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. Continue reading


Language enhancement


When you start an interpreting course one of the first things you that may strike you is how the language you thought you knew just fades away. Interpreting is an extremely complex exercise and your language skills have to be extremely solid. Whether we grew up bilingually or learnt languages later, most of us who are (or were) accepted into an interpreting program probably has the equivalent to a C2 level (mother tongue or near-native level according to the Council of Europe). But let’s face it, when we embark on our first consecutive – it feels like we just learnt our first words in that language.

So, although you are a skilled linguist, you will have to work on enhancing your language skills, and probably also the elusive concept of ‘culture générale’. But how do you do it? Since we’re not C3PO we cannot just add another hard drive or software, we just have to do it the good old way. And you probably already know it, but here’s a repetition.

First of all, listen, read, eat and sleep your language. You may have to do this both with your foreign language and your mother tongue. Unfortunately, there is now way around it – you need to listen to radio, read newspapers, listen to the news, both in your mother tongue and in your foreign language and with all the technical aid today this is not too hard. Log on to iTunes and see which pods suit you. I like NPR (the American National Public Radio), BBC, TV5 Monde, RFI (Radio France Internationale) just to mention a few. Many newspapers also have their own pod casts. And if you subscribe to different news apps you will get short flashes in you mobile.

When I brain stormed with my students someone also said “set your mobile, Facebook or web browser to your foreign language”. Translation is a good exercise too, when you translate shorter, idiomatic texts you get a feeling for expressions, idioms, prepositions and so forth. Attention to prepositions cannot be stressed enough, prepositions are probably one of the most difficult areas of language and preposition use has an unfortunate tendency to break down in stressful situations like interpreting. If you’re unsure about language in use, corpora is a good thing, in many multilingual text corpora, current texts are collected in order to compare language in use. Another way of mastering language in use as professor Harris pointed out in the comments is to learn poems or song lyrics by heart. As dull as it may seem it is a wonderful way of learning expressions and idiomatic language use.

Finally, and unfortunately, there is probably no way round vocabulary swotting. Flash cards is a good strategy here and one of my students mentioned Anki. I have not tried it – in my time we used cardboard and felt pen, but time changes :-). For my part I also joined an amateur theater group in English in order to immerse myself as much as I could without leaving Sweden. There are many other opportunities like that via Internet now, and thanks to different local groups you may also find opportunities to meet people IRL.

What’s your best language enhancement strategy? And do spare me of the pillow method, I’m far from sure it’s the best method.

Update: Just to be very clear – an interpreting course will enhance your language skills, but it is NOT a language course. All the basic language learning, including living and working abroad, will have to be done before the course. Otherwise there is little chance you will survive until your last exam.

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.

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!