Specialisation in Conference Interpreting

Keeping up to date with current affairs and dealing with dynamic changes in language use – a rewarding, everyday challenge for professional interpreters

“Interpreting isn’t just vocational training. It’s more like a school for life. I’m not only learning a profession – I’m also getting to know my limits and learning to recognise my strengths and weaknesses.”

Sarka Novak, student

“I’ve learnt that interpreting goes far beyond language competence and multitasking. You need a solid background knowledge in so many different areas – and I now know how to go about acquiring this knowledge.”

Sonja Spielhofer, student

“In the interpreting programme, we study in small groups so the lecturers can address the needs of individual students. The lecturers are all experienced interpreters so we focus on the skills and techniques required in professional practice.”

Elisabeth Graf, student

Programme and teaching staff

In the specialisation in Conference Interpreting, you learn the techniques and strategies of simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. But before you begin, you need to have an outstanding command of your native language and of two foreign languages. Graduates are entitled to practise as conference interpreters.

The joint programme modules in the MA curriculum focus on research theory, applied linguistics and multilingual contexts. You acquire a solid foundation in general scientific principles and organisational and intercultural contexts, which enables you to examine issues related to mediation in multilingual contexts.

We have an international team of lecturers teaching in the specialisation in Conference Interpreting and in the interpreting preparation course (Dolmetsch-Propädeutikum). They are all practising conference interpreters and/or recognised experts in related disciplines or subject-specific areas (e.g. voice and speech training, economics). Thanks to their extensive experience in a wide variety of fields, they are able to give our students a direct insight into the profession and offer an ideal preparation for a career as a conference interpreter.

Career opportunities

Conference interpreters work as freelancers or are employed as in-house interpreters. Freelancers are recruited by specialist agencies, through the recommendation of colleagues or by clients direct. They work for trade unions, associations, political parties, etc. in a variety of venues, such as international congresses and conferences or internal events. Working hours and contracts can fluctuate widely due to the economic situation, seasonal demand and the short-term nature of the interpreting business. Institutions and international organisations may employ in-house conference interpreters with more regular working times and duty periods.

The MA specialisation in Conference Interpreting provides practical training in the relevant specialist, technical and professional competences. Graduates are therefore able to start directly on their career as conference interpreters.


In the MA programme, you study at least three languages: your native or primary language (A language) and at least two foreign languages, which are classified as either 'active' (B) or 'passive' (C) languages. You interpret out of your B and C languages into your A language and out of your A language into your B language. The minimum language combination is A + B + C or A + C + C + C. The results you achieve in the aptitude tests will determine which language is classified as your A language and whether your foreign languages are classified as B (active) or C (passive). One of the languages you offer must be German.

The table below gives you an overview of the languages and language combinations we currently cover in the specialisation in Professional Translation. If there is sufficient demand, additional languages may be added. The MA programme director reserves the right to cancel a language version if there are not enough students enrolled.

A language B or C languages C language only
German French, Italian, English, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Chinese Portuguese
French German, Italian, English, Spanish, Dutch
Italian German, French, English, Spanish Dutch
English German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian Portuguese
Spanish German, French, Italian, English Portuguese
Russian German, English French, Italian


Personal qualities

Successful candidates have:

  • strong written and oral communication skills in diverse contexts, a quick understanding and good powers of concentration; they are creative in their approach to problem-solving, intellectually curious, able to deal with criticism and to cope with pressure;
  • a good general education, a thorough knowledge of economic, social, political and cultural conditions in the cultural areas of their chosen languages; 
  • an outstanding command of their native language and at least two foreign languages.

Before you begin your studies, we recommend you to spend some time abroad to improve your language skills and enhance your cultural knowledge.

Admission requirements

In order to be admitted to the MA in Applied Linguistics, you need to have a recognised Bachelor’s degree, preferably in modern languages or media/communication studies, or an equivalent tertiary level qualification. You are also required to pass an aptitude test to demonstrate your practical skills. Candidates with a degree in an unrelated subject area take an additional test in linguistics.

Candidates for the specialisation in Conference Interpreting also have to provide evidence of English language competence (at least C1 level) and, in the case of non-native speakers of German, of German language competence (at least C2 level). This evidence can be in the form of language certificates, study records, job references, etc. Candidates who are unable to provide evidence of this kind will be required to take a written language test at the ZHAW.

Aptitude test

The aptitude test for the specialisation in Conference Interpreting consists of an oral exam in sight translation, consecutive interpreting and – for students who have applied to study a B language – liaison interpreting. In order to be admitted to the programme, candidates must pass the aptitude test with a language combination of at least ABC or ACCC. Sample texts are made available to candidates who have applied to take the test.

We recommend candidates to prepare for the aptitude test by attending our one-semester interpreting preparation course Dolmetsch-Propädeutikum, which takes place every autumn semester. In this continuing education course, you learn interpreting techniques and skills such as note-taking, memory training, sight translation, consecutive and liaison interpreting, key economic terms and background knowledge relevant to the profession of conference interpreting.

If you are interested in more than one specialisation in the MA in Applied Linguistics, you can apply to take more than one aptitude test. In this case, you pay the enrolment fee for the admission process (see Fees) only once, but the aptitude test fees are charged individually. Please note that the dates and deadlines for applications and for the aptitude tests vary according to the specialisation.

Information on the specialisation in Professional Translation
Information on the specialisation in Organisational Communication

Linguistics test

If you have a degree in a subject area unrelated to modern languages or media/communication studies, you are required to take a test in general and applied linguistics and in translation studies. Depending on the degree you hold, you may be exempt from parts of this test. After the deadline for applications, you will receive a reading list to help you prepare.

Useful information

MA in Applied Linguistics in brief
Find out more about fees
Find the right person to contact
Come to an information event
Order additional information
About the programme: structure, duration and workload, leave of absence, admission process and further administrative details

Dates and deadlines

We recommend candidates to prepare for the aptitude test in Conference Interpreting by attending the preparation course Dolmetsch-Propädeutikum. Please note the relevant dates and deadlines. 

Programme start: Spring semester 2018
Deadline for applications 31 October 2017
Language test 27 June - 7 July 2017
Language test (resit date) 2 - 7 October 2017
Linguistics test 19 August 2017
Linguistics test (resit date) 11 November 2017
Aptitude test January 2018

Subject to change.