Earning an Interpreter Degree
Earning an interpreter degree, along with having experience, are the two best ways to demonstrate your interpretation skills to potential employers.
Gaining the requisite interpretation experience takes some effort as well as some luck, but if you've got the time and money, earning an interpretation degree can also be a great way to further your interpreting career.
While there aren't thousands of schools out there that offer interpreter-specific degrees like with other degrees, there are some very good resources that potential interpreters can access which can give them a great head start on earning a degree that will help them further their interpretation career.
One thing to understand about getting an interpreter degree, though, is that even if a school has a dedicated degree program for translators, it might not necessarily have one for interpretation. Brigham Young University is a great example of this.
I earned my undergraduate degree at BYU in Spanish Translation, which worked great for me; however, there was no equivalent degree program for interpretation, which was too bad considering the number of people at BYU interested in foreign language career fields.
There might be a few different explanations for this, but I think it probably most likely has to do with the fact that there are less professional interpreters than translators. So while it might be less of a problem to find a professor knowledgeable about translation and the requisite skills to become a translator, it would be much tougher to find a professor to teach the same classes for interpretation.
Another reason might be that a large portion of interpreters are either employed as state or federal interpreters, or as medical interpreters. And both of these interpreter fields have their own certificate programs and don't require interpreters that have graduated from universities with interpreter-related degrees.
As such, there are not many schools in the U.S. that offer these types of degrees; however, on the plus side, the one school in the United States that is well-known for its language program is a very good school that has prepared both translators and interpreters to work in a wide variety of language positions.
This school is the Monterey Institute of International Studies, or MIIS.
MIIS is located in Monterey, California, and is well-known as one of the top graduate schools in the world in interpretation. It is famous throughout the world for producing graduates in all areas of translation and interpretation.
While many colleges and universities only offer a general translation or interpretation degree, MIIS allows its students to specialize in one of many different areas. And what's great is that MIIS is really a breeding ground for interpreters that go on to work at major international venues like the United Nations or European Commission, which is the goal of many of the students that undertake interpretation degrees at MIIS.
I'm not a graduate of the school, but did visit the campus one summer as part of a language study program, and one of the things I liked most about MIIS was its status as strictly a graduate school. There are no undergraduate degrees available.
This is nice because it means that the people there are really interested in furthering their education and the professors and administration more efficiently focus their energy on the needs of the graduate students, something which doesn't tend to happen at other universities that are more focused on catering to the needs of the undergraduate majority.
Schools Outside the U.S.
As I alluded to above, if you want an interpreter degree from a school in the United States, you don't have much of a choice, unless what you're interested in is an interpreter certificate in medical interpretation or court interpretation.
However, if you're outside the U.S., or are willing to travel to get a degree, you're in luck, as there are some quality schools all over the world that offer interpreter degrees, everywhere from Brisbane, Australia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
But rather than list all of the schools here, instead I'd like to point out a pretty good online resource you can use to find these schools.
And that website is AAIC.net, home to the International Association of Conference Interpreters. AAIC bills itself "as the only global association of conference interpreters" and represents thousands of interpreters in over a hundred different countries. Not only does AAIC provide all kinds of resources for conference interpreters, but also tries to set standards for the conference interpreting profession.
Membership isn't just open to anyone with some money to spend. You have to be peer-nominated in order to be considered for membership, but if you do become a member, you can expect to have access to some valuable networking circles and other resources.
One of the great resources that AAIC provides free to anyone, though, is a list of schools around the world that offer degrees in interpreting. In order to be listed in the directory, the school has to meet certain minimum requirements outlined by AAIC, so you can be sure that the schools have some standard of quality.
The AAIC school finder allows you to search either by language pair or where in the world you want to have your language training.
You can also search all the entries by not filling in any of the fields, which I recently did, and pulled up a total of 56 schools. Each entry shows the name of the training institute, the program title and type, how many semesters the training program takes, and the location of the program.
You can then get more information by clicking on the individual school you are interested in, such as admission requirements, information about the courses, exams and test procedures, and language pairs taught.
It really is a great resource for those interested in earning an interpreter degree.