Day 17 My best interpreting memory

This is one of the hardest questions to answer. What is my best interpreting memory? And by that I don’t mean that I need to have a good memory in order to interpret. But was there one really special occasion when I interpreted? Something that I will always remember.

The problem is that there are so many fantastic times. First of all purely physically, the adrenaline rush, the flow, the feeling of complete control. But then all the fantastic people that you get to interpret for, and the great colleagues you work with. Sorry if I sound a bit pathetic, and I know not all days are like that, but those are the moments you live for.

When I started working for the European Institutions, I spent quite a lot of time in Luxemburg. It’s sort of their plant school. Interpreting for the meetings in Luxemburg is usually very technical and can be extremely difficult, but I remember how much fun I had with my colleagues there, and what a team we were.

Some speakers I have interpreted for have been magic. Maybe not because they were very famous, or very important, but because they were such wonderful speakers. You get dragged into their way of speaking, and if it clicks with your way of interpreting, nothing is more rewarding.

Then there are also the situations where you feel that you really made a difference for somebody. The fact that you were there at the doctor’s appointment, or in court that day actually made a difference for the person you interpreted for. I don’t mean to say that interpreters don’t usually make a difference, but I’m sure you understand too that there are days where you are more important than other days.

So I’m not sure I can pick out my best memory. Or, yes, of course I can – it’s the day when I passed my final exams at interpreting school. Otherwise, I would not be here.

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


Day 13 An interpreting week

A week of interpreting is usually very varied, since I did not interpret this week (I try to finish a presentation for a conference, and don’t succeed very well), this is probably an average week for a free-lance interpreter:

Monday: No interpreting assingment – preparing for a conference Thursday and Friday.
Tuesday: Continued preparation in the morning. Last minute court interpreting assignment, 2 hours in the afternoon.
Wedenesday: Community interpreting at a local health care center. The afternoon continued preparation for the conference on Thursday and Friday.
Thursday and Friday: Two day conference for a European Works Council. To get a glimpse of a conference interpreting day have a look at aiic:s article on that. I think it has a self-righteous tone but it also gives a certain idea of what it’s like.

Any free-lance interpreter will tell you that no week is the same, certain weeks are desperately calm and if you have a rare language you will probably have to work with other things as well. Ohter weeks you could have gotten three assignments for each day. There is simply no way to forecast.

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

Day 15 – My goals as an interpreter

Goals are interesting. In the expertise approach in psychology (the one that says that skilled performers deal with their task in the same way regardless of their field of expertise, i.e. a tennis player has the same mental way of preparing him/herself as a chess player), goals are part of the success. The fact that you have clear and pronounced goals and also that you define each part objective on your way to the BIG goal.

But what goals can you define as an interpreter. Do you have a goal for your career? Or for each interpreting? Do you have goals to learn new languages? Pass accreditation tests? Get new clients? And are these goals part of improving your interpreting skills or your career?

Personally my goals were fairly worldly as I started out, the main problem was to get enough days of work as a young interpreter fresh out of interpreting school. So my goal back then was simply to get 5 days of work per month, every day over 5 was bonus. This also went hand in hand with being professional i.e. the goal of being up to date in my languages, well prepared when arriving to meetings and a good colleague (word travels quickly if you are unpleasant to work with).

In the beginning I had to struggle with less serious agencies too, so one of the goals was to not take work where working conditions were poor or where I was not qualified. More than once I have arrived at a meeting only to discover that the language combinations were completely wrong, colleagues unqualified or missing, or that there was no booth although we had agreed on that.

So there are goals on different levels: short term; long term; interpreting wise; language wise; customer related; and related to professionalism. A person that has described this very well is Gun-Viol Vik-Tuovinen in her PhD on interpreting on different levels of competence. Her PhD exists only in Swedish, but she has several articles in English.

And my personal goals then? Well, for every meeting it is as one of my colleagues so elegantly put it: “I want to understand and to be understood, that’s the only thing that matters”. And the strive to understand goes hand in hand with being well prepared, know your languages and so forth. “Were you a good interpreter today?”, my husband asks when I get home in the evening. And the days when I can answer “yes” are the days when I reached my goals. (Maybe I should add a saving clause here saying that the fact that I’m not satisfied with my interpreting is not necessarily the same thing as your clients or colleagues being dissatisfied, you are your own harshest judge.)

And the long-term goals? First of all I love my job, I love research too, and I would really like to combine the two. Most interpreting researchers do actually. Interpreting is too much fun to just let go. So, to stay on the market is an important long-term goal. My second long term goal is to continuously improve. I want to feel that I get better every time or every year. And thirdly, I want to learn a new interpreting language. I have been striving with Dutch for years, very extensively but still. And getting a language up to interpreting level is not something that is done in five minutes with Berlitz. You can read Interpreter Diaries’ very enlightening post on that here. Considering my PhD, my struggle with Dutch will continue to be extensive for a couple of years still but then…

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

Day 11 My colleagues

In a comment to my post on my best colleague, Translatology wrote: “In my experience, not enough emphasis is placed on teamwork in interpreter training”. I very much agree with him on this. I would once again like to put forward my colleagues. I am blessed with working in a very open and welcoming environment.

When I studied to take the court interpreting certification for the second time (which I embarrassingly enough have failed twice and still not passed), one of my colleagues suggested that we study together, and for several months we met regularly to discuss terminology and the topic.

Your colleagues are also the ones you can debrief to. They are under the same secrecy as you are, they have most likely been in more or less similar situations. They may even know the agency or the client in particular.

Usually, when I come to the booth my colleagues share word lists and knowledge with me. And they write notes when I’m not sure of the terminology. For me as a freelance often working with staff interpreters it’s worth a fortune. I do prepare, but I will never (at least not with my current level of working-days) get up to their terminological ease. I cannot compare to them who work every day in the same environment and regularly at the same meetings. I do not aim to be compared with them either of course, but I am truly grateful that they share their knowledge so generously.

Another golden rule among freelancers is the referral. I refer jobs to you and you refer jobs to me. It’s very discouraging to refer lots of missions to a colleague and you never get anything back. On a more professional level I find it more correct to answer a potential client that “I’m unfortunately already booked on the date in question, but please contact my colleague so and so”, rather than just a plain no.

So, as a colleague: Share your knowledge, be supportive, take some time to listen, remember to distribute jobs, make sure the work runs smoothly on the team, and remember: What goes around comes around.

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

Day 10 This is what I bring to the booth

1) My computer – under the best circumstances I have my USB-modem or Internet access in the booth. If not, it’s OK. I still have a lot of word lists on my computer.

2) My little black note book – I have an address book that I use as notebook. I keep my entries according to topic (agriculture, economy, European Works Council etc.) and each topic is in alphabetical order.

3) Pen (or rather lots of pens, pencils and markers but that’s just because I like it) and paper – most of the time the organisers provide pen and paper, but just in case…

4) A book to read when I do not interpret – If you work in a booth you work in teams of two or three, this means that there are periods when you don’t interpret. When you don’t interpret you have to be attentive of course and help your colleagues, but still there are periods when it’s good to have a book. It’s good if it’s not to captivating though, it has happened that I missed “my cue”, because I was too absorbed in my book. My colleagues quickly reminded me of course, but it’s nevertheless very embarrassing.

5) Coffee – tons (or rather liters of coffee, I’m a real addict….

As you can see, I usually carry round lots of weight. I do like the snails, I carry my home on the back. You may have noticed that I do not bring dictionaries. I used to, before the lap top era. Now I only do it occasionally, in meetings with very specialized terminology.

The only difference in my packing if I do a community interpreting is that I cannot read my book in the meeting and I do not bring coffee. Otherwise, the I carry around the same stuff.

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

Day 09 I really believe that

All interpreters are entitled to good training and that all interpreting clients are entitled to trained interpreters. I also believe that interpreting should be properly paid. Interpreting is a profession and should be treated as such.

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

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 06 A Day at Work

A day at work differs a lot if you are on a community mission or conference mission. Your community interpreting day will typically start with you gathering all your dictionaries and word lists (not too much though you will carry it around for the whole day), you will absolutely need a pen and your note pad (actually it may be better to have all that packed up the day before), you also need to know where you are going, names and possible contact numbers (sometimes places can be difficult to get in to). Once you’re ready off to, for instance, the court house.

If you’re lucky it’s a day long hearing and you don’t have to move around that much, otherwise you’re out of the court house after an hour usually (that’s fairly average for shorter law suits or cases, a witness hearing may be even shorter at least where I work), after that you’re off to a midwife for a pregnancy check-up. After the pregnancy check-up you hopefully have time for some lunch and then you’re off to the migration board for an information meeting for newly arrived refugees.

Usually there is little time to prepare, you are lucky if you get a file from the court. For medical appointments you usually just know the name of the person who booked you. Regular meetings at for instance the migration board are good, because usually you do them more than once and will know in general how they are done. You have very little contact with your colleagues, simply because as a community interpreter you rarely work in teams. This also means that you are pretty much on your own for terminology and so forth.

For a conference interpreting mission the day at work starts already a couple of days before your job. Longer before if you are not familiar with the topic, maybe just the afternoon or evening before if this is a routine job. When you start preparing you surf the internet, your read up on the topic, you make word lists and so forth.

The evening before you check all the practical details; where are you going, how long does it take you to get there (if you’re working out of town or out of the country you may be traveling the evening before), do you have your contract, dictionaries, power point etc. If the meeting is very specialized the speakers are usually kind enough to send you their power points.

You get to the meeting at least 30 minutes before you start. An interpreter is NEVER late. In my 15 years of interpreting I have never been late for a private market meeting. I have been late to meetings at different institutions a couple of times, mainly due to flight problems (snow, strike and so forth), it is of course just as inadmissible to be late to an institution, but usually they have a back up team of interpreters so it’s a little less damaging. On the private market you can ruin the whole meeting.

As you get to your meeting you take out all your aids, i.e. dictionaries, word lists, computer, note pad and pen. Pen is also a no, no to forget. You say hello to you colleagues, check last minute changes, have a coffee and… you’re on air.

In the booth you take turns with your colleagues, 15-30 minutes at a time. When you’re not on air, you have to maintain a certain level of concentration as you may need to help your colleague with different things such as; technical mishaps (the sound disappearing is a nightmare), terminology, difficulties to catch names, get the right page in a power point or document and so forth.

At lunch you just want a calm moment and a chat with your colleagues, sometimes it’s good to check terminology with your delegate. No interpreter loves to continue interpreting during lunch conversations and speeches, if interpreting is needed during lunch it is wise to provide extra time for interpreters to recover. You cannot be a top performer all day without proper resting time.

The afternoon you’re back in the booth with basically the same tasks as in the morning. Don’t forget to bring a cup of coffee to the booth for the grave yard slot, you know the first speaker after lunch when everyone is tired.

After a day of interpreting be it community of conference you are worn out. Of course you develop stamina after years in the business, but the fact is that it is a very demanding task where you have to stay alert and concentrate intensely for long periods of time. So what you are longing for after a day of interpreting is a bit of rest and… silence.

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