Claude DURAND, a life dedicated to interpreting

If I remember well in which mood I was in June 1974 after I passed my final exam at ESIT in Paris, I felt a sigh of relief at the thought that I had finally reached the end of a very demanding training path, but in the back of my head I feared that this decisive step would only mark the beginning of a new challenge; in a word, I was wondering whether embarking on a conference interpreter’s career would enable me to grow and make my dreams come true.

Now that I am soon to retire as a manager from the largest interpreting service of the world, I look back on all these years with a deep sense of satisfaction and thankfulness towards this profession and all the wonderful people who have accompanied me along this exciting journey, starting with my first mentors such as the late and regretted Danica Seleskovitch.

As a young student I had often been fascinated by the discrete but pivotal role which interpreters would play in facilitating intercultural communication between statesmen, business managers, scientist or simple citizens. They would apply their language knowledge and skills to the discussion of all sorts of burning topics and at the same time contribute to giving a positive turn to “globalisation”- though this concept hardly existed in the 70s. As a graduate, I was eager to join this strange family of language mediators who followed the never-ending movement of the modern world and learned new things every day with each new professional experience.

I was given the opportunity to embark on this trail when I was recruited in 1977 as a permanent staff interpreter by the European Commission in Brussels. There could not have been a better place for me to witness how efficiently a genuine form of international cooperation can create a virtuous circle between states or people and how strongly the accelerating pace of change pushes us professionals to constantly try to adjust to new situations and challenges.

I was also very lucky because I was permitted or even encouraged to diversify my tasks and activities while working as an interpreter. Very soon I became involved in training new recruits for the European Commission at a time when an intense in-house scheme allowed us to transform rigorously selected graduates into skilful interpreters within a period of six months under the supervision of experienced professionals. Drawing lessons from a regular face-to-face with young trainees, I developed an interest in defining, structuring and fine-tuning training methods for would-be interpreters and I realised on the way that there was nothing more rewarding in life than passing on knowledge and know-how to the next generation.

I left the booth in 2004, after 30 years as a practising interpreter and started a manager’s career but in all my successive tasks and responsibilities I always maintained a close link with the interpreting profession which gave me so much pleasure and opportunities. With the help of other talented professionals, I inter alia contributed to creating new e-learning tools such as SCICtrain – a fascinating adventure which I shared with Lourdes de Rioja and a group of dedicated DG SCIC trainers – and to assisting interested students in better understanding the process and techniques of interpretation.

Today just as 40 years ago, becoming a good conference interpreter remains a demanding challenge. This profession requires excellent language skills, a rich general knowledge – Wikipedia will not save you when you are struggling with a rapid and sophisticated speech to be interpreted in simultaneous mode! -, a taste and talent for communication and exchange in all spheres of society, a lot of hard work…and a real passion for it! This passion has inspired me during my whole career in European institutions and I sincerely hope that it will be as present and vivid in the next generation.

Claude DURAND, DG SCIC, European Commission.

29 May 2015

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