The Birth of a Profession

This book maps the adventure of turning a trade into a genuine profession: The first sixty years of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC).

À gauche: Les interprètes sont dans ce qu’ils appelaient « l’aquarium » pendant le procès de Nuremberg. À droite: Une réunion du Parlement européen à Bruxelles - Les interprètes disposent dans leurs cabines de toutes les technologies modernes.
Photo credits: National Archives, College Park, MD, USA. Direction générale de l’interprétation et des conférences, Parlement européen.

There have always been interpreters; interpreting has even been called the world's second oldest profession. But conference interpreting is relatively new. It is generally thought to have developed towards the end of World War I. French had served for centuries as the international language of diplomacy (it took over from Latin), but at the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles the British, and in particular the American statesmen, could not speak French and so they called for two official languages - French and English. Interpreters were not simple language intermediaries between two people, but fully-fledged participants who took the floor to repeat in the second language what had been said in the other. When done within a conference structure, this activity was called conference interpretation.

In the early days it was done in consecutive mode, most particularly at the League of Nations. But at the Nuremberg Trial it was done in simultaneous; with more than two official languages consecutive was hard to manage. For the same reasons the United Nations and other organizations followed suit. Simultaneous interpreting required a great number of practitioners, and this brought a growing need to organize the profession. After local initiatives, particularly in Geneva and London, a small group led by Constantin Andronikof created the International Association of Conference Interpreters on 11 November 1953 in Paris. This was a bold undertaking that some thought was bound to fail, but it was a success. Andronikof's idea was very original: it was to be a worldwide Association (with 33 founding members this was something of a challenge) that would establish ethical standards and working conditions for the profession, and bring together freelances and staff interpreters. Interpreters would be individual members of the central organization, unlike most international associations which were federations of national bodies.

This book recounts the fascinating adventure of turning a trade into a genuine profession.


The History Group will launch the book officially during AIIC's 60th anniversary celebrations organized by the French region on 14 December 2013 at UNESCO in Paris, where AIIC was founded on 11 November 1953.

The book is on sale in French since 4 November 2013 and can be obtained from the AIIC secretariat (an English version will be planned for 2015).

You may place an order now by sending a message to

Price: EUR 19 OR CHF 20 (postage included)

Banking instructions: IBAN: CH58 0024 0240 2106 5400 Y, SWIFT: UBSWCHZH80A, UBS (8 rue du Rhône, CH–1211 Geneva 2)

Recommended citation format:
AIIC History Group. "The Birth of a Profession". October 30, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2019. <>.

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Christopher THIERY


I would like to thank Julia Antony for raising an issue that, I must confess, I never paid much attention to : interpretation or interpreting.

The fact is that in the early days, AIIC was very much a francophone organisation, being born (in 1953) and bred in Paris to mainly French-speaking parents. The basic texts were all first drafted and published in French. The English translations came a little later: the Code of Ethics and the Yearbook in 1962. The more formal “interpretation” was of course used throughout. I have no recollection of any discussion on the “interpretation/interpreting” issue. Logically, “interpreting” is the action, “interpretation” the result, but admittedly the distinction is often blurred. I can see Vincent’s point about reaching out to the uninitiated, although I think any official text should stick to “interpretation”.

Here I would like to make a short digression.

AIIC was by no means the only international association to start life in France and then migrate elsewhere. An astonishing number of international federations were the result of a French initiative. The French are far more internationally-minded than many people - including themselves - think. Three out of the four major international conference cities are in French-speaking countries. And the man who invented the European Union, Jean Monnet, was very French…

Christopher Thiéry

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Thank you Vincent. What do you think of the fact that many Colleagues seem to think differently and "interpretation" would be the first thing to come to mind when we speak of profession (not interpreting):

Simultaneous interpretation is like driving a car that has a steering wheel but no brakes and no reverse

Pyotr Avaliani

See also Cyril Flerov's article "Comintern...." and many others, including in the History of our profession rubrique

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Vincent Buck


@j.antony. is a website meant for the public at large, and not just practicing conference interpreters.

When we started reorganising the site around 2010 we did an in-depth content benchmark and had to conclude that the former versions of were quite jargony. On the wider web for instance, "conference interpreting" clearly prevails over "conference interpretation". The former is over 3 times more frequent than the latter.

In order for to inform about the profession, it must first be found - using Google or another search engine - by those who wish to learn more about it and so will not be familiar with - and will generally not search for - our accepted terms.

That's also the reason why you will find a few vulgarisms on, such as "spoken language translation". Their main purpose is disambiguation - both in search engine indices and for the casual reader who's just arrived on the site after clicking on some link.

After all, isn't that what "interpretation" is really about: using words that you know your target audience will understand so as to become a bridge between cultures? 

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Dear Colleagues,

I find very interesting and very important all information about history of our profession. One part of this information would be the name of our profession.

I always thought, perhaps mistakenly, that our profession was called "Conference Interpretation".  Were diplomas given in Conference Interpreting? Why do we work for Interpretation Services and not Interpreting Services (at the UN, UN Common System, EC/EU, etc.)? Why booths have been called "booths for simultaneous interpretation"(not simultaneous interpreting)? Interpreting sounds to me more like a process (like translating), and conference interpretation sounds  to me more like a profession (just like translation by contrast with translating). 

Moreover, Conference Interpretation (AIIC) seems to convey very well the difference from Conference Translation (AITC): we don't deal with written texts (except in particular circumstances), we don't craft words, we  help deleagates to communicate between themselves, and in the process, just like any person who deals with oral message, we INTERPRET what we hear, because we cannot do otherwise, we cannot go back in time to verify whether we were wrong, We work in real time, and interpretation , not translation, of the message, would be the basis of our work.

That's why I would be very grateful for any comment on why on AIIC site we see more and more of "interpreting"(as in interpreting profession, etc).

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