CAREER GUIDE Friday, November 8, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Interpreters — a highly paid elite
Pervin Malhotra
ou are sitting in a wired sound-proof booth at the United Nations headquarters listening intently through your headphones and simultaneously conveying the proceedings of the hotly raging debate on the CTBT issue in the UN. It is India against the rest of the world....This is just one of the scenarios you could find yourself in if you specialise as an interpreter in a foreign language.

  • Essential qualities

  • Ad hoc or liaison interpreters

  • Job prospects

  • Where to study




Interpreters — a highly paid elite
Pervin Malhotra

You are sitting in a wired sound-proof booth at the United Nations headquarters listening intently through your headphones and simultaneously conveying the proceedings of the hotly raging debate on the CTBT issue in the UN. It is India against the rest of the world....This is just one of the scenarios you could find yourself in if you specialise as an interpreter in a foreign language.

An interpreter’s job is one of the most highly paid and also the most difficult to qualify and train for. The work mainly lies in translating spoken communication as against the written material which is the domain of the translator. The interpreter’s challenge lies in getting the real meaning and essence of what is being said in one language across to those listening in another, while retaining the flavour and nuances of the original.

There are two basic kinds of interpretation: Simultaneous and Consecutive. In simultaneous interpretation, the speech is translated as it is delivered whereas in the latter, the interpreter takes notes while the person is speaking and then, after each statement, translates the message in full into the other language.

Conference interpreting requires simultaneous interpretation and demands a very high degree of linguistic proficiency. Conference interpreters are a very small, highly paid elite. The number of languages required varies — it is possible to work as a conference interpreter with only one foreign language, but the widest choice of work is available to those who can offer three foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue. There is comparatively less demand for interpreters trained in non-European languages, though the demand for major Asian languages, especially Japanese, is increasing.

However, the only full-time jobs in conference interpreting are with international organisations such as the UN, FAO, etc. To qualify as an interpreter with the United Nations calls for proficiency in more than one foreign language. The UN has six official languages. You can apply for the job on successful completion of the Simultaneous Interpretation Course from either of the schools at Geneva or France. At the UN, interpreters are recruited through an individual examination and usually work for six months in a year.

Essential qualities

Besides impeccable fluency in both languages, interpreting requires an excellent memory, a good voice and razor sharp mental alacrity. You must also possess or cultivate the ability to convey the proceedings in the right perspective, to think analytically and quickly adapt to different speakers, subjects, and situations. Over and above a keen intellect, you must be able to concentrate for relatively long periods, take in ideas easily and remain completely unflappable. Interpreting is a stressful occupation that requires you to remain alert and think on your feet all the time. You also need to be well informed about the cultural, political and historical issues on either side so that you present the facts with appropriate sensitivity, tact and understanding. A university degree and extensive general knowledge are absolute must haves.

Ad hoc or liaison interpreters

Unlike those working for conferences these interpreters put their language skills to active use. They are the ones you see on TV with foreign delegates on their official visits.

The School of Interpreters, Geneva, and the International School of Interpreters & Translators, France, offer top-notch training for interpreters. To be eligible for admission you must be proficient in two foreign languages other than your mother tongue.

Job prospects

Interpreters are employed for all international occasions such as international conferences, disarmament conferences, foreign ministers’ conferences, state occasions, expert meets or even official banquets where foreign delegates are present. Interpreters also work as tourist guides. Here the work involves escorting parties of foreign visitors to places of tourist interest, interpreting the itinerary given to them and arranging hotel accommodation.

Unlike those working for conferences, ad hoc or liaison interpreters put their language skills to active use. They are the ones you see on television with foreign delegates on their official visits.

The number of jobs in interpreting is extremely limited. Very few companies are known to employ full-time interpreters. A full-time regular career is rarely possible. Most interpreters work on a freelance basis. Many have second occupations to fall back on — either translating and/or teaching languages or something quite different.

Where to study

A number of universities in the country offer undergraduate, postgraduate, diploma and certificate-level courses in various foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, etc. In Delhi, you may opt for a Master’s degree at the following universities:

 * Jawaharlal Nehru University: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Persian, Russian, Spanish,

 * University of Delhi: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Persian, Russian,

 * Jamia Milia Islamia: Arabic, Persian.

Both universities also offer degree/certificate/diploma courses in foreign languages. Besides these, a number of institutions in Delhi such as Alliance Francaise (NDSE-II), IIFT, (Qutab Instt. Area), Max Mueller Bhavan (KG Marg), School of Languages (M/o Defence), Lodhi Estate, IITTM, Chanakyapuri, and the respective embassies and consulates like the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, the Japan Cultural & Information Centre, Iran Culture House, the Portuguese Cultural Centre, etc. offer courses in foreign languages.



Q If one goes into computer networking, what would one end up doing?

Prabhjoth Singh

A The computer hardware industry can be segmented into complete systems; peripherals and consumables. The Indian market for computers and peripherals alone has been growing at the rate of 30 per cent for the past four years. Despite the recession, 24,72000 computers were sold last year in India - an 80 per cent rise over the previous year. PC penetration has grown from 4 in 100 to 7.2 in 100 today. And with revenues from hardware and peripherals touching Rs. 14.5 crore in 2001-02, the demand for networking professionals is bound to increase. On an average, one hardware engineer is required for every 50 machines.

Currently there is a demand gap of 2.4 million networking professionals worldwide and 20,000 positions are open for such skills in Japan, Korea and China alone.

There are several career avenues within networking, some of which I am listing below:

Network administration: This involves configuration and management of LANs (Local Area Networks), WANs (Wide Area Networks) and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). You will be responsible for analysing, installing and configuring the company’s network even from a remote location. Your daily activities will include monitoring network performance, troubleshooting problems and maintaining network security. A CCNA certification would hold you in good stead. With the proliferation of B2C (business to customer) websites, e-commerce, e-governance, VPN (Virtual Private Networks) and other internet and telecom based applications like remote servicing and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) the demand for network administrators is likely to peak in the next couple of years.

Network technicians: Tend to focus more on the setting up, troubleshooting, and repair of specific hardware and software products.

Service technicians: As a service technician, you will have to travel to remote customer sites to perform "field" upgrades and support.

Network programmers and analysts write software programmes or scripts that help evaluate third-party products and integrate new software technologies into an existing or new network environment.

Network managers supervise the work of administrators, engineers, technicians, and programmers. Network and information systems managers also focus on the longer-range planning and strategy considerations.

Network security As important data travels through networks, ensuring its security is vital. To excel in this field, you must be familiar with system programming and administration as well as security configuration.

Cyber laws and legal aspects Demand for professionals in this area is also increasing gradually. But the important thing is that in order to understand cyber laws, you need to be a lawyer first and then be cyber-literate.


Q I want to know about the National Talent Search Exam. Where should I apply and what is the pattern of the test? Can you please recommend some useful books? Is there a quota for Scheduled Caste candidates?

Sameera Kaur

A The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), under its National Talent Search Scheme, awards 1000 scholarships (including 150 scholarships for Scheduled Castes and 75 for Scheduled Tribes candidates) each year.

The purpose of this scheme is to identify brilliant students at the end of Class X and give them financial assistance for good education in basic and social sciences up to the PhD level.

If you opt for a professional course like medicine, engineering or management subsequently, you can avail of the scholarship up to the second-degree level so that their talent may develop further and they may serve the discipline as well as the country.

Selection for NTS Exam consists of a two-stage process: (a) State-level exam, followed by (b) National-level exam. The State-level exams are usually held during October-November.

All students studying in Class X of a recognised school are eligible. The exam generally consists of two parts: Mental Ability Test and Scholastic Aptitude Test. (Both papers consist of objective-type questions).

Selected candidates are informed about the National-level exam, which is conducted by the NCERT. This exam consists of: Part I Mental Ability Test (MAT) and Part II Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Both the MAT as well as the SAT papers consists of 100 multiple-choice questions of one mark each. The SAT questions are divided into: sciences (40 marks), social science (40 marks) and maths (20 marks). Finally, the shortlisted candidates (approximately double the number of awards available) are called for an interview (25 marks)

Circulars are usually sent to the schools by the examination board and advertisements are issued in newspapers.

You don’t need any specific books for the SAT exam but make sure you are thorough in physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, civics, algebra, arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and mensuration - all upto the level of Class X. Your knowledge of these subjects is tested in the Scholastic Aptitude Test. If you have been faring consistently well in all your subject exams, you won’t find the exam difficult.

While awardees studying basic/social sciences are eligible for scholarships up to the PhD level, those enrolled in professional courses in engineering, management and medicine receive scholarships up to 2nd degree level.

For complete details, log on


Q I am a final year student of BSc (physics). Due to certain family constraints I won’t be able to pursue higher studies. Can you give me an overview of the jobs available to physics graduates?

Pinky Malhotra

A There are several job options available to physics graduates:

(i) Teacher: After getting a B.Sc. degree, you can work as a science teacher in schools. There are a large number of openings in this area. However most schools these days ask for candidates who have also completed the BEd course, which is a teachers’ training course of 1-year duration.

(ii) Laboratory Assistant: This job, which, may have alternative names like lab-technicians, demonstrators, etc., essentially revolves around taking care of the laboratory and its equipment. The lab-assistant arranges instruments and apparatus for the various experiments to be conducted in the lab. He also cleans and stores scientific apparatus, equipment, examine slides, etc.

(iii) Scientific Assistant: A scientific assistant works under a scientist and may have responsibilities like recording routine readings of instruments, scanning books, internet and journals for reference material, compiling working notes, etc.

Depending on the nature of his duties, he may be known by different names like programme assistant, shift assistant, professional assistant, etc.

(iv) Forestry: Science graduates are eligible for the posts of Forester and Forest Ranger.

(a) Forester: Candidates qualifying in the written test and fulfilling prescribed physical requirements are sent to the Indian Forest Research Institute and College at Dehra Dun or Coimbatore for a 2-year training course in forestry. On completion of the course they are appointed as foresters, ultimately rising to senior posts like Forest Officer, Assistant Conservator of Forests, etc.

(b) Forest Ranger: While the method of selection varies from state to state, the physical requirements are the same as for the forestry course. Selected candidates are sent to the forest ranger’s college at Dehra Dun or Coimbatore for a 2-year training programme.

(v) Defence services: Science graduates and post-graduates who meet the prescribed physical and medical requirements and clear the entrance tests are eligible for appointment in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and in the Defence Science Service.

(vi) Other entry occupations: Physics graduates can always try for other options open to graduates of all streams. These include various competitive exams, government jobs, subordinate executive and clerical posts, etc.

(vii) Sales: Science graduates are specially suited for sales of commercial products like pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments, biotechnology products etc. Medical representatives are hired by all drug manufacturing firms for marketing their products to doctors and hospitals.

(viii) Apprenticeship: Many industrial undertakings recruit science graduates for paid apprenticeship in the chemical, mechanical or other relevant engineering department. They are paid a stipend during training and may afterwards be absorbed in the factories and laboratories.

Please send in your query preferably on a postcard along with your name, complete address and academic qualifications to:

Editor, Career Hotline,
The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh-160020, or at



1. Which country’s parliament recently created history by celebrating Divali for the first time as an acknowledgement of the contribution of Indians to the country’s society?

2. Name the world’s tallest Buddhist stupa that was recently inaugurated in the Doon valley.

3. Who is the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir?

4. Name the protocol, envisaging reduction of greenhouse gas emission by 5.2 per cent by the year 2012, that the USA refuses to ratify.

5. Which state recently started releasing water from the Krishnaraja Sagar reservoir to Tamil Nadu following a Supreme Court directive?

6. Who has won this year’s Booker Prize?

7. What minimum wage has been fixed for unorganised labour by the government with effect from September 1 this year?

8. What is the annual growth target in the 10th Five Year Plan (2002-2007)?

9. Name the new President of Brazil.

10. Where was the country’s first IMAX 3-D cinema inaugurated recently?

11. Which costliest-ever Hindi film is the country’s official entry this time for the Oscar awards in the foreign film category?

12. Name the third player in the One-day cricket history to have taken 300 wickets.

13. In which Australian city is the WACA ground situated?

14. Name Australia’s highest run-getter in one-day matches who recently quit international cricket.

15. Name the only player to have made 20,000 runs in international cricket (Tests & One-dayers).


School address.........................

Winners of quiz 168. The first prize by draw of lots goes to Nandini Nayyar, 12th-D, Govt Model Sen Sec School, 22-A, Chandigarh.

Second: Abhishek Kumar Singh, X-A, KV No 1, AFS, Pathankot, dist Gurdaspur, Pin-145001.

Third: Satnam Singh, VI-D, Akal Academy, Baru Sahib via Rajgarh, dist Sirmour( HP)-173101.

Answers to quiz 168: 308; Saraswati Saha; K.M.Beenamol; Neelam J Singh; Bahadur Singh; Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi; Shiv Kapur; India; Anju George; Singapore; South Korea; India; Sachin Tendulkar; Rahul Dravid; Jimmy Carter.

Cash awards of Rs 400, 300 and 200 are given to the first, second and third prize winners, respectively. These are sent at the school address.

Tarun Sharma