ands up if you have any friends with a different native language from you. ✋? Hands up if you’ve ever tried to show them affection in their language, accidentally used the wrong verb and ended up causing an awkward mess. ✋?✋?✋?✋?✋? Yep, thought so. I mean, who hasn’t been there, right? Off the top of…
4 Lessons from a Trainee Interpreter
Yesterday I said goodbye to my colleagues from my interpreting traineeship at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza. I could write a dozen different posts about the lessons I learned over these three months (both literally and figuratively, since the material I interpreted consisted mostly of Masters lectures). Perhaps the other eleven will come later, but for now here are a few of the interpreting-related trucos I have picked up over my time at IAMZ.
1 An interpreter’s work is never over.
Of course I always knew that training to be an interpreter would be a whole load of hard work, but I’ll admit that I once harboured the naïve fantasy that I would eventually get the hang of it and it would become second nature to me.
Ahem. Wrong. Interpreting is not something you “get the hang of” – a more accurate description is that it becomes less impossible and terrifying as time goes on. But no matter how long you’ve been at it, you can’t expect to just waltz into a booth, work your magic and make an easy day’s wage. Your interpreting skills and specialist knowledge have to be razor-sharp at all times, and you inevitably spend your ‘days off’ watching documentaries in your passive languages and researching the urea cycle or the Common Agricultural Policy.
2 Preparation is 3/4 of the battle.
As Point 1 above suggests, interpreters spend their lives developing their knowledge and abilities. I guess you could call this ‘passive’ preparation, although it’s often anything but. However, your active preparation for each interpreting session is essential too. Even very narrowly specialised interpreters could find themselves working with a speech at an international grape growers’ convention one week and at a business meeting between a winery and their barrel supplier the next. For each job, they’ll need to revise the terminology lists they’ve built up over the years, memorise what they can and organise the rest into glossaries they can consult quickly when needed.
So what happens if you haven’t prepared properly? Well, for one thing, the chance of a term coming up that you don’t know how to translate is higher. But for me, preparation is also about confidence. If I don’t feel ready, it affects pretty much every aspect of my performance: I get flustered, my décalage becomes awkwardly short, my voice cracks, and I get so hung up on my mistakes that it ruins my concentration and leads to more errors. It’s a vicious cycle that can be avoided by doing everything you can in advance to make sure you get off to a confident start.
3 My voice can be seriously hard to listen to.
Yeah, I know, everyone hates the sound of their own voice. But trust me, I’ve listened back to a fair few recordings of myself, and while there are days when I sound lovely, there are also others when I sound like a cross between Angela Merkel and Brian Blessed after a rough night out. The latter situation tends to correspond with the days when I haven’t slept a full 8 hours, don’t feel fully prepared or know that someone is assessing my performance. You can just hear the tightness in my vocal chords when I’m under extra pressure, so nowadays I try to pay special attention to my level of anxiety before going into the booth, and if it’s in the Danger Zone I make myself a nice cup of tea and take several deep breaths before beginning. I also have a bad habit of adopting weird and wonderful sitting positions while I work, which can contort the spine, restrict the diaphragm and impair delivery, so I’ve added ‘posture’ to my daily checklist for good measure.
4 Stress is a real thing…
…And it can affect you even if you love your job.
In fact, I think my love for my job is part of the reason I suffer from stress every once in a while, because it makes it difficult to switch off. I worked 6 days last week, and when I came home on Saturday evening, exhausted from a long day of interpreting for farm visits, I ‘relaxed’ by watching an episode of Grey’s while sketching the various components of a plough and labelling them in Spanish and English. I honestly wish I were joking right now, but alas, it’s true.
Another related problem I suffered from during my interpreting traineeship was a kind of burnout, which left me feeling both drained and restless at the same time and often kept me up at night. The difficulty is that the adrenaline you feel while you’re interpreting stops you from realising you’ve reached your limit, and it hits you – hard – later on once it’s too late. After a while, I got to know my own limits and learned to quit while I was ahead instead of working myself to exhaustion. It takes discipline, but it’s important if you want to avoid chronic anxiety, keep your friends and stay sane.
Traineeships have many benefits, and for interpreters there’s no better way to ease yourself into the profession and all of the practical aspects you might not have considered otherwise. I wouldn’t have minded hanging around a little longer, but it’s time for the training wheels to come off and I’m excited to get out into the market and see where it takes me!