A high level of language proficiency in two languages is an absolute must for interpreters. This is not something that can be gained in a short period of time. As coordinator of the World Languages Department, I have many times been asked “How many quarters will it take for me to become fluent?” My response to that question is that learning a language is like having a child: it’s a lifetime commitment. I would even be willing to guess that the more we know about a language, the more we are likely to learn.
I also get a lot of questions about language proficiency levels required for the interpreting program, everything from “Can I learn Russian or Japanese?” to “I already speak Spanish–how many courses can I skip?” The answers to both of these questions is disappointing to the asker: language courses are not part of the program. Students are expected to bring a high level of language proficiency with them.
That said, English language learners can enter the program while still in the English as a second language program by enrolling through the I-BEST Program if they are at Level 5 or higher. The I-BEST office will test any prospective students to see if they qualify.
So if you haven’t been tested, how do you know whether your proficiency in English or another language is high enough? A good way is to complete the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) Language Proficiency self-assessments, and then submit it to me either electronically or in person for analysis. The self-assessments can be found in PDF format by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page. Please make an appointment (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to meet with me in person or by telephone.