The youngest person in the room

In addition to the pressure of providing quality interpretation, younger interpreters may feel judged because of their age

Photo credits: German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastucture

When, after graduating, I started to work as a conference interpreter in politics, I was consistently the youngest person in the room. This was less due to my being particularly young (I graduated at the age of 25), and more because of the nature of the meetings:  everyone else attending had taken years to develop the expertise and status that allowed them in the room. 

When interpreting bilateral meetings consecutively, I could see the question marks in the participants’ eyes, perplexed at my presence. Once, I was even asked: "Exactly how old are you?" –  something I would have never dared to ask this (older and female) delegate. 

Why is it that some people display such arrogance in the face of young professionals?

Setting the tone

During my studies, I had been warned that interpretations rendered in a high-pitched voice are less trustworthy to many listeners than words spoken in a lower voice. There had also been talks about the dress code for women and about how wearing a dress or skirt can have a different effect to wearing pants. 

However I had not been forewarned that at the beginning of my career, I would be likely to be the youngest participant at the meeting and that I’d need to strike a fine balance between professional self-confidence and respectful reserve that come with both being a young professional as well as – in my view – being a woman. 

Age, hierarchy, authority

At university, we learn to trust in our skills, be self-assured, keep calm and, if worst comes to worst, to “fake it till you make it”. And yet, the question of age, hierarchy and authority can put an entirely different type of pressure on young interpreters. 

There is a feeling of having to prove yourself, not only because you are working with a client for the first time, but because everyone assumes that this is one of the first times that you are professionally interpreting at all. This is not only the case for truly young interpreters, but also for those who simply look very young. 

An opportunity to prove myself

I was fortunate:  at the beginning of my career I held a full-time interpreting job in which I worked with the same clients and colleagues over and over again. For me this meant that I could prove my skills during the first assignment, after which my clients and colleagues would have more trust in me. 

Young interpreters who start as freelancers, however, are more likely to feel the burden of their youth with each new client and every new colleague.

Support and collegiality 

It is very important that experienced colleagues do not add to this pressure. Instead, you should support your fresh-faced boothmates and let them – and other colleagues and clients – know that they are valued as equal members of the team. 

It is encouraging to see that AIIC and many national conference interpreting associations offer newcomer programmes and events to welcome young interpreters into the profession, thereby fostering this spirit of mutual support and collegiality.

I have learned from my experience. I will never underestimate a colleague, client or service provider only because they look young. Yet, at least in this respect, I think it is fortunate that we do not stay young forever.

Annika  Schlesiger graduated from the FTSK Germersheim, Germany, in 2017 and was awarded AIIC Germany’s Young Talent Award. Shortly afterwards, she was employed by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, where she will continue to work until 2021.

Recommended citation format:
Annika SCHLESIGER. "The youngest person in the room". March 2, 2020. Accessed July 13, 2020. <>.