Quick Interpreting Tip: Screening Conversations

We’ve all run across a situation where we’re tempted to screen a dialogue during an interpreting assignment, whether it’s by omitting information that appears irrelevant and superfluous, or by adding information for further clarity. Before you do so though, remember your role as an interpreter and that it is not your place to decide what is to be rendered and what isn’t. We are merely a conduit and not a filter, so next tine you feel the urge, try to hold your tongue.

Remember: your role as an interpreter is to stay true to the intention of the original message by relaying only everything that is said and nothing that wasn’t said.

Happy interpreting!

Feeling Too Comfortable? (Tips for Interpreters.)

It’s human nature to feel complacent after becoming comfortable in a situation. When this happens, the initial drive may fade along with the motivation to improve and exceed expectations. Potentially, this is because you’ve become familiar with the terminology and protocols and no longer feel inadequate or nervous when taking assignments. But in some cases, it may be because you’ve stopped caring as much, which is dangerous.

Source: xdxs.tumblr.com

At the beginning of each new job or new role we’re in, the unfamiliarity and future outlook acts as a reminder that we need to keep pushing ourselves.  We’re often proactive to work on our skills and to expand our knowledge, but slowly, as we become more comfortable, that sense of urgency of picking up new words or perfecting our skills may slow down. Without that initial force, you may realize one day that you’re not trying as hard. This is perfectly normal, but we want to make sure we’re not becoming negligent and letting go. Here are three ways we can remind ourselves to continue to be better.

1. Read. Whether you’re reading blogs, industry publications, or the news, reading will keep you informed about what’s going on and will help you expand your knowledge and vocabulary.  Remember that the more you know, the better you’ll be at your job and the better you’ll serve your clients.

3. Be aware. Continue to be aware of the challenges of the job and make an effort to improve upon them.  Don’t become complacent of your skill level, because there is always room for improvement.

4. Get inspired. Sometimes time can fog up what initially inspired us in a job. Remind yourself every day what makes you  happy in this industry, and approach each assignment with a new set of eyes.

Be better, and as always, happy interpreting!

When in Doubt, Think Broad! (Tips for Interpreters)

As an interpreter, you need to retain a lot of vocabulary and have knowledge of a wide range of topics. While the endeavor to understand all the tiny details to every medical procedure and disease, every legal ruling, or financial technicality is admirable, it’s better to first retain the equivalent of the words in your target language than to focus on the details that go along with the specific terminology.

For example,  all medical interpreters should know the term “Hepatitis B.” The other thing to know about this is that it’s relating to the liver.  Everything else you know about it is a bonus and will be helpful to your work as an interpreter, but it is not critical. While you can always do research and learn about the causes, the symptoms, the treatments, and prevention, all that knowledge isn’t necessarily required for you to be able to interpret the phrase “Hepatitis B.” If the patient does not know what Hepatitis B is, he will ask the doctor, and the doctor will answer any of the patient’s questions. At this point, all you’d have to do is interpret. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time to learn more about the phrases or procedures we are interpreting about, just that we should try to maximize our time and to ensure that we are retaining what will be most applicable to our work, which is a wide-ranging vocabulary.

Expanding your vocabulary is the first step to being able to render good interpretations, and learning more about each component relating to the terms is something you can build up overtime. Our understanding about the technicalities and details will benefit our work, but they aren’t necessarily critical to our performance, so when in doubt, go for more vocabulary than more details.

Fellow interpreters, do you agree? What are your thoughts on this general approach?

As always, happy interpreting!

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:




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.




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!

On the Job: What Is that Word?

Part of being a good interpreter is the continual expansion of your glossary and your knowledge in interpreting. Whether it’s through listening to industry talks, reading industry blogs, networking with other interpreters and learning from them,  as long as you’re learning and building on your skills, you’re doing your part on this front.

Here’s a quick tip for expanding your glossary:
When on an assignment, keep track of the words you stumbled upon or had to take a moment to remember, and add them to your glossary when you get home so you will remember them for the next time.

xdxs, micho, say what,

Say what? Photo courtesy: xdxs.tumblr.com

You might ask, “What do you mean ‘if you don’t know a word’?” Despite our title as interpreters and translators, we still aren’t all-knowing and may still encounter unfamiliar terms. This is a fact, and it’s alright. So what should we do when we get stuck on a phrase? Well, I have three tips here:

1. Remain calm. Don’t freak out! It’s going to be okay.

2. Remember your role. The default role of an interpreter is a conduit, which means that you are to keep the flow of communication without adding to, omitting from, or distorting the message.  With this in mind, do not try to omit the word by avoiding what you don’t know.

3. Just ask. If you don’t know a word, ask. Your clients need you there because they need your help in getting their intended message across. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t make you a failure. Instead of guessing the equivalent to the target language, ask the speaker for clarification of what she meant by the specific word: “The interpreter is unfamiliar with the phrase ‘xx,’ could you please define it or clarify what you mean by it?” Sometimes, you’ll know the translation after you hear the definition, and would be able to go back to interpreting the complete utterance. If you still don’t know the equivalent to the target language, interpret the definition instead. This will allow you to keep the flow of communication without construing the message.

At the end of the appointment, if the parties were able to successfully communicate and get what they need from the conversation, you will have fulfilled your purpose. Congrats!

It’s okay that we don’t know everything. The important thing is to learn from our experiences and to maintain the mentality of lifelong learning.

Just keep learning and happy interpreting!

What the Heck is a Stress Test? (Medical Interpreting)

Medical interpreting is exciting because it is often unpredictable. No one appointment is the same, and interpreters often walk into their assignments without much knowledge about the matter in discussion. Even so, as part of our professionalism, we must be as prepared as we can be to ensure we are providing the best service and fulfilling our job of enabling communication between the provider and patient.  As many of you may know, we’re not always given a lot of detailed information about the appointment at hand, so what I do is take any relevant information as clues for what is to come. These can include the hospital, the doctor’s name, the age of the patient, or basic information about the type of appointment, such as a consultation or a physical. As interpreters, we should be resourceful and use what we have as the basis for our research and preparation for the appointment.

Recently, the one clue I received was “cardiac imaging,” so I read about the different types of cardiac imaging and made sure I was up to speed on the procedure and technical terms. When I arrived to the assignment, I learned that the patient was taking a  Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram. Thankfully, I knew all about it by the time of the appointment so it went smoothly.

Below is a quick summary of what the exam is about and how it works, as well, a list of terms that came up during the appointment, which I hope will be helpful to you.

Basic overview of the Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram: 

Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram is a type of stress test, which is used to evaluate the heart’s ability to respond to stress. During the test, the patient is connected to an electrocardiogram to monitor his heart rate and a blood pressure machine to monitor his blood pressure before, during, and after the heart rate reaches capacity. The goal is to see how the heart responds when it is working hard. Four sets of ultrasound images are taken throughout the process. One before the injection of the Dobutamine, two as the medication takes effect, and one after the heart rate goes back to normal when the medication loses effect. There are two ways to stimulate the heart rate: one by exercise, and one by medication. Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram the type of cardiac imaging used when the patient is unable to walk or run on the treadmill and when the medication, Dobutamine, is injected through an IV instead to simulate how the heart responds to exercise.

The difference between a Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram and a regular Stress Echocardiogram:

The process for the two is pretty much the same, except that with a regular stress echocardiogram, patients are asked to walk/run on the treadmill to help increase the heart rate. Pictures are taken before the patient walks on the treadmill, right after the heart rate reaches capacity, and after the heart rate slows down.

Keywords during a stress test: 

  1. CARDIAC IMAGING / 心臟影像檢查 (xīnzàng yǐngxiàng jiǎnchá). Stress tests are one type of cardiac imaging.
  2. DOBUTAMINE STRESS ECHOCARDIOGRAM / 多巴酚丁胺負荷超聲心動圖 (fùhè chāoshēng xīndòngtú).
  3. DOBUTAMINE / 多巴酚丁胺  (duō bā fēn dīng àn). The medication used to stimulate the heart during the exam.
  4. INTRAVENOUS INJECTION (IV) / 靜脈注射 (jìngmài zhùshè). Medication is injected using an IV.
  5. INJECTION / 注射 (zhùshè). The medication, Dobutamine, will be injected into the bloodstream using an IV.
  6. STRESS TEST / 壓力測試 (yālì cèshì).
  7. SUPERVISE / 監都 (jiāndū). Sometimes the cardiologist will supervise the test along side the technicians
  8. BRA / 內衣(nèiyī) or 胸罩 (xiōngzhào). Patients are asked to remove everything from the waist up, including their bra.
  9. WAIST-UP / 腰部以上 (yāobù yǐshàng). Patients are asked to remove clothing from the waist up and put on a waist-length patient gown.
  10. CARDIOLOGIST / 心臟科醫師 (xīnzàngkē yīshī).
  11. ECHOCARDIOGRAM TECHNICIAN OR ECHO TECH/ 超聲心動圖技術員 (chāoshēng xīndòngtú jìshùyuán).
  12. SMALL BREATH / 吸小口氣 (xī xiǎokǒu qì). The echo tech may ask the patient to take in small breaths to help her get better pictures.
  13. HOLD BREATH / 屏住呼吸 (bǐng zhù hūxī). After asking the patient to take in a small breath, the echo tech will ask the patient to hold his breath for a bit.
  14. BREATHE, EXHALE / 吐氣 (tǔqì). The echo tech will instruct the patient to breathe out once they are done taking the pictures.
  15. LIE ON THE SIDE / 側躺 (cètǎng). Patients are asked to turn to their left side when images are taken with the ultrasound machine.
  16. LIE ON THE BACK / 平躺 (píngtǎng).
  17. WAITING ROOM / 候診室 (hòuzhěnshì).
  18. ULTRASOUND / 超聲波 (chāoshēngbō).
  19. GEL / 凝膠 (níngjiāo). A gel is applied to the transducer for easy navigation.
  20. COLD / 冰冰的 (bīng bīng de). The ultrasound gel is a little cold when it touches the skin.
  21. ECHOCARDIOGRAM (EKG) / 超聲心動圖 (chāoshēng xīndòngtú). Uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart.
  22. ELECTROCARDIOGRAM (ECG or EKG) / 心電圖. Traces the electrical activity of the heart.
  23. MONITOR / 螢幕 (yíngmù). The heart rate and pictures are shown on two different monitors.
  24. DOSE / 劑量 (jìliàng). During a Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram, a patient will receive a certain number of dosages of the medication to help the heart rate reach its capacity.
  25. SERIES / 系列 (xìliè). During the stress test, four sets of pictures are taken. One taken before medication is injected, two during when the medication is taking effect, and one after the medication has lost effect.
  26. EFFECT OF THE MEDICATION / 藥效 (yào xiào). The last series of pictures are taken when the effects of the medication are gone.
  27. TREADMILL / 跑步機 (pǎobù jī).
  28. RUN / 跑步 (pǎobù).
  29. JOG / 慢跑 (mànpǎo).
  30. WALK/ 走路 (zǒulù).
  31. BLANKET / 被子 (bèizi) or 毯子 (tǎnzi). Patients are often offered warm blankets during the test in case they feel chilly,
  32. WARMER / 暖箱 (nuǎn xiāng). Some places have warmers to heat up the blankets.
  33. RESULTS / 結果 (jiéguǒ). If the cardiologist is on site, he would give the patients the results right after completion of the echocardiogram. If not, the patient will receive a call with the results.

Good luck with your assignment and happy interpreting!

On the Job: Relay Interpreting in a Medical Appointment

Relay interpretation is a type of consecutive interpretation used when multiple languages are at play at the same time, where the source language is  interpreted into different languages, and at least two interpreters are present. We see this most commonly used in conference interpreting where the source language is rendered into a common target language and then further rendered into specific language groups. This type of interpretation is similar to the game “telephone,” where one message is whispered down a line of people, and the last person in line announces to the group what the message was. If you’ve played this game before, you’d know how easily it is for the original message to become distorted at the end of the line.

With this in mind, we can see the challenges of relay interpretation. Because multiple players are involved, the risk of distorting the message is high, where omission from or addition to the original message can occur; thus, it is important that all interpreters involved are professionals and are  familiar with the code of ethics and the  necessary means they need to take to ensure accurate interpretation of the message.

At a recent  medical appointment, a Mandarin interpreter was requested. I learned early on that while the patient spoke Mandarin, he also spoke a Chinese dialect that I am unfamiliar with. This was not a problem because he understood Mandarin, but his son was present as well, and my work complicated when the two of them communicated in their dialect, leaving both the provider and myself out of the conversation.

During the appointment, the patient and his relative would have side conversations in their dialect. I had to inform the provider that the side conversations were in a different dialect that I didn’t understand, so she knew I wasn’t keeping information from her. After the side conversations ended, I tried to find out what they were talking about, and the son would kindly summarize it for me, allowing me to interpret the summary to the provider.

Much of the appointment went like this: the provider spoke, I interpreted the English into Mandarin Chinese, after hearing my interpretation, the patient and the son would converse in their dialect, and then the son would respond in English or in Chinese–if in Chinese, I would interpret it into English for the provider. What worried me was that while the side conversations lasted for at least 30 seconds at a time, the summaries were only a few words long, such as, “he said okay.”

In this case, relay interpretation took place, from English to Mandarin to the separate dialect back to Chinese then to English again. As I mentioned earlier, to ensure that messages get transmitted without distortion, we need to make sure that the interpreters are professionals; however, since the son was a family member, he felt that as long as he understood the message, it was okay. This is partly why family members are highly discouraged to act as interpreters. As well, when messages are summarized, the interpreter, not the speaker, decides what was most important and less important in the message. Because of this, important information can be lost during the transmission of information.

As an interpreter, I always want to make sure that messages are being understood, so I worried about what the patient was saying to his son and whether they full understood the provider’s instructions. However, it seems like the  in situations like this, it’s hard to repeatedly instruct the family members to interpret everything, or ask that the patient speak for himself rather than through the family member.

Fellow interpreters, what would you have done in this situation?

Phone Interpretation: Could You Repeat that Again?

In the perfect world, an interpreter will relay every single message perfectly without interruption. However, sometimes even when everything is perfect–you have the perfect phone connection, you’re in a quiet environment, you’re following all protocols for phone interpreting–there are times when a new word comes up or when you didn’t get all the information the first time around. The first thing to do when this happens is remain calm. After that, you can take the steps below to remain professional and still complete the task of relaying the correct information.

What if I don’t know how to interpret a word?
If an unfamiliar term comes up and you’re unable to interpret it, the ideal solution should be to quickly look it up. One benefit of interpreting on the phone is that you can have your internet or glossary handy. If that doesn’t work, and you happen to know the meaning of the word, interpret that. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the word and what it means, it’s okay to ask the speaker for clarification or for an alternative word. Of course we all wish we could interpret everything without any mistakes or lapses, but when you’re on the call, it’s important to be on your toes and think fast.

When to ask for Repetition, Verification, and Clarification? 
When information received is unclear, the interpreter can ask for repetition, verification, or clarification of the information. It’s important to ensure accurate information before interpreting so the callers receive the intended information. Of course the ideal would be that the information is jogged down correctly on the first try, but we are human. When asking for such information, make sure to use third person, “This is the interpreter. May you please repeat what you said after ‘London’?” Or, “The interpreter would like to verify the phone number. Is it 543-210-3429?” Or “The interpreter would like you to clarify what you mean by ‘vital signs.'”

Repetition. Asking for repetition means you’re asking the person to repeat what was said.

Verification. Asking for verification  means you will read back what you think you heard and wait for affirmation that you got the correct information.

Clarification is used when you are asking for the definition of a word. An interpreter is sometimes confronted with words for which the equivalent to the target language is not off the tip of his tongue. The first way to deal with this is to figure out from the context what the word is. Once you’ve figured that out, you can verify with the speaker if that is the correct word. However, if you still can’t  interpret or describe the term, ask the speaker for further explanation or a definition so you can interpret their response instead.

One more tip about asking for clarification: always be specific about the information you need again. If you missed the zip code, ask for the zip code.

What if the speaker talks too much and I’m unable to retain the information?
In this case, gently interrupt the speaker and ask them to break the information into smaller segments, so details are not missed. “Ma’am, this is the interpreter, may you please break down the information into smaller segments so I can ensure accuracy of my interpretation? Thank you.” You’d be surprised, but people can be accommodating–they want the same thing you want, which is to pass on necessary information to the person on the other end of the phone.

Hope this is helpful. Happy interpreting!