How is it to join the Dark Side and teach interpreting?

18/02/2012 1 comment

I remember studying hard for my interpreting exams. Entire afternoons sitting in front of my desk, studying, studying, studying. Waking up on the exam day, going through all the horror of the actual exam (plus the post-exam horror!), waiting a lifetime for the marks, then finally passing the exam and … a first job couple of days later!!! And what a job: teaching liasion interpreting at the very same uni! Now, reflecting on the job after one term, how is it actually to join the „Dark Side“?

One of the first hurdles I had to overcome was that I was mentally not very well prepared for this new job. In my mind, I was still a student and suddenly I had a whole bunch of those staring at me and expecting me to conjure up some magic, know everything and give the correct answers straight away. A couple of weeks earlier, it had been me who did the same with my teachers, my own interpreting authorities. I didn’t see myself as an authority at all.

Frankly, I think during the first couple of lectures I lost a bit of credibility in a way, which might have had a cultural cause as well: Not all German students are easy with their teacher being very informal, down-to-earth, internally feeling like belonging to them etc. I thought after a while that something needed to change, that I needed to maintain some sort of distance between me and my students. After a couple of sessions, however, I must admit that I stepped more and more into this role, with all it entails, although at a very slow pace I have to admit.

Another thing that cost me some headache in this sense was conducting and grading exams. When it’s yourself who takes the exam, the grading is the thing you are most afraid of. Literally. But now suddenly it’s you grading students, causing existential anxiety and fear among them. I felt a bit like a Roman emperor deciding on the life of some ill-fated gladiator in that situation, without liking it a bit, because of exactly knowing how the students were feeling. By conducting and grading exams, the end of term, I was confirmed that I still hadn’t fully grown into the teacher’s role. I was almost as afraid to do something wrong as the students.

So what’s the morale? It takes a long while to adapt to such a situation and give intepreting classes to people when you still feel like a student yourself, have some, but very limited professional experience and are only on the verge of conquering the interpreting world. To all people who might be in a simliar situation I have a hands-on advice: Be yourself in front of class, but maintain some sort of „natural distance“ straight from the start between you and your students. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds, but I think that would be the way to go. Improv skills is another thing that you should definitely have ready in class, but that’s a bit like sitting in the booth struggeling to come up with a solution during simultaneous for example.Be prepared to improvise sometimes, because you will encounter a situation where you are as clueless as your students!

The most positive thing, however, is that it is not only the students who learn. There is something in it for you as well, something which is a valuable resource for any interpreter: Experience! In a lot of ways …


Why another blog on interpreting?

16/02/2012 9 comments

I have long thought to write a blog about what I decided to do as a professional. Now with the last chapters of my thesis and my uni career drawing to a close, I thought it was a fitting time to get started.

In this blog, I will write about interpreting and all aspects it entails, which are many: langauge, language acquisition, the actual process of interpreting, the different types of interpreting, the life of a conference interpreter, freelancing, the resources an interpreter can use for their professional work and so on and so forth. Mainly, I will write entries based on my own experiences, experiences I will draw from my job as teaching fellow for liasion interpreting, but also from my first hands-on experiences related to what I always wanted to become: a professional interpreter.

As my native language is German, it might have been convenient to write this blog in German, which was the initial plan to be entirely honest with you. However, this blog will mainly be written in English, my active foreign language, as I want the number of readers not to be limited to only those who master German. In fact, I have many friends experienced in translation and interpreting which might have some interest in this blog and I would feel utterly ashamed to exclude any of them just because of a language barrier – which is in fact what we translators and interpreters aim to overcome.

The blog’s name is the “mute button”, which is a tiny little button that enables us interpreters during simultaneous interpretation to say what shouldn’t be said openly, to draw energy and refresh the brain or to interact with our colleague. My own experiences in the booth led me to believe that the mute button can actually be an interpreter’s best friend. Well, sometimes, our dearest friends deserve some kind of recognition in my opinion, and as the button is of such a central importance for interpreters, I thought it might be a convenient name for a blog dedicated to interpreting and written from the mind of an interpreter.

I hope you find reading this blog worthwhile and I am looking forward to hearing all your comments and replies to my entries!If you are interested, you can follow the Mute Button blog via RSS feed, Email, Twitter and/or Facebook.

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