A Week in the Life of an MCI – Master’s In Conference Interpreting Candidate

Greetings from the Glendon campus in Toronto! I’m currently waiting for my News Class to begin. Winter is fast approaching over here and each sunny day could be the last. So I’m taking advantage of the unseasonably gorgeous weather, sitting outside the cafeteria at a picnic table overlooking a flower garden.

Eleven may be a good number, but how about thirteen?

We are already in our fourth week here at the Master’s in Conference Interpreting (MCI) program, and I’m starting to develop a routine. Kind of. Actually, not really, because I still don’t know 100% what my schedule is. I am currently enrolled in eleven classes. I’m not kidding. Eleven. (That’s not counting the two classes I’ve chosen to audit because I’m crazy.) There are twelve people in my cohort, including four Mandarin interpreters, two Portuguese, three Spanish and three French. I’ve gotten used to hearing conversations in four different languages simultaneously.

When Drones Affect the Stock Market

A typical week starts with our class in Finance Interpreting. We’ve been assigned a textbook used by students at the Harvard Business School. Yikes! The class is online, and our teacher, from LA, always starts exactly on time. He begins the evening with a rapid-paced look at the latest trending tickers. Which stocks are up? Which are down, and why? Two weeks ago, our class happened to take place on the strangest stock market day he had ever seen. At the very top of the trending tickers, one would ordinarily expect to find a company like Google. Instead, it was a commodity that dominated the stock market that day: Oil. Oil prices had soared, following the drone attacks that put half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production out of commission.

Story-book Heroes vs Vicarious Trauma

We learned more about the airstrikes the following day in News Class, during which our teacher bombarded us with questions about what was happening all over the world. We don’t exactly get in trouble if we don’t know the answers, but we are all perfectionists and plus, our teacher gives us points when we answer correctly. I’ve been doing my best to keep up with the news, and I have to say it’s pretty depressing: Our environment is on the brink of collapse, children are dying from poverty, malnutrition, and violence, and they just discovered a school full of boys in chains in Nigeria. I asked my teacher today how she handles hearing about all the wars and conflicts in the world, and she said, “Think about it like a story-book hero suffering. There won’t be an unhappy ending. If it’s unhappy, it’s not the end.” I’m going to try to keep this optimistic perspective because if I want to interpret for world leaders one day, I’m going to have to understand what they are talking about.

Once Again: Its the Message, not the Words

Our whole group meets weekly for one more class: Simultaneous Interpreting one week, Consecutive the next. Of course, I have experience with both of these modes, but conference interpreting is a different beast entirely. We are encouraged to let entire sentences go by in simultaneous so that we can distance ourselves from the original and truly reformulate. There isn’t such a huge emphasis on reproducing every last hedge or repeating every last adjective like in court interpreting. On the flip side, perfect delivery is a must. We have to be confident and expressive. We must eliminate language interference completely. In essence, we should sound better than the original.

We Believe Practice Makes Perfect

Our language-specific groups meet on their own, too. I have classes from French into English, Spanish into English, and English into Spanish. (I’m auditing French into Spanish, and English into French, just for fun.) We work with speeches produced by ourselves and our teachers. Then, just to show us how terrifying real-life conference interpreting will be, we work speeches given by leaders around the world. Weekends are reserved for practicing until I can practice no more.

But We Are Not Done Yet

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a typical week in the life of the Year Two MCI graduate student. But of course, not all weeks are so typical! Once a month, professors from Brussells, Strasbourg, the Canary Islands and more, travel to Glendon. They spend six hours a day coaching us through various techniques and skills and once their classes are done for the day…we have our regular classes. So yes. My brain is a teensy bit burnt. See you next month!


Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash


Portrait of Athena Matilsky

Athena Matilsky fell in love with Spanish the year she turned 16. She chose it as her major at Rutgers University and selected a focus in translation and interpreting. After graduation, she taught elementary school in Honduras and then returned home to begin freelancing as a medical and court interpreter. She has since achieved certifications as a Healthcare Interpreter and a Federal Court Interpreter. She was the recent editor-in-chief of Proteus. Currently, she works as a freelance interpreter/translator and trains candidates privately for the state and federal interpreting exams. When she is not writing or interpreting, you may find her practicing acroyoga or studying French. Website: https://athenaskyinterpreting.wordpress.com/ You can read other pieces by Athena by clicking here.

6 Comments
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 14:56h, 04 October Reply

    I am in awe of what you just described. Really??? What a great experience! Congratulations on enduring, succeeding and thriving. GO ATHENA!

    • Lizette Odfalk
      Posted at 21:40h, 04 October Reply

      Congrats! Great article Athena!

  • Susana Gee
    Posted at 22:33h, 04 October Reply

    Athena, as always, you amaze your readers

  • Marcela Roggero
    Posted at 06:36h, 06 October Reply

    Thank you for sharing this experience!!

  • Salaheldin Idris
    Posted at 02:29h, 07 October Reply

    good lesson for both experienced interpreters and novice ones. The article is short but I learned from it a lot. I am court interpreter
    but I see my self as real future conference interpreter. in brief your article opened my eyes to read and research more about my tiny steps for being one in the near future. Good luck I wish you the best.

  • Athena Matilsky
    Posted at 19:41h, 07 October Reply

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and your encouragement! I’m glad you enjoy reading about my journey. It helps me to talk about it, too. 🙂

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