Posts Tagged ‘interpreting’

Interpreter’s Waybread #1

18/09/2012 Leave a comment

This series is set to summarize, channel and spread some words of wisdom and encouragement, but also some instances of humour, for any interpreter, translator or language service provider out there. It’s all about quotes, sentences, remarks, jokes or opinions I have been able to collect in my relatively young career as a freelance interpreter. It’s about things I heard or read which often provided some sort of guidance or help. It’s precisely the latter that every young interpreter will cherish and it’s mainly to those people I dedicate this upcoming series of posts (although even older colleagues might find some interest in it – at least I hope so!).

I’ll call this miniseries Interpreter’s Waybread. Being on a long (interpreting) journey, we tend to turn for help and guidance, mostly in times of exhaustion and desperation. It’s the same on a long hike, when all energy is spent and we turn to our provisions to help us getting back to our feet, and do one more step to where we want to go.

I will leave every quote or sentence uncommented, so that the reader may extract his own conclusions while reading along.

Interpreter’s Waybread #1:

“If you feel small, other people will treat you as a small person” (An older colleauge on the importance of self-esteem in the freelancing world)

Agressive or rude behaviour is nearly always a product of fear. Someone treats you rudely or aggressively, you know they identified you as a person to be afraid of… That’s way better than being sidelined completely(an experienced interpreter during a seminar)

“Courage is found in unlikely places” (from the “Lord of the Rings”)

“We want to massage the their ears a little. We do not want to send them to sleep” (from a former interpreting teacher)

“Forget about interpreting from time to time, but completely. Not doing so will make you lose your mind” (a colleague)

“Chuchotage is fun. One feels part of being in a huge conspiration” (a colleague)

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” (Oscar Wilde)

The first assignments: sink or swim

08/04/2012 2 comments

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”

Wikipedia: a reliable source of information?

09/03/2012 5 comments

Most of us, who recently graduated from uni, praised Wikipedia for its precious service during our uni carrer, especially when time was scarce and we were loaded with projects, deadlines, presentations, interpreting classes etc. Wikipedia seemed to be a quick-fix for all our problems. Presentations were prepared fast and information was collected easily. Silently, we always thanked Wikipedia for the magic it provided so comfortably. At the same time,  we were lured to consult the website over and over again and until it formed an integral part of our uni life. Ok, we were told every now and then to refrain from using Wikipedia as a source of information for our interpreting classes, but come on: Who didn’t check on the website to save some time and nerves?

The thing is: Wikipedia may have helped us at university, but is the platform a valuable and reliable source of information which to consult for the preparation of an interpreting assignment? The answer to that question is: yes and no.

In a professional interpreting context, and I reckon that must be self-explaining, I’d never use Wikipedia for information such as bibliographic information about people, about historic events, political ideologies … for most of the things actually. Why? You never know who is behind the information, if the information is true/accurate/verfied or not. Wikipedia’s open, collaborative approach is generally a good thing, but you can never be sure who is behind the information you find. If you use Wikipedia as source,  always double-check your information!

However, I must admit that I use Wikipedia sometimes when it comes to technical things,although you have to be very careful here, too. Sometimes, people with amazing technical or mechanical knowledge post things about “suspension bridges” or “injection molding” or whatever else. The more they share, the easier it seems to get access to very specific and good information It’s like finding a magic fountain of technical wisdom in a way.

BUT: always double-check!!! Think critically!!! At the end of the day you can never be sure as to where the information comes from. And especially recent graduates should learn to prepare an assignment without Wikipedia and consult other, more reliable sources of information. Getting rid of Wikipedia might be like trying to quit Facebook as it involves a profound change of habits and a lot of self-discipline. It also involves a huge personal effort as “to quit” and “to stay away from something” are two different things.And, alas, Wikipedia is just so god-dammed comfortable. However, leaving Wikipedia behind along with your uni carrer might be the way to go for beginners. See it as part of the transition from student to professional! I mean why go the easy way if it is about a job, paying your rent, your reputation etc. Don’t take any risks! Fast, quick and vast information seems like a comfortable quick-fix … but that doesen’t mean we have to blindly believe it.

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 …