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From student to professional: some thoughts on teamwork in the booth

24/02/2012 1 comment

As students, interpreting  was a lonely fight we fought. We were in the booth alone most of the times and were left to our fate during the period we switched on the mic. At times, some of us even wanted to be alone, so that our own anxiety and fear over screwing up wouldn’t be noticed by more people than ourselves, or our teacher if we were less lucky. A colleague in the booth, at times, was maybe seen by some as a disturbance instead of a help. Of course, who wants to make a fool of himself with someone sitting next to him or her? The booth was often the place were we felt most vulnerable and who wants to idly expose that? A colleague in the booth was maybe also seen by some as someone they could release their own frustration on, along the lines of: “I screwed up, because my colleague let me down/didn’t help/couldn’t answer the question I had, etc…”. It all comes down to one’s own fear. Agression or rejection in this sense are just an indication of how afraid someone really is. And let’s be honest: As students, we were all afraid at some point!

I am saying that at university we got to understand what sharing the booth with someone meant. We understood that it can be a vital asset to have someone next to you, someone who helps you and we also learned to cherish and value that. I wished for a stronger focal point on teamwork during the studies actually, because it’s so vital to our work. But what I am also convinced of at the same time is that probably a majority of students preferred to be left alone, preferred to not have to engage in a team for the main reasons above mentioned.

Now why is this important once university is over? When we leave university, we have to make some sort of u-turn on this attitude. We have to be prepared to be in the booth with someone and be tied to this someone for the entire assignment. For good or bad. Interpreting is teamwork. And in the end there is no point in blaming the colleague for own mistakes/failures, etc. A team of interpreters fails or succeeds as a whole, as one team. It’s like having a look at a professional sports team. It’s not the individual that counts, it’s the whole team achieving something (or not).

This is by the way not only the interpreter’s perspective we have to look at here: Your client will not be interested in who did a great job in the booth and who didn’t. The client perceives one booth as one unit. He wouldn’t say: “Interpreter A in the English booth was good and Interpreter B was … well …”. No. He would say : “The whole English Booth was bad.” So whatever happens in the booth, it happens for the interpreters as a team. That’s why teamwork is so important and that’s precisely why graduated students need to be aware of its importance, irrespectively of how much they worked already in a team at uni … or how much they liked it.

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