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The first assignments: sink or swim

After a long professional leave, the Mute Button is back with exploring how the first interpreting assignments really feel.

Well, university and the “real world” are two different pair of shoes. Retrospectively, I have to admit that passing the diploma exams wasn’t such an existential problem as I had believed at that time. Not at all…

In the real interpreting world things obviously work a bit differently. Especially the very first assignment is, from a psychological point of view, no easy task to face: Albeit investing a lot in preparation you have the feeling your audience knows more of the topic than you ever will, you are surrounded by more experienced interpreters and the genuine feeling is that of just turning around, running away and do something else than interpreting. Nervousness increases exponentially and pressure is running high when you realize you are in a booth and there is no point of return from here. Then you switch on the mic and from then on it’s either sink or swim.

Young interpreters, recent graduates, are thrown in at the deep end into the business at full force and speed, with no mercy. They are thrown into a pool of sharks ready to feed on you (at least it felt that way before the very first assignment!). They are told to embark on a dreadful journey to their very own Mount Doom. However, being thrown into the business that way is nothing to whine about. Au contraire, it’s both important and vital. It opens your eyes to how things are and gives you the chance to show what you can do, no matter how “bad” the circumstances are. It’s dreadful, yes, but it’s no reason to turn your back and run away.

On a personal note: I had no preparation material for my very first speech (a very difficult and technical one), had to interpret heavily accented English into German, retrieved the PPT just moments before the speech and was left alone for most of my assignment in the booth. In other words, probably the worst happened to me in the beginning … and I am glad it did. I relied only on my preparation and interpreted as best as I could. And I made it! I survived a challenge far worse than an exam. I swam, because I just had to.

Why is such a situation a good thing? It’s good, because it reveals the importance of being faced with an extreme situation of “now-or-never”, and prevail! It gave me lots of experience and self-esteem for sure. So don’t take this the wrong way when I say: I wish all of you that the worst happens to you too, so that you can face a huge challenge and survive it, gain experience and self-esteem from it and do important and vital first steps as professionals in a real business environment. Be prepared to say farewell to how things were at uni though and expect things to be different in dark business territory. And don’t give up before it really started: “Courage is found in unlikely places”

  1. Irene
    11/07/2012 at 08:38

    Thanks for the very interesting blog you have here, it really gives an insight into the world of interpreting. I am a student of translation and interpreting in Barcelona who just finished her first course in interpreting. I have one more year left as an undergrad and then I’m moving on into the very scary world of masters. I would like to pursue a career in interpreting (my languages are Spanish, English, some French and some Chinese), but I have no idea as to where to start. Should I fly off to China to become finally fluent in Chinese? Should I stay in Europe and take my master’s programme in Interpreting? Which are good Interpreting schools around Europe or China? Sorry for the misplaced comment but I could really use the help…it’s very scary!

  2. Irene
    11/07/2012 at 08:44

    Or a good school in any part of the world really…

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