This is a new series of tips and recommendations for interpreters, but from a different angle, an often-neglected one. I will not say the word, lest some of you are panic-stricken and stop reading immediately. Just guess…
I decided to call this series the #GoSlowIntepreter movement. My goal is to share some of the insight and reflections I have drawn from my experience as a conference and consultant interpreter, in the hope of making a contribution to improving the quality of our working life.
First, some clarification: #GoSlow doesn’t mean doing or being less, indulging in laziness, or doing everything more slowly. Nothing is further from the truth. Living slowly means being more present in the thousand things you do every day, being more aware that this second is all we have, that the past is gone and the future will never come because, when it does, it will be the present again.
Now, how does this relate to interpreting?
I had conceived the first post of this series as ideas to implement in the #GoSlowIntepreter booth, but since the #coronavirus is creating headlines around the world, I felt I could offer emergency tips . There is now a generalized feeling of unsafety and we are before a real threat to humanity. The event industry has been severely hit. But let us put things in context. Humanity has gone through many epidemics and pandemics before and, ultimately, everything resolves; of course, there will always be collateral damage. That, we cannot avoid. While the scientific world is working against the clock to contain the virus, what can we do?
What does all this mean to us in the context of this #GoSlowIntepreter movement?
When you get your next cancellation, do not panic. Do not stress out, do not become a susceptible host to the virus. Breathe in, breathe out! It has been proven that inhaling and exhaling to the count of four and exhaling to the count of six will slow your heartbeat and trigger positive thinking; visualize positive scenes, like yourself in the booth; focus on healthy emotions, not panic. And think also of taking up yoga or intensifying your yoga practice; it is a time to share and support each other more, giving each other attention and appreciation. And, believe me, resorting to these techniques is necessary. It is extremely difficult for human beings to think positively in the middle of a crisis. The merit belongs to those who can be absolutely certain of something, even if it hasn’t happened yet.
The next step is to use adversity to reflect on where you would like to be in four moths time, for example. Can you use this time to hone down on your interpreting skills? Enhancing one of your C languages? Designing that professional website you never have the time to do?
Once you have decided how to use this time of adversity, you have to take action. This is the most difficult step. Perhaps, the next paragraph will help you see why you have to remain active.
Without breaking any principle of confidentiality, I can tell you something the CEO of a multinational said during a press conference. As interpreters, we tend not to remember many things unless what we hear is significant to us. And this certainly was to me. When asked about the crisis in Argentina, he shrugged and said: “Crisis? I have worked for this company for more than 20 years. Can you imagine how many crises I have witnessed? If there is one recommendation I can give you, it is: The crisis will come to an end and, when it does, you will have to be prepared. The ones who will succeed at that time are those who take advantage of the bust cycle!.
In conclusion, I come from a country where crises are part of our DNA. And I believe this helps, since you become more resilient and are absolutely certain that “this too shall pass”. And, when it does, you will be prepared to rise to the next level in your career. It has worked for me, why wouldn’t it work for you? Certain that we will be in contact again soon on a more positive note, I wish you all well. And remember, here and now is all we have.
Mr McCleary covered the historical context and possible consequences of the UK’s separation from the European Union. He stated that although Britain had historical ties to Europe, dating back many years, it always saw itself as somewhat apart, and different. Already at the end of the second World War, Winston Churchill understood that something dangerous was happening in Europe; and, in a major speech, in Europe, in 1946, he talked about a United States of Europe, foreseeing the Cold War and the need of European countries coming together to counter that. However, Britain decided not to join the EEC in 1957, only to change its mind in 1960. The UK applied to become part of the EEC, but President De Gaulle turned down the application, not once but twice. It was only after that De Gaulle left that Britain could join, which it did on January 1, 1973. Moreover, there was opposition already at that time. People also talked of the end of democracy and sovereignty. The Labour Party, which saw Europe as a capitalist plot against the working man, won elections in 1974 and Prime Minister Wilson held a referendum on whether to stay in the EEC with an outcome of 2/3 to 1/3 majority in favour of staying in Europe. So there came the Thatcher years. Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in establishing a Single Market and in advocating greater political cooperation. During Major’s Premiership there emerged a group of MPs within the Conservative Party, who became the Euroskeptics. They were called “the bastards”. This group is critical in understanding where Britain is today. We finally get to Cameron, who called the famous referendum for the pressure he was under from the Euroskeptics. The campaign which preceded the referendum was a nasty ill-tempered campaign, full of fake news left, right and centre. The question asked was binary, should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? The campaign for the “leave” side was won by leveraging on the lack of trust for the political class. The results of the Brexit vote showed a deeply divided country. The breakdown evidenced rural-urban issues, North-South issues, South-South issues, and years of austerity. Negotiations so far have been tough, saying that the deal was too soft for the “leave” camp, too hard for the remainders.
The future remains uncertain, to say the least, with negative economic consequences for the UK.
The implications for interpreters
The following chart taken from the same presentation shows the implications for interpreters if deal is approved or if there is no deal.
Britain was never sure why it wanted to join, not fully committed, the leadership failed to explain the benefits of belonging, negotiations have been poorly handled and the issue of the Irish backstop has not been properly understood, which means that if no deal is reached within two years the UK will remain in a Customs Union with the EU. Boyd McCleary concluded: “I wish I could offer you a message of support, but I’m afraid it’s a message of despair.” However, he ended on a very positive note for our profession saying that interpreters should not worry; there will be plenty of work for us for many years to come.
Interpreting is a complex task which requires mastering many skills. It is essential to know the languages and cultures that are connected, but it is also essential to understand how to reflect in our voice what is said through words.
Interpretation from its origins in the face of the challenges of the 21st century
The interpreter as speaker
Simultaneous and consecutive translation
The connection between interpretation and a theatre performance:
Physical action (Stanislavski)
The external world (Mamet)
The circles of attention (Rodenburg)
Warm-up physical exercises for interpretation work
How we find our voice
Physical and mental techniques for coping with public speaker challenges
almost two hours, Patsy guided us through a path of examples, exercises, and
connections to acting.
are some of the conclusions drawn from her masterful presentation:
Of the resources used by the interpreter, the voice is the only one that will always allow us to differentiate ourselves from the machines and oral translation engines.
The voice requires as much preparation and training as the skills inherent in interpreting.
Our voice is the only thing that allows participants to understand what is being said.
Intonation and emphasis allow us to convey not only words and content but also emotions and metalanguage.
When something is clearly put into words a thought is transmitted.
session ended with several body and vocal production exercises that must be
done every time you enter a booth. In short, it was delicious to listen to
Patsy’s VOICE for two hours.
Patricia Arizu (A-EN, ES, C-FR) was Director of the Interpretation Service of the U.S. Department of State until 2014. In such a capacity, she supervised staff interpreters and free-lancers in the White House and other agencies of the Executive Branch of Government in more than eighty languages. She was one of the first members of HINTS (Heads of Interpreting Services). She has more than forty years of experience as an interpreter. As an actress, she is now dedicated to theatre performances in New York and London. She also works as a consultant on issues related to interpretation, the use of the voice and presentation techniques.
The training included five days of intense
work. With specialists in interpreter training from the European Union, we
followed the recommended pedagogical path for any interpreter training
programme: from the selection of ideal candidates to the final examination.
The contents presented were of great
richness, and this blog develops the key themes on which this course was
articulated: the ideal profile of future
interpreters (candidates), the pedagogical sequences, the preparation of
speeches, the palnning of training sessions, the ways to capitalise the
evaluations in positive feedbacks and the resources available for interpreter
The job of
the interpreter requires a great deal of responsibility. Poor interpretation
can lead to the discredit of the speaker or the institution he/she represents,
to the failure of a business, or even to an international conflict. For this
reason, it is essential to have interpreters who have specific qualifications
and competencies to carry out their profession.
to the admission exams, the most appropriate options were analysed to assess
the qualifications expected of any potential interpreter: ability to
concentrate, speed of reaction, capacity of analysis and synthesis, love for languages,
intellectual curiosity, resistance to pressure, prudence, knowing one’s place
at all times, teamwork, and intellectual maturity.
For some specialists,
the interpreter must cultivate and employ four main skills: linguistic,
pragmatic, encyclopaedic and strategic. The linguistic competence is understood
as specialised knowledge of grammatical rules with a normative approach, which
includes the phonetics, morphology and syntax of the language. Concerning the
encyclopaedic competence, the more knowledge on the subject being interpreted
the easier it is to translate through inference processes. The pragmatic
competence makes it possible to functionally understand what happens when a
speaker addresses an audience and, therefore, gives the interpreter the
opportunity to reflect on the relevance of specific terms. Finally, the strategic competence comprises
specific verbal and non-verbal abilities to overcome obstacles, such as the
systematic deficiencies of speakers, or to reinforce communicative
reason, in this First Course for Trainers of Spanish Interpreters, the means to
assess these qualities and competencies in future interpreters were analysed.
following evaluation strategies were described:
a) WRITTEN EXAMINATION
A multiple-choice test to measure general culture.
Composition in the working languages.
Listening comprehension by questionnaire.
Translation at first sight into language A and B (on a current short text).
b) ORAL INTERVIEW
Interview to evaluate the expression in Spanish and English, or the other working languages.
Preparation of a speech on a current topic.
Presentation of a detailed summary of what was heard from a speech in their working languages.
knowledge is acquired gradually and continuously, one of the most critical
factors in the training of an interpreter is the thematic progression on which
the curriculum is built. It is always advisable to start from the most
straightforward processes to be carried out and to culminate with the
integration of all the methods in a final evaluation.
this principle, we concluded that it was of vital importance to follow the
following pedagogical progression when configuring an interpreter training
strategic possibilities for effectively capitalising knowledge, it is advisable
to establish thematic weeks to address different fields of expertise. Practice
is the fundamental thing: repeat, repeat, repeat. It is necessary to set
objectives, that is, to have a clear idea of what we want to achieve with each
module, according to the available translation time -with memory, consecutive,
simultaneous, etc.-. There must be a general coordinator to be able to follow
up on each student. Knowing how to choose speeches is essential.
A well-articulated speech allows participants to perceive their knowledge of the source and target languages, their capacity for synthesis and analysis, general culture (history, technology, agriculture), communicative skills (intonation, lexical selection, the structure of translated sentences).
to the intention of the speaker, speech can be articulated in different ways.
The simplest are those that introduce the audience to a topic, develop some
aspect of it, and then propose a point of view in the form of a conclusion.
However, they can also be constructed on the basis of the Socratic method, with
an introduction, a thesis, an antithesis and a conclusion. Alternatively, they
can focus on the opposition, with an introduction, a first argument, with its
corresponding counterargument, which is opposed by a second argument with its
counterargument, and thus the game of contrasts can be extended until a
satisfactory conclusion is reached.
effective exercise to practice with future interpreters is to expose a text
and, together, identify the model to which it responds and the discursive
strategies through which it was composed. In this sense, activities were
suggested in which students should construct or transform the structure of the
text according to the models cited. Another possible exercise is to take a
speciality article, choose a scheme and turn it into material for consecutive
and simultaneous interpretation.
fundamental step in the learning of the profession is to develop skills in
public speaking, that is, to transform texts into oral speeches.
purpose, future interpreters must have the necessary linguistic knowledge to
expand the lexicon in terms of a more technical register. For example, it is
necessary to exercise recognition of expressions, reading figures, proper
names, quoting texts. Exercises can also be developed from a brainstorming
session with non-exhaustive enumerations or figures centred on order of
Planning of a training session
From the trainer’s
point of view, it is vital to use a logbook or some record-keeping instrument
where the student can see the planning, but also that serves to record the
performance class by class. In this way, it will be possible to identify
recurrent problems and, at the same time, analyse the results of the dynamics
proposed in each course. Besides, it makes it possible to introduce objectives
for the next session and to become aware of the progress made.
resource for measuring pedagogical progress is periodic tutorials with
students. Although it may vary according to the complexity of the contents, a
frequency of two months is recommended.
useful resource that facilitates the trainer’s follow-up are performance forms,
where it is possible to record if the interpretation was faithful to the
original, if it was developed in a complete manner, if parts were omitted, if
it was carried out in an adequate manner, if the text was interpreted correctly,
and so many other details.
neglected aspect of teaching is that of feedback. That is, when a student is
evaluated or develops a task, it is crucial for trainers to explain the
strengths and weaknesses in performance. This feedback should follow the objectives
set a priori.
the feedback, the student can understand the diagnosis and recognise what has
exercises can also be great self-diagnosis tools. For example, working with a
mirror to see the paralinguistic gestures made by the interpreter while
carrying out his activity makes it possible to adapt the movements according to
the communicative situation. These
exercises allow, from the interaction between peers, to practice different ways
of interpreting and to become aware of the degree of exposure to the audience.
Parallel to the skills mentioned above, prospective interpreters must
learn to use the resources that contribute to enhance their daily work.
Trainees are often unaware of how they can expand their work, as well as
improve it by doing so.