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.


Day 04 Daily interpreting practice

What is exercise in interpreting? Can you get better if you practice? Are interpreters born or made? In cognitive psychology there is a concept called deliberate practice. Deliberate practice a common denominator for experts, it means that you not only practice dutifully, but that you actually have a specific goal with your practice. And the goal is not just: “I’m going to be a darn good interpreter”, but: “Today, I will practice to end my sentences”, or: “This time I’m going to make sure I don’t use any ‘euh'” and so forth.
As I have studied and interviewed very experienced interpreters I have realized that interpreting practice is not just something that has to do with the interpreting exercise. It is also things as, reading newspapers in different languages, listening to the news in different languages, getting to know your speakers, for instance.
Interpreters spend much time preparing, and I would argue that the preparation is also part of the deliberate practice (if you do it properly of course). All those different activities develop and increase the interpreter’s knowledge base and this in turn improves the interpreting performance. Any interpreting teacher will tell you that interpreting is not just translating verbatim from one language to another. And once you have mastered the interpreting skill the way to improve your interpreting is to broaden your knowledge base.
So, my exercise today was; reading the newspaper, listening to the news, using my foreign languages, and blog a little bit. Today I did not interpret, but I tried to increase my knowledge base in preparation of next interpreting mission

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

Day 03 Interpreting teachers I remember

The interesting thing in interpreting training is that all your teachers are professional interpreters. This means that if you make it through interpreting school, your former teachers will be your colleagues. It’s like being trained into a medieval guild. And somehow after a couple of years in the business your former teachers grow into being just colleagues. Basically you stop being afraid of them.

There are horror stories going around about teachers whose only goal seemed to be to make at least one student crying every lesson. I’ve understood as I started teaching interpreting that the difficult thing about it is that (often unintentionally) you criticize personal things like voice, word choice and so forth. Therefore your students may perceive you as harsher than you actually are or want to be.

So much for general comments on interpreting teachers and then to the teachers I remember. Most teachers I had were great. Without my Danish consecutive teacher I would not have passed my exam. She gave me extra classes at her place, just like that. Taking of her own free time for nothing, just to help me pass. I did not have enormous problems with Danish, but consecutive technique took some time to master.

At my interpreting school, staff interpreters came on Friday mornings every week and Saturday mornings once a month to give interpreting classes. On top of that we had interpreting classes with other teachers as well. I don’t remember that my interpreting was ever “cut to pieces” by teachers, but I remember occasions when we laughed real hard at what I produced. The worst comment I have ever got was actually a little later when I had been practicing working into English from my mother tongue. Then a teacher told me he never wanted to hear me utter another word in English ever again. I told you it’s tough from time to time.

But in general, thank you to all my teachers. You were devoted, inspiring, tough and most of all determined teach us interpreting. And you made me an interpreter!

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

Day 02 My first interpreting job

I think this is something EVERY interpreter will remember. The first time I opened the microphone live, when the listeners were real clients, not just my teachers or fellow students, was at a conference on the pension system. Extremely technical, very difficult.

I was terrified a week before, when I started preparing. I made word lists long as Rapunzel’s braid, I brought all my dictionaries and all the bits of documentation I could possibly find. Luckily, I worked with very nice and supportive colleagues (fortunately, most colleagues in my booth are), who reassured me and helped me out.

There are many first times though and some of them are just as daunting. First time I interpreted for the European institutions was just as terrifying. Despite of preparations and word lists and even a period of internship with the institutions, I still managed to mix up the different groups, committees and institutions.

My first community interpreting job, was overwhelming. I felt that everything was my responsibility only (compared to a conference where there is at least one colleague present all the time), I did not understand that both the doctor and the patient had their responsibility in the conversation as well. More than once during the discussion I felt insufficient.

Now, you may wonder why I struggled on, despite all these difficult experiences. The truth is that it was more fascinating and rewarding than scaring. I left the booth or the medical office with a sentiment of satisfaction and a feeling that I made a difference.

There are still “first times”, but less scaring nowadays than it was fifteen years ago.

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

Day 01 About me

I have been a professional interpreter for almost 15 years. I am accredited at the European Institutions and I am a state authorized public service interpreter. 2009–2013, I lived in Brussels. So much for the dull basic facts.

I love interpreting, all facets of interpreting. I find it truly fascinating and exciting, both sitting in a booth and interpreting heads of states or world leader, and sitting together with a client in the court or at the hospital. I regularly experience that I make a difference which is of course very rewarding. Not to mention the adrenaline boost you get when you open the microphone or walk into the courtroom. I am a person of the spoken word, not the written word (which is obvious to readers of the blog).

I became an interpreter by chance, (I’ll get to that later in the list). When I studied to become a teacher (a thousand years ago), I feared waking up every day for the next 20 years and knowing exactly what my day would look like. The fact that I now work as a freelance has effectively remedied that, although that was not the only reason to become an interpreter of course.

I did not grow up bilingual, I started studying languages fairly early at school, but it was by no means a bilingual education. Maybe I can label myself bilingual today, but I have difficulties doing that since “bilingual” in interpreting “lingo” means that a person masters at least two languages equally well, and not only well but to high academic perfection and not the least that you can interpret both to and from the languages of course. I mostly interpret into my mother tongue, occasionally into English.

Four years ago I decided to start writing a PhD in interpreting. I wanted to combine the two worlds that I like so much, the interpreting world and the academic world. I am now at least halfway through and hope to finish my PhD in about two years time. I study expertise in interpreting. How interpreters develop expertise and if there are expert interpreters. This sounds harsh; wouldn’t interpreters be experts? of course they would. The expert concept though is a concept from psychology, it is a concept explored by psychology professor Karl Anders Ericsson among others. It is experts in those terms I’m looking for.

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

30 days on interpreting

I have decided to adapt one of those lists that you find on so many blogs to interpreting, and see if I can come up with something new and (hopefully) interesting. 30 days and 30 quite personal things on interpreting.

Day 01 About me
Day 02 My first interpreting job
Day 03 Interpreting teachers I remember
Day 04 Daily interpreting practice
Day 05 What is good interpreting
Day 06 A day at work
Day 07 My best colleague
Day 08 A moment in the booth
Day 09 I really believe that…
Day 10 This is what I bring to the booth
Day 11 My colleagues
Day 12 In my suitcase
Day 13 An interpreting week
Day 14 One thing you didn’t know about interpreting
Day 15 My goals as an interpreter
Day 16 Don’t you ever make mistakes?
Day 17 My best interpreting memory
Day 18 My favourite type of interpreting
Day 19 Something I regret
Day 20 This month
Day 21 The most interesting person I’ve interpreted
Day 22 Things that upset me when I interpret
Day 23 Things that make me happy when I interpret
Day 24 Can you show your feelings when you interpret
Day 25 The first time I heard about interpreting
Day 26 Things I like less with my job
Day 27 My favourite booth
Day 28 If I could improve the interpreting profession I would…
Day 29 My ambitions
Day 30 And lastly…