Day 18 My favourite type of interpreting

Interpreter Patricia Stöcklin note taking duri...

Interpreter Patricia Stöcklin note taking during consecutive interpreting, Garry Kasparov and Klaus Bednarz on the lit.Cologne 2007. Français : L’interpréteur Patricia Stöcklin prend note durant des traductions en série, Garry Kasparov et Klaus Bednarz au lit.Cologne 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regular readers of the blog, interpreting amateurs and colleagues will know that there are different types or modes of interpreting – simultaneous, consecutive and dialogue. But which type to we prefer? Well, I don’t know about you, but for me it depends a little.

I really like simultaneous, you get such a kick out of doing it. I’m sure endorphin levels are sky-high when you’ve finished a simultaneous spell. But one of the disadvantages with simultaneous interpretation is that you are often secluded from your client or listener. You’re put out of the communicative context.

This is the reason I really like consecutive. In consecutive you are part of the context to a higher degree. The interpreter becomes part of the team in a very tangible way. In many ways it’s nerve wrecking, imagine you’re doing a consecutive interpreting in front of TV cameras, and you know that it is not unlikely your interpreting will end up on YouTube, because you’re interpreting for a star, like Patricia Stöcklin above.

Then it’s much calmer, but also much more challenging when you’re dialogue interpreting for a patient and a doctor. It is a wonderful reward when, thanks to you, the patient gets the right treatment and the participants finally understand each other. You’re in direct contact with your users and it’s immediately obvious whether you make a difference or not.

So, I guess my conclusion is that I really like interpreting – all sorts of them.

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can see the whole list here.

Day 16 Don’t you ever make mistakes?

Do you remember the list of 30 days? I’m only through half of it, and it’s well over a month, but since I designed it to cover topics that I wanted to share with my readers – here we go. I will continue down the list as soon as I have an opportunity to do so.
And to answer the question in the headline: Of course I do! It has almost become my mantra “interpreters make mistakes”, and I also treat it in a blog post here.
The question is not whether you make mistakes or not, it’s about how you deal with mistakes. Take a court or medical interpreter for instance – if you are unsure, or spot a mistake you may have made it is your duty to report it to the parties immediately. It is your absolute responsibility that you get everything right. Your domain knowledge as a court or medical is extremely important since you have less opportunity to prepare (i.e. you can get called in with just an hour or less of warning).
I don’t mean to say that your responsibility is less when you work in a booth, or at a conference. But usually you have more time to prepare AND you have colleagues that are usually willing to help you. This means that mistakes usually are spotted and corrected fairly quickly. If terminology went wrong, the correct term will probably follow in the next sentence (a colleague wrote a note), or if a line of reasoning was misunderstood it will most surely be sorted out. How does the interpreter indicate whether it’s the speaker or the interpreter who corrects him or herself in simultaneous? Well, if it’s the speaker you’ll hear “the speaker corrects him/herself” and if it’s the interpreter “the interpreter means X or Y”.
The situation I personally like the least is in court where my language knowledge has been challenged several times just as a trick (often) from the “other” party’s lawyer, in order to discredit the counter party through the interpreter. I have had to correct myself in court too, but luckily it has not happened on the same occasions where I have been challenged. I cannot imagine the courage you would have to show in order to first defend your word choice and then stop the proceedings in order to correct yourself.
I have written earlier about my embarrassing mistake when interpreting the word piracy, in this case it was easily corrected by saying “the interpreter excuses herself in this case it should be XXX.” It is also fair to say that even if I hadn’t spotted and corrected the mistake it would hardly had been the end of the world. But I cannot stress enough how these incidents can really be dangerous. It can be absolutely crucial for an individual, but also for states as I wrote about in this post.
So, as said above, the question is not whether you make mistakes or not. The question is how you deal with it. The worst thing you can do is to not be attentive, or not care about your mistakes. A good interpreter knows about damage control. A careless, or maybe inexperienced interpreter, does not care about correcting mistakes or worse, does not admit to or realise a mistake was made.

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can view the whole list here.

Interpreters and bloggers

I have been whining about interpreters not being present in the blogoshpere. Therefore I have to push for two blogs that I just discovered (thanks to the bloggers stopping by here!). They are in Spanish and Swedish. The Swedish blogger Tolken (yes, she uses the same alias as I do, I have to consider another one 🙂 at makes a very important work trying to create a discussion on the working conditions and general questions for community interpreters. The community interpreting market in Sweden (as in many other countries) is apalling and in some cases threatening the rule of law. Tolken blogs on these important issues.

The Spanish blogger at writes interesting articles about conference interpreting. I’m unfortunately linguistically challenged when it comes to Spanish so I cannot fully appreciate the blog, but luckily she links to other pages. Her blogrolls of vocabulary resources, associations and other interpreter’s pages are also very impressive.

I can only recommend a visit to these two fellow bloggers.

Consecutive Interpreting

A couple of years ago a friend invited me to her graduation ceremony at Sorbonne. They have very nice graduation ceremonies for their french courses “Cours de civilisation française.” I thought that it would be nice for my friend if I took consecutive notes and interpreted the speech for her afterwards. Not that she needed interpretation, but just to remember her gratuation. Since consecutive interpreting means taking notes for up to ten minutes and then interpret after the speaker has finished it seemed like a suitable exercise. So I started taking notes, and later transcribed the speech for her. It occured to me now that I could put it on the blog as an example of note taking. I discussed it in class with my students as well, as I held an introductory lecture on note taking. I believe it is important to show your own notes since note taking is so personal. There is no way you can say that your notes HAVE to look this or that way, but there are of course good advice to be given on how to make it as effectively as possible.

The speech was nice and not very difficult. It is the teacher’s farewell speech to her students, solemn, a bit of fun and held in French of course. She also uses the triadic structure several times which also facilitates interpreting, repetition and lists are good for this.
In John le Carré’s book, Mission song (very good image of interpreting by the way, if you overlook the fact that the hero speaks at least 25 languages and interpret to and from all of them), the boss calls the interpreters notes the Babylonian cuneiform. My notes are not exactly a Babylonian cuneiform. I have a pretty bad note taking technique, you should really use more symbols than I do. There are stories of legendary interpreters whose note taking technique was to draw caricatures of the speakers and those caricatures made them remember everything. But as you can see in the picture it’s not abut shorthand, neither to note everything down. Focus is put on logical connections and important, mening bearing concepts rather than words (although you can take down words of course). You create a support for your memory.


Normally, you interpret directly after the speech. This time it now took me about ten minutes before I had time to write down the interpreting. The fact that I wrote it down, also gave me the chance to reflect once more on what was said, but here she said (with the reservation that English is not my mother tongue of course):

Today I have three things to say to you. First of all: Bravo! Bravo because the term is over and you stand here on graduation day. But above all, bravo to you who came to class every day (well, almost every day anyway …). Bravo since you were always were on time (well, almost always anyway …), bravo to you for always having done all the homework (well, almost all anyway …), and bravo for all the work you have done.
And you have succeeded! And what is even more important is the great decision you made six months ago. The decision to leave home and family and to travel to a foreign country. And now you stand here and now you have succeeded. Bravo!
I would also like to say thank you! Thank you for choosing France for you studies and thank you for choosing la Sorbonne. But it’s not the end here. When you go home, the real work begins to maintain the French language. Eventually, the French language may disappear from your memory, but you will always carry the adventure with you. And you will tell your friends about the adventure and your children and perhaps your students (if you are a teacher). And maybe, your friends, children and students will choose to come to the Sorbonne too, and then you have done the same job as we do. Then you spread the love of the French language and French culture. I expect you to do it and I say thank you for doing it.
Thirdly, I want to say goodbye, Au Revoir. You know that there are many words for the same concept in French and here comes a short vocabulary lesson. Au revoir means til we meet again. So see you again. Perhaps we see you already this spring if you have signed up for the spring semester, maybe we’ll meet later, maybe we’ll meet somewhere else. So I say Au Revoir and phonetically, you have learned that revoir (two claps) has two syllables and that e ‘decreases (I love this stuff). So now, all of you say after me Au Revoir. And I would say to you: Well done, Thank you and Au Revoir!