn on the mike.


  • Lunchtime. Thank the German booth for the excellent relay from Dutch. Take the opportunity to disconnect. Some people enjoy having lunch with colleagues, other prefer to be alone and escape into a book.
  • Get some much-needed fresh air and gentle exercise by taking a walk.
  • Clear up questions arising from the meeting with colleagues. Interpreting is team work. Check your email.


  • Back to work. You have to sympathise with the first speaker after lunch, addressing post-prandial delegates. They call it the “graveyard slot”.
  • Listen, concentrate, think, and speak. Whilst speaking, listen, concentrate and think. A challenging intellectual loop.
  • The meeting ends.
  • Pack up.
  • Say goodbye to your colleagues, thank the technician and the colleague who recruited you.
  • Get home safely.
  • Then enjoy some restorative silence to de-clutter your brain.
  • Time to pack again, but will it be hot or cold where you’re going? Don’t forget your toilet bag or alarm clock this time.
  • Check your ticket, book a cab to the airport for the morning.
  • Make sure you’ve got your conference file ready. And your keys, book, laptop, mobile phone. Leave a contact number for the family to reach you.


  • So, what did they talk about in the meeting today?
  • You know I can’t tell you.
  • Is it a secret?
  • Well, it was a private meeting by invitation only. It was their business, nobody else’s.
  • And who was there?
  • Well, isn’t it your turn to get dinner?

Recommended citation format:
VEGA Network. "A day in the life of a conference interpreter". aiic.net January 25, 2005. Accessed July 3, 2020. <http://aiic.net/p/1670>.

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