This time around, we’re profiling not one of our graduates, but one of our instructors. Anchi Lue has made a solid contribution to the MCI since the very beginning. She was one of the colleagues who worked with us to develop our Mandarin-stream curriculum back in 2011, and she has taught for us ever since.

Anchi brings a wealth of experience into the classroom. She is a busy free-lancer, based in the Brussels region, and she is also a bit of a rare find — she’s what we call a “Double A”. She is recognized as having two dominant languages, in her case, Mandarin and English. She is therefore uniquely positioned to share insight on communicating between the Chinese- and English-speaking worlds. Time and again, our students tell us how much they appreciate Anchi’s guidance.

We sat down with Anchi recently to hear what she had to say about her interpreting practice specifically, and about the profession more generally.

What motivated you to become a conference interpreter? What do you like about this job?

Like many colleagues, my path to the profession was a bizarre one. I thought it was an easy way to obtain a master’s degree. It wasn’t. But the huge effort turned out to be so worthwhile that I instead ditched my previous career as a broadcast journalist.

For conference interpreters, the extensive access to decision makers and to processes that determine our future on this planet is unique. While duty bound to be neutral, I still feel that I’ve contributed, however minimally, when an outcome is reached.

Can you describe what your typical day or week looks like?

Simply put, there is no typical day. I spend a lot of time preparing for assignments, and I also spend a lot of time keeping abreast of the latest ways that people use both of my A languages. It’s always a moving target.

Contrary to popular belief, conference interpreting is not a reactive job. You don’t just sit passively waiting for the speaker to spoon feed you information. You have to listen and tell stories proactively in order to access and retain the message. Moreover, like a newsreader in front of the camera, presentation is crucial. How you carry yourself, your tone of voice and demeanor are a big part of that message. Every morning you start the day by following the news in several languages. Your habits have to be so ingrained that you don’t realize you’re actually working.

Working into English as a B language isn’t easy, and it sometimes seems like a particular challenge for Mandarin A students. Why do you think this is the case? Can you offer any advice?

The relationship between language and culture is unequivocal. It’s easy to underestimate just how hard it is to be bi-cultural. By that I mean having social circles in your B language and maintaining a wide array of interests in it. In the case of English, the sheer diversity of forms, accents and paradigms makes it doubly difficult.

It is important to make it a habit to expose yourself to all areas of knowledge in your B language. I would say, do not panic but you do need at least 5 years of life experience in that B language to be fully functional as an interpreter. Tricks will vary from one person to another, but go on Youtube and listen to people talking about fixing a car or assembling some furniture, but listen to how they talk while they’re doing it.

Tell us something about the Chinese-English conference interpreting market in Europe. What are the main sources of work? Any tips or resources for graduates? 

The European Union is China’s largest trading partner. This means that there is a tremendous amount of traffic between the two sides in both public and private collaborations. Europe is extremely varied, a continent rich in historical, cultural and linguistic diversity. As a result, the types of conferences are very different from one place to another. It is imperative to acquire the skills to negotiate the different cultural contexts and navigate around the divergent social norms. In Europe, you also have the issue of people’s English being heavily influenced by their native languages. Short of learning all those languages, you just have to take the time to adjust. You also needs to stay up to date with discourse in mainland China, Taiwan and all major English speaking regions.

Finally, I should say a word about professional associations. Honing your craft, respecting professional ethics and joining AIIC go a long way towards achieving acceptance and referrals from colleagues.