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Posts Tagged ‘university’

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.

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 …