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I am a French and Russian to English interpreter working primarily simultaneously for International Organisations in Geneva and Europe-wide.  I also interpret for the UK National Health Service and lead sessions for Babel Babies, a multilingual baby singing group, at Gloucester Guildhall.

I have a love for all things language, and am currently learning Spanish and Korean while looking after my daughter, dog, house…and keeping as many plates spinning as possible!

34 thoughts on “Home

  1. Dear Helen,
    I will avoid writing long paragraphs as I am sure you can do without that. I discovered your interview online. My question is how much experience you had under your belt before your first job at GCHQ and how you went about this. I am also from Gloucestershire and have been interested in this career and also your more recent experience with the UN. I have applied for internships and traineeships but as you know, the competition is immense. I have fluent Spanish, French and Portuguese and this is the way in which I want to put these languages to use.

    I hope to receive just a short line of advice from you.
    Many thanks,
    – Felix Charnley

    • Dear Felix,
      Firstly, apologies for not replying sooner. As for my experience, I took some time out after my first degree to teach in Russia before applying to GCHQ, which helped hugely. I think they are looking for people with your language combination at the moment, have you thought of applying?!
      All the best,
      Helen

  2. Hi,
    I too am a lover of the Russian language, and also a parent of a bilingual child 🙂 My wife is Russian, I am British, and we now life in Cambridge.
    I read your article about becoming in interpreter, as I too am thinking about making it my profession. Bbt I do have some questions if you don’t mind sparing a few minutes. I understand if not.
    Thanks,
    Greg

  3. How should one go about developing the concentration skills required of an interpreter? Any books, courses or practice routines that you could recommend? The same skills required of an interpreter are also required of a journalist who is taking notes during an interview. Writing down the answer to one question while thinking of the next one to ask is challenging.

    • There are a couple of books I could recommend – Note Taking for Consecutive Interpreters by Andrew Gillies, and Interpreting Techniques and Exercises by James Nolan. It depends really if you’re trying to hone sim or consec skills – on-sight translation is a good exercise for sim…

  4. Hi Helen,

    I read your article in the Guardian.
    I’m a 21 year old life sciences student and I want to move into translation and interpretation as a profession. I am a English/ Hindi bilingual and also speak fluent German. I’m currently learning Spanish.
    I have a Bachelors in Biotechnology but want to do a Masters in a subject which gets me closer to the translation and interpretation scene.
    What course of action would you recommend?

    Many thanks,
    Minakshi Singh

    • Hi Minakshi,
      I’m very glad you want to delve into translation and interpretation! I did a very specific MA in Interpreting and Translating at Bath Uni, however there was also a sister course in Translation and Professional Language Skills (editing, proofreading plus a little interpreting on the side) available. Was it interpreting or translation that was of more interest to you? And what made you want to move more towards being a linguist anyway? (I thoroughly approve in any case!!)
      Helen

  5. Hi Helen

    I live in Australia and I enjoyed listening to your interview on “Here & Now” about the life of an interpreter. Interestingly, the host seemed to interchange “translator” and “interpreter” at the beginning of the piece!

    Barry

  6. Dear Helen,

    I know it has been a while since you gave the interview to the Guardian but it is still haunting you! 🙂 Like everyone else here I am really impressed with your experience in the field and would love your advice! I am a Russian national and have lived in England for 8 years now. I did a little bit of interpretation work for a charity in London just by chance and it felt from the feedback I got that I might be quite good at it! I have a little one, just like you do, and I also travel to Russia to see my ill mother, which has meant that I was not able to return to a full time job. I am really seriously thinking of giving interpreting a go (I like a more social aspect of being an interpreter versus translator but would be very grateful to get any work in either field). I have Masters in Education from Open University in the UK and Humanities degree from St Petersburg. I would be happy to invest time and money into doing a course on interpreting but would first like to make sure that I have chosen the right one, as my money and time resources are limited. Is there a route that you would recommend perhaps? Maybe something nice and simple at first? I won’t be able to do a full time Masters at this point I don’t think, being a mother to a toddler.. or is this still the best route?
    My absolute dream would be to work in international development organisations, anything to do with politics or social work, as this is where my interest lies. Thank you ever so much in advance! I hope you read this at some point, I know you are very busy and might have not visited here for a while.

    Tanya

    • Hi Tanya,
      Apologies for not contacting you sooner but I had my second daughter on 16th March and I haven’t been on WordPress since!
      As for part-time routes into interpreting, TheBigWord sources a lot of interpreters for the NHS, so it’d be worth getting on their books. There are plenty of other agencies out there you could sign up with if you’re looking for ad hoc work, particularly bi-actively English-Russian. If you’re looking to work for international organisations, it’s best to get a Masters under your belt. I did the one at Bath, but there are several others to choose from (bearing in mind that it’s quite a costly thing to do!). You’d also need to think about adding another language – what’s your French like?! However that’s really for throwing yourself into it full-time…
      Hope that’s of some help, good luck!
      Helen

      • Thanks so much, Helen, for your reply, and huge congratulations on arrival of your second daughter, what a happy event! Best of luck and thank you so much again for your response.

  7. Dear Helen,
    I have read an article about you in the Guardian. I am a Russian student and I have applied (and have already been accepted) to the MAIT programme at the University of Bath (I have been accepted to the Path 2 which allows to work in both directions between English and Russian) and I’d really appreciate an opportunity to ask you some questions by email (or any other means of communication) regarding the University and career prospects of an interpreter.

    Sorry for any inconvenience,
    Anna

  8. Hi Helen, I sent you a message request on Facebook, not realizing I could contact you on here! I can send a new message in whichever way is best for you.
    Madi

  9. Hi Helen,
    I read your article on the Guardian on how you became a UN interpreter. It rocked! I was hoping to get in touch for advice in pursuing a career as a linguist and preferably in the UN. I studied political science and I’m a language teacher. I’m passionate about languages, fluent in English, Italian and Spanish (I’m hooked on languages, analytics and international relations) and to work as a qualified linguist is how I want and can best employ my skills. Could I contact you to have your opinion on how to go about this? A huge thanks for sharing.

  10. Hi Helen,
    I am an aspiring interpreter. We actually both have a strong interest for French, which is my major right now. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to become a great interpreter and what fields I should be studying? Thanks, I’d love to know!

    • Hi Tatiana,
      Good to hear from you. My advice to you right now would be to listen to as much live French as you can, keep clued up on international politics, and maybe try and tune your ear to some varieties of the language too, maybe some African French?
      Are you taking other languages at the moment?
      All the best,
      Helen

  11. Hello Helen – I hope it is OK to post here but I could not find another way to contact you. I am 18 from the UK and I really enjoy the Russian Language. I was wondering how long it took you to learn Russian and be able to write it? I recently read your article in the Guardian about being a Russian – French – English Translator and it is exactly what I want to do. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Holly!
      Apologies for not replying sooner but we’ve been rather busy with a move to Belgium. In response to your question – I’m still learning! I still have crises of confidence, certainly when writing Russian, as I never really have to do that for my job. I try to speak Russian whenever I can, and I have a couple of conversation partners I speak to on Skype once a week. Other than that, everything’s bit ad hoc as I have two small children and not a lot of time on my hands!! Well done for picking up Russian by the way, what are your plans for further study?

  12. Hi Helen, I am a fresh graduate in translation from the Ghana Institute of Languages (Accra, Ghana) and I am planning to do my Masters degree in Interpretation. what would you advise me to do in order to become a very good interpreter-translator and to work one day in one of the international organisations? I have tried to reach out to interpreters here but it is very difficult because I am not a ghanaen (I am originated from Burkina Faso). By the way, I am fluent in French (native speaker), English and Portuguese (near native)

    Thank you

    • Hi Eric,
      Many thanks for your message and apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Whereabouts are you planning on doing your Masters?
      Also, have you thought about trying to get some pro bono work to get an idea about the market?
      Looking forward to hearing from you soon,
      Helen

  13. Hello Helen,
    LIke many of the others that have commented, i found your article from the Guardian very intriguing and would be interested in asking you more questions. I am a student currently in the United States and am researching for my Cambridge AICE research paper in which I have been so interested in. It is on the topic of translators and how they help contribute with immigrants in education, society, and all around better living in their environment. I was wondering if you could answer some of my questions on how these programs differ in the UK and what exactly you do as a translator.

  14. Hello, Hellen, I surfed in web looking for opportunity to find a vacant position of interpreter in UN and bumped into your interview. I would be very happy if you can share your experience and professional achievement in this area . I am really passion about my profession and your career inspired me to move further. Thank you!
    Best regards,
    Aleks

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