how i became a UN interpreter

(reading and use of english 2015: pt 6)

I got a first in my French and Russian degree, but it was only when I went back to Russia to teach English after graduating that my skills really improved. I was out there on my own in a flat, and when things went wrong as they inevitably did, I had to call the workmen to sort it out. There were no other native English people to call on, so I was properly immersed. 1.. read on
choose from A-H, there is one extra.
A It was a blast – you learn lots about the world.
B My husband came out to Geneva with me to look after her at that point.
C It's always intense and it's often stressful, because these are communications that matter to people's lives so you have to get it right
D I passed first time, which I wasn't expecting.
E Working as an interpreter can sound like a glamorous life.
F I never know what's next, and that's the fun of it.
G I had to make friends, get stuck in and get over the embarrassment of making mistakes.

After nine months my Russian was probably as good as it's ever been, and once I'd come home, it wasn't long before I saw that GCHQ were looking for linguists. The bare bones of it is that material will come in, either written or as audio, and you have to translate and transcribe it. (2).. You also get to use your languages all day: even if something isn't of any intelligence value, you're always improving your skills.

I'd taken a year out to do a masters in interpreting at the university of Bath, and then I did the UN interpreting test. It's renowned for being incredibly tough. (3).. It meant that a whole new career opened up, working on UN missions abroad. I had to give it a go, so I took myself off to Geneva to see if anyone would book me.

There aren't many of us interpreting from Russian to English, and I work from French as well. Interpreters work in pairs, doing half an hour before swapping over. (4).. The aim is to be 100% accurate but often you can't translate literally, so it's about interpreting idea by idea. If I don't understand I try and hang back a bit, think about the context and try to pull together an idea that fits the situation. You have to think on your feet – I drink a lot of coffee.

My working life four years on is, well, complicated! I have an 18-month-old daughter, and I started back at work when she was five months old. (5).. We're back in Gloucestershire now, and I mostly try to arrange bookings so I'm away for a few days at a time.

Fortunately it's well paid, and I aim to work 10 days in a month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a lot of single interpreters, but for our family it works well – I like the flexibility of being freelance, I love the stimulation of the work and I like being able to have time at home with my daughter. Luckily, I've never liked planning too far ahead: in this job, my language skills have taken me to Bali, Nairobi, Vienna, around Europe, and I may soon be off to Copenhagen and Moscow. (6) .

by Helen Reynolds-Brown. Helen is a Russian and French interpreter, and works for the UN and other international organisations the guardian