Interpreting Tips

Even though I’m relatively new to the field of interpreting, I’ve gathered a few tips over the past few years: some from school, some from real life. Here are a few things that I like to focus on when I’m interpreting:

-Before any conference, I still get pretty nervous. What helps me the most in calming my nerves, is preparation. The more I know about the conference, the speakers, their bios, their presentations, handouts… the more I feel in control of the situation. As soon as you book a job, always ask the organizers for an agenda, speaker bios, and their presentations. It might take them a while to get back to you, which is why it is essential to ask for these as soon as possible. Clients need to know that preparation is a huge part of our job and that it can greatly affect the quality of our interpretation.

-I always prepare a glossary, either using the materials provided by the client or if no materials are provided, I just do my own research to create one. If the conference is on tractors for instance, I will open Google and type “tractors + glossary”. This will give me a monolingual glossary which I can then translate and enter into my own document.

-Once you are in the booth, always have a notepad out and write out numbers and names. If your colleague is interpreting, write out numbers and names for them.

-Also, write down words/expressions that you or your colleague stumbled on and add those to your glossary once the conference is over. This will help you learn new terminology and ensure that you won’t stumble on those words again.

-Don’t always focus on interpreting the words. Sometimes it is not about finding the “right word”. That will come more naturally with time. What’s more important, is understanding the message first, and then translating the idea. This might enable you to shorten the original sentence and will enable you to get the main idea across rather than staying stuck on finding the “right” word (which can take up precious time and energy).

-Help your colleague if they missed something or if you can tell that they are struggling with a word, write it down for them on your pad if you can. Likewise, if you are interpreting and missed something important, or need help, look at your colleague, let them know somehow that you need their help. It’s truly a team effort.

-If the speaker says “since nineteen ninety nine”, shorten it and see if you can say “since ninety nine”. This might not be possible, but if it is, do it. Every second counts.

-Even if you can’t hear a part of the sentence, or a set of words, create a phrase that makes sense using the context provided. It’s ok to miss things, we’re only human, but it’s unacceptable to leave your sentence unfinished.

-And on that note, always make sure that your sentence is grammatically correct. Not finding the right word, or having to improvise a bit might be ok, if absolutely necessary, but always, always, make sure that your sentence makes sense grammatically.

-Try and animate your voice a little more than you would ordinarily. This is the closest we will ever get to acting. We must impersonate the speaker and have the same level of enthusiasm as they do. Don’t go crazy now… but don’t sound monotonous either. We must make sure that the musicality of our voice helps the listeners understand us better, we want to make sure that listening to us is a pleasant experience for them.

-If someone is not speaking into the mic, and you cannot hear enough to even try to improvise a sentence, then say “the interpreter cannot hear what is being said, the comments being made are off microphone”.

-Always sound cool and confident.

-One of my favorite, and least favorite, things to do is to record myself. It is my favorite because hearing myself really helps me improve, but it is also my least favorite because who likes listening to their own voice? Listening to yourself and to your rendition will enable you to hear what the listeners hear. It enables you to hear your filler words (ums, and ahs…), to hear whether or not your sentences are complete, and whether or not you have a good rhythm and flow in your delivery. I usually just record about 10mn at a time several times throughout the day. iPhones have apps that you can do this with (for instance voice memos and quick voice).

After listening to yourself, and maybe cringing for a few minutes, make sure to take notes on your weaknesses and try to keep them in mind for future interpreting jobs. Then record yourself again on the next job, and see whether or not you have improved.

-Try to work with people who have more experience than you. You will learn a lot just by observing them.

What are some of your best tips?





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