How to be a teacher’s pet – what all my interpreting students need to know

Äpple Stefan Svensson Flickr

Äpple Stefan Svensson Flickr


On Monday, our spring term starts and I will teach public service interpreting. Here are some tips for my students to dwell on over the week-end and which go beyond be on time, be polite and give your teacher an apple. Some tips are general for all students, other more specific for interpreting.

1. Come prepared

For a lecture it means you will have read the text. It does not mean you have to know it by heart or fully understand it, but the discussions will be so much more interesting if you have actually read the text. Then I don’t have to tell you what it says, I can start by explaining and discussing it. I prefer when my lectures are interactive, but that depends on you too, if you don’t have a clue of what I’m talking about, there will be less interaction. For an interpreting exercise class it means having studied the topic and the terminology. The reading list is not optional, it’s not just for fun, or if you have time. I have found and screened those books and articles because they will help you build on your knowledge base to become a better interpreter. If we run an exercise on thyroid cancer you will have to know how the thyroid gland works.

2. Let me know if you’re not coming

This depends on group size of course, but typically interpreting classes are small groups and many of our activities will have to be adapted on whether you’re there or not. On top of that you’re studying to become an interpreter, interpreters just don’t show up, you’re either there or you have provided someone to replace you. So this is part of your professionalism. For class, the least I ask is that you inform me if you’re not coming. Please note that almost all our classes are compulsory, so you will need to hand in additional tasks in case you cannot come.

3. Of course you can ask questions!

All the time, I’m here for that. I will answer your questions both face to face and over e-mail or telephone. But please check our web platform first. I have put all our documents there, and most of your questions will probably be answered there. Do make the effort and search there first, please. I will answer your e-mail on office hours, every working day, but please bear with me if it takes a few days before I answer, I may have to look for the information myself or prioritize things. If it takes more than three days you are welcome to remind me, after all e-mails get lost. If it’s urgent, tell me right away. And, do say thank you. It will work just as well for you today, as it did when your mother taught you to do it when you were two or three.

4. Check your terminology

We will work together on terminology, but you need to create your own word lists and do your own terminological research. Google translate is not enough, neither are the bilingual dictionaries you find online. Many of them are quite good, mind you, but they just aren’t enough. What you are, typically, looking for is highly specialized and context bound terminology, quite the opposite of what you find in general dictionaries. When you build your word lists you will need to check the meaning for the term in several different contexts, you will also need to check whether a generally accepted translation exist for that particular term or not. Furthermore, you may have to questions your source, which could be, for instance, official translations, did those translators use the right or appropriate term? In your word list you will have to state the term, its meaning, its different translations and your sources for that.

5. Respect practice time

On top of time in class, I have booked rooms where you can practice, I will also provide ample training material. You will be requested to keep a log for your practice. I did not do that just for fun, or because I have a particular liking for keeping you at university. Practice is the absolute core of becoming an interpreter. Learning to interpret is about automatizing processes and those processes will only get automatized if you practice. I will teach you how to assess yourself. I will also try my best to give you all the possibilities to get that practice, take them!

6. Record yourself

Record yourself in class and record yourself during your practice sessions. Listen to the recordings too. Listening critically to yourself when you work or practice will help you improve immensely. Nowadays, your phone or computer will probably have a recording device so you won’t even have to invest in new devices.

This is my humble advice to you as students. If you follow them you will not just make me happy, you will make fine interpreters. As usual, I invite my fellow teachers reading the blog to add their opinion. What’s your advice to your students?


4 thoughts on “How to be a teacher’s pet – what all my interpreting students need to know

  1. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Jan 24-30) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  2. Very interesting points! Asking questions is definitely important, as well as having some time to practice. Translation has many subtle points that can be missed through assumption, and that can be avoided by voluntary asking questions. Practicing can also help improve one’s confidence in speaking the language as well as target problem words or phrases for improvement.

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