Hold Your Tongue (the Role of an Interpreter)

Hold your tongue and stay within your role, fellow interpreters!Sometimes you think you know better. You hear and understand what’s going on, but when messages are transmitted between the source and target languages, the receiver doesn’t always understand the message. When questions are asked, you may want to answer them since you already know the answers, but guess what, you can’t. Whether the misunderstanding came from your rendition of the message, the speaker’s ambiguity, or the receiver’s own misunderstanding, an interpreter shall not respond on behalf of a speaker nor get involved in side conversations. We must stay within our role as conduits, and only interpret.

As an interpreter, you know that your role is simply to interpret. This means rendering what is said and not what isn’t said. Any omission, addition, or distortion of the original intention of the message should be avoided at all cost. But besides interpreting, an interpreter also has a challenging job, and that is to manage the flow of the conversation. The flow should look like this:

SOURCE LANG -> INTERPRETER -> TARGET LANG

and

SOURCE LANG <- INTERPRETER <- TARGET LANG

Any time  when dialogue occurs outside of this format, means the flow of communication is not well-managed. If clarification  of the source message must be made, the interpreter must first inform the receiver before asking for clarification: “I’m sorry, but the interpreter needs to clarify what was said.” Or if something was rendered correctly but the receiver still needs a repetition, the interpreter still must inform the  source-language speaker first before going ahead with the repetition. This is to avoid the flow of communication below, where the flow is broken and stuck between two parties.

SOURCE LANG <-> INTERPRETER -> TARGET LANG

or

SOURCE LANG <- INTERPRETER <-> TARGET LANG

For example, if the interpreter did not catch the complete message from the source language, he should first inform the target-language receiver, in third person, that the interpreter is going to ask for a repetition, before actually doing so. If a series of numbers was given to the target-language speaker, and the target-language speaker repeats it to make sure he jotted it down correctly, instead of saying yes or no to the target-language speaker (which can result in INTERPRETER <-> TARGET LANG), the interpreter should render the question back to the source-language speaker.  This will keep the flow of communication going.

In sum, as an interpreter, you do not have your own voice, and may not speak on behalf of any speaker. Your role is to act as a conduit and pass on whatever is said, while at the same time, ensuring that messages are flowing from one language to another. If something needs to be repeated or if clarification is needed, make sure to keep each party in the loop. It’s not easy, but we’ve gotta hold our tongue and keep ourselves from expressing our own opinions.  It takes practice, sometimes patience as well, but your clients and LEPs will benefit from your proper management of the flow.

Happy interpreting!

Thoughts on Interpreting: “Do Interpreters Practice?” (Video)

I’d like to share with you a worthwhile speech on interpreting and practice by Elisabet Tiselius, a conference and community interpreter and PhD student who also teaches interpreting. While the talk is mainly on whether interpreters practice, it reminds us of the importance of practice for interpreters and also the importance of incentives within the industry to encourage interpreters to strive for conscious and deliberate practice.

As we all know, interpreters learn from day one that practice is essential to becoming a better interpreter. Interpreters need to constantly work on their glossary and to  stay in touch with the target language and culture, with the intention to maintain and improve their skill set so they can better serve the community through enabling communication.

With this in mind, Tisleius conducted a research and asked interpreters if they practice. Interestingly, most of the interviewees are adamant about the fact that they do not practice, despite the fact that they deliberately read newspapers or listen to the radio in the target language in which they work. While the statement of not practicing is shocking, it could  be simply a difference in perception of what is considered “practice.”

The responses from the interviewees are interesting to me, as I consider all of those efforts to maintain and improve our language skills as practice. I do feel that I can be more deliberate in my practice, however, to make my efforts and preparation even more effective. If you need some ideas for how to improve or practice your language skills, here are some tricks I like to use. Let’s work together to improve our skills!

What do you think about Tisleius’s talk? Do you consider language building and glossary expansion as part of your practice in becoming a better interpreter, or do you only consider simulations or actual interpreting as practice? I’d love to hear from you.

As always, happy interpreting!

The Ups and Downs of Being an Interpreter

As with any vocation, being an interpreter has its ups and downs. When you begin to feel frustrated or begin to question the reason you’re on this path or in this position, it’s good to think about the pros and cons.

We all know the pros of being an interpreter. You get to help people using your hard-learned language skills, you get to see the relief on people’s faces when they are able to communicate in their native language in a foreign country. You feel like you are making a difference, that your skills and knowledge are depended upon. For most interpreters, you have the autonomy of setting your own schedule and taking on assignments on an as-needed basis. It is dynamic. No one job is the same and you get to live vicariously through the experiences and emotions of your clients and LEPs (limited English proficiency). You’re always in a learning environment, no matter what assignment you take on.

Of course, there are also cons. The job is highly technical; it isn’t creative. Every rendition you make that deviates from the original will construe the intention of the message. It is high-stress. You need to be able to think on your toes and react quickly in unanticipated situations. There is no point in which your skills will be “enough.” You need to keep on learning, to maintain, and to expand your glossary. You are a freelancer but you aren’t free. You are bound by the code of ethics and the different protocols set by different organizations and agencies you work with, and you must make every effort to stay within your role. It is lonely. Even  though you are interacting with people, you aren’t able to connect with them on a personal basis.

Sometimes it can feel rewarding after an assignment. But other times, it may feel frustrating, whether it’s because of the outcome of the assignment, your self-perceived performance, or because of the amount of effort it takes to get work. You’d start to wonder why you’re even doing this. Is this life of a freelancer, always hunting for the next job, worth it? Is it worth it to always be anticipating the unexpected?

Keep going and never give up.

Just keep going. Credit: xdxs.tumblr.com

As with any job, we need to remember why we started in the field or in the role in the first place. We must have chosen it because we thought it was our calling, that it was something we could be good at, that it was something we could enjoy doing while also helping make a difference. We must have thought it would make us happy, or that it could bring job satisfaction. All jobs come with challenges, so we should instead focus on solutions. If you’re an interpreter, remember to take every experience as a learning opportunity, also to continually improve on your skills. You’ll see the outcome soon enough. Also, if you feel like you need someone to talk to, look around for interpreter communities to find others who will understand what you’re going through. You are not alone!

Happy interpreting!