Day 14 – One thing you didn’t know about interpreting

Well, a couple of things actually…
What do interpreters talk about when they meet? You may think (at least if you suffer from a slight persecution mania) that we discuss our clients alot. We do talk about our clients of course, but probably not what you think and most likely not as much as you think.
If we discuss our clients it’s usually their performance as a speaker. We comment on speaking speed because speed is important to our own performance. We love good speakers and comment on that. But very few interpreters I know make personal comments about their clients, they are our clients and all interpreters I know are very consiencious about the professional secrecy.
When we debrief over a coffee or beer it is usually our own failings we discuss. When did I not live up to my own standards, what did I miss in that presentation, when did I have to stop my client/rely on my colleague to check a word? Why couldn’t I render exactly what s/he said?
We also talk a lot about terminology. Terminology is probably our pet subject. What do you use for this? I think it’s so hard to find an equivalent to that.
Sometimes we also talk about ethical problems – what would you have done in a similar situation?
And last, a personal confession, at smaller conferences or in a social setting I sometimes get the impression that my clients think that I am just as interested and engaged in their topic/area/problem as they are. I’m sorry to disappoint you here, but I’m rarely as engaged in my clients’ problem as they are. I usually find it interesting, sometimes fascinating as an interpreted situation, I may enjoy interpreting it and I will always be faithful. But I will not go home at night and continue to solve their problems.
This is of course my personal list. The things I experience with my colleagues. If you don’t agree or if you would like to add something. Please comment.

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


Amanda Galsworthy

Thanks to Bootheando I discovered the story from last year on Amanda Galsworthy. She has been the interpreter for the three recent French presidents including Sarkozy. Apparently she participated in the Hay festival last summer where she shared experiences and tips of the trade. Amanda is the daughter of a British diplomat and convinced European, in a wonderful interview with the BBC she describes herself as a linguistic experiment. Her father raised his four children in four different languages (French, Spanish, German and English), Amanda was raised in French which meant that she was put in a French school from kindergarten to the French bac. After a few years of university studies she ended up at interpreting school. Do listen to the BBC interview, it is a fascinating story of an interpreter’s life.

How to choose your working languages

How many languages do you know and how/why do you know them? Do you recommend to concentrate on one language (other than your first language) or learn more languages which would give more work offers I guess.

I just got this question from a student wishing to pursue studies in interpreting. This is probably the most common question from students. And the answer is not as straightforward as the question (what else?). First of all you need to know your mother tongue very well. It seems obvious, but speaking a language and interpreting into a language are two very different things. When you interpret into a language you need to master all domains, all registers, and all nuances. It is so much more than just speaking your mother tongue or being fluent in a language.

How well you have to master your other languages and how many languages you “need” depend on where you aim to work. Interpreters can be “bi-active”, meaning that you master two languages equally well and work to and from both languages. In that case you have two mother tongues or you are very near native in your foreign language (an A or B-language for interpreters). Bi-active interpreters work for NATO, for courts, as conference interpreters or as community interpreters. It is more or less impossible to be bi-active in more than two languages.

Most interpreters who work for larger institutions such as EU or UN work only into their mother tongue and from at least two, but often three or more languages. The languages you work from are languages you comprehend fully, but which you do not master as mother tongue. In interpreting lingo these languages are called C-languages.

So, you cannot say that its better to focus only on one language or several. It depends on what you would like to focus on. And it also depends on whether you have a second mother tongue or a language in which you are near native. So more languages does not necessarily mean more work offers either. However, a language combination with very high demand in your region will most likely give you more work offers. Also, if you are the only one with two very rare languages you will probably have a stable market.

Personally, I work from English, French and Danish into Swedish. I work to and from English in court but not in conferences. The reason for my language combination is that I only have one first/ A/ mother tongue language and I work mostly for the EU. I am almost near native in English and therefore I work in court to and from English, I have not developed my English into conference use. You can read more about me and my languages here.

Day 08 A moment in the booth

There are many memorable moments in the booth. Some moments you would prefer to forget, but sadly they seem engraved in you memory. Other moments you cherish, either because of a brilliant and interesting speaker or, because you felt that you really made a difference.
I remember interpreting a woman who told her story about being trafficked, sold and abused. She cried as she told her story, I almost cried too. I have interpreted for union representatives who would not have been able to express their opinion to the management had it not been for the interpreters.
I have also interpreted great speakers, when everything is just flow, and you feel like an excellent interpreter just because your speaker is so good.
If I have to pick one moment… It’s probably the moment just before you enter the room, or just before ju put on the microphone, when your body is full of adrenaline and anything can happen.

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

Why don’t interpreters blog?

There are so many good blogs on translation. I list a few in my bloglist. But very few interpreters seem to blog. I list all the ones I have found and that are active in the languages I can read, and it’s not more than a handful. Is there a particular reason for the absence of interpreters in the blogosphere? Interpreters are language professionals, just as translators. Interpreters are eloquent. Many are teachers too. Some have written books (such as Andrew Gillies, Ebru Diriker or Roderick Jones), but very few blog.
Secrecy could be an issue of course. Interpreters hold their professional secrecy very high. But having a blog does not necessary need to breach the professional secrecy. Maybe fear of the written word, since interpreters work with the spoken word. But then interpreters would not write books either.
I cannot find a good reason to the lack of interpreters in the blogosphere.

Day 07 My best colleague

First of all you have to define best. The one who is the best interpreter or the one who is the best supporter?
There are some really awesome conference interpreters out there. Interpreters who interpret so that you have the impression to listen directly to the speaker. And on top of that every single nuance or word is there. But if you are a splendid interpreter and does not help your colleagues your excellence is reduced to half. When you work in a booth, you are a team, and the team is not stronger than its weakest links as the defense guys like to put it. The listeners get the impression from one booth, not from individual interpreters. Therefore you need to act as part of the team, help your colleagues with terminology, be attentive to figures, help to find the right power point page and so on.

In community interpreting, you are not surrounded by colleagues. But your best colleagues are those who keep in touch, who are there to debrief, who supports you against interpreting agencies and so forth. As I have said earlier, interestingly enough the public service interpreting client seems to be more interested in an interpreter who is personal rather than neutral. Although that may not be desirable for other reasons (the interpreters social health among other things).

I have not met Erik Camayd-Freixas, but from what I have read about him it is a colleague I admire very much.

So, my best colleague is not a definition of how well somebody interprets (every professional interpreter have to live up to a certain standard of course), but rather how the interpreter acts as a colleague and a fellow human being. I have a colleague who is an excellent interpreter, a very warm person, extremely professional as a team member, and on top of that has energy left to be a committed teacher and mentor. I think that is my best colleague.

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

Day 05 What is good interpreting

Well that is a million dollar question. There are as many definitions of good interpreting as there are interpreters, researchers, institutions and clients.
First of all as one of my students wrote (quoting Patrick Kermit I think), the interpreter is the common language of the staff and the client. And that common language has to be understandable of course.
There are some statements you can make about good interpreting:
1. Interpreting is good when it works for the participants.
2. Interpreting is good when it conveys the meaning of an utterance from speaker to listener (you will have to define “meaning” though :-)).
3. Interpreting is good when it serves its purpose.
But these three statements does not allow my client to put on his or her headphones and immediately say: “That was good interpreting”. It does not enable the patient to judge whether I am interpreting the whole meaning – “everything” or not.
When interpreters take exams there are different ways to try to ensure objectivity in the light of good interpreting. The first thing is to hire a jury, several people judging the same thing gives objectivity, or at least inter-subjectivity. Another idea may be do decide that the interpreters MUST render e.g. 80% of all meaning-bearing units, and then you count…
None of these methods is of course water tight, and does it really ensure good interpreting? In Grenada in Spain there is a group of researchers, ECIS, who has found out that interpreting clients claim that one particular thing is important for quality (let’s say choice of correct word), but when the speeches are tweaked and one issue does not work in the interpreting (e.g.) intonation, then the client scores the interpreting lower and may even argue that the word choice was bad.
You may also have every meaning-bearing unit correct in your interpreting without producing any intelligible utterance.
Another group of researchers concluded that exactness in the interpreting and neutrality were less important features than trust for community interpreters. The clients were most pleased with interpreters they felt they could trust, interpreters who took an active role. Very little was mentioned on exactness of the interpreting.
So, to sum up; the definition of good interpreting is not something that all parties necessary agree on, but good, or the lack thereof, interpreting is something that affects all parties.

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