[Guest Post] Interpreting at the Model European Union Strasbourg
Meet Annika Schlesiger. In this guest post, she shares her experience as Assistant to the Interpreters’ Coordinator at the Model European Union Strasbourg. Read on for more.
One week in the life of an EU interpreter – only with less sleep, as I would assume. This is what we offered 36 young interpreters from all over Europe during this years’ Model European Union Strasbourg (MEUS).
The concept of Model European Unions started in 2007, with MEU Strasbourg presumably being the most prestigious one, as it takes place in the European Parliament. Each year, around 200 students and recent graduates gather for one week to simulate the decision-making process in the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, where they act as MEPs, Ministers, Chairs, Lobbyists, Journalists – and Interpreters. The simulation is based on two real-life legislative proposals from the European Commission, which the participants debate during five days in order to find a suitable compromise between the Parliament and the Council.
Every participant, except for those who receive reimbursement from the social fund, needs to pay €150 for their stay in Strasbourg. However, what they receive in return is so much more: the fee includes seven nights in the participants’ hostel, all breakfasts and lunches in the EP as well as several dinners and social events. This year, the social programme included, among other things, a Tarte Flambée all-you-can-eat evening, a Networking Night with free buffet and drinks as well as a reception at the city hall in Strasbourg.
Interpreting at MEUS
Besides lobbyists and journalists who contribute to the overall experience, just as in real life, it is the interpreters who create the true multi-lingual setting of the European Union. Although the conference would function without interpreters, as every participant is expected to speak English sufficiently well to hand in position papers and participate in the debates, all of them are encouraged to use their native language, as long as it is part of the available interpreting services. As English is the main language of the simulation, instead of having an English booth that unfortunately would remain silent most of the time, whenever their native language is spoken on the floor, the respective booth provides an English relay for the other booths as well as for the participants.
Therefore, priority in the selection process is given to young interpreters with English as their B language, who then get to practice B/C>A as well as A>B. As everyone in the organising team is well aware of the interpreters’ tough work, we try to provide them with the best possible working conditions: the interpreters get to go through the security check first in the mornings, they get to have their lunch first, speakers are repeatedly reminded by the chairs to speak slowly, to hand in their speeches beforehand and so on. Also, if the interpreters are willing to do so, chuchotage and consecutive interpreting services are offered for the participants to give the interpreters even more opportunities to practice.
Interpreter then – Organiser now
I myself participated in the role of interpreter last year. MEUS was the only opportunity I knew of that would give me 40 hours of practice in a booth before having been fully trained, and this unique experience made me want more of the EU simulation bubble, which is why I applied to become part of the organising team afterwards. Together with Sofía Sansano, also a former MEUS interpreter, I was responsible for everything related to interpreting.
The team of organisers included around 60 people and was formed in May 2017. The different fields of responsibility range from Director-Generals to Local Support Team, from Security Officer to Public Relations and Fundraising, from Participants Coordinator to Country Liaison Officers and so on. The variety and amount of tasks that need to be completed is enormous, but so was the commitment of the organising team composed of students and recent graduates from all over Europe.
During these 11 months, I learnt what it means to organise a team of interpreters. Sofía and I started by promoting the simulation among training institutions in Europe and beyond as well as professional associations. The feedback was not always positive, as some contacts initially thought we were looking for cheap interpreting services for an actual conference; we had to explain more in detail that the simulation only included interpreting as an extra to give young interpreters the opportunity to practice in a close to real-life situation, yet without any pressure.
Later, we had to go through all applications we had received (more than 160!) and together with the Participants’ Coordinator, we decided which languages would be useful for the conference in accordance with the number of native speakers that would participate as MEPs, Ministers etc. In the end, we decided on 12 languages (FR, DE, IT, ES, PL, NL, RO, SV, TR, EL, HU, CZ), which gave us the chance of inviting 36 interpreters to the conference. However, it was only after the selection process that the actual work started – our team needed to prepare thoroughly to be able to cope with the complex setting and the two proposals, so Sofía and I did our best to guide them by providing them with weekly tasks in order to find a joint step by step approach for the preparation: starting with the names and opinions of the different factions in the EP, the two proposals under discussion, the stances of different countries and factions towards the two topics, the Rules of Procedure for the simulation, the work in the booths and so on…
The work as Assistant to the Interpreters’ Coordinator was quite demanding and stressful at times, but I was more than rewarded for it by the week we all spent together in Strasbourg. Seeing 36 young interpreters do such an impressive job inside and outside of the booths was worth every hour we had spent on their selection and preparation. Also, I enjoyed giving all participants the chance to learn what it means to work with interpreters and hopefully make them understand the benefits of working with them; after all, they might be our future clients one day.
As you might be able to tell by now, I consider Model European Union Strasbourg a fantastic opportunity to practice interpreting while being at one of the most impressive venues of the European Union and having a blast with 200 young people from all over Europe after the work is done!