The Heat is On

How can you tell it’s final exam season? Nerves are on edge, tensions are running high, and the university libraries are packed with students busy with last-minute cramming. My own students on the MIC will be taking their finals in about a week. This is a good thing: they’ve worked hard over the year, and it’s time they had a chance to show off everything they’ve learned.

It’s hard to know what sort of advice to give to interpreting students who are about to go into their exams. They’ve heard all the tips at least a thousand times already in class, and saying it once more isn’t going to help them at this point: either they’ve internalized the message or they haven’t. Over the past few days, my main message to students has been that it’s time for them to stop worrying so much about the length of their décalage or the breadth of their terminological knowledge and start thinking about getting into the right mindset for their exams.

This means what? Well, among other things, it means getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking regular breaks, in order to let what they’ve learned sink in. One fellow instructor told me I should order them to go to the beach! Not a bad idea …

Did I mention we had a heat wave last week?

If you happen to be preparing for your own final interpreting exams these days, then you probably already know that, in addition to the sage advice offered above, exam preparation also means thinking about such issues as stress management (which I featured in a blog post a few months back), channelling your nerves (the topic of this video interview with interpreter trainer Helen Campbell) and engaging in some positive thinking. However, it does NOT mean making radical changes to your lifestyle or consumption habits.

I mean it: now is not the time to start experimenting with memory-enhancing herbal preparations, energy drinks or the like. If you haven’t been a regular drinker of Red Bull, popper of brain booster pills or consumer of Rescue Remedy in the past, the day of your final interpreting exam is NOT the time to start playing with these things. Likewise, if you are having a hard time falling asleep the night before the big test, do NOT decide to borrow one of your roommate’s sleeping pills, no matter how badly you need to get some shut-eye.

There’s a simple reason for this: you don’t know how you will react, and the last thing you want is to experience an adverse effect (lack of concentration, upset stomach, trembling hands, double vision) during your exam. Even having one or two more coffees than usual might put you off kilter. At this point, it’s best to just stick with what you know.

But how will I stand the heat?

If you’re feeling the pressure of trying to get through the exams and wondering how you are ever going to survive the stress of the working interpreter’s lifestyle, don’t lose heart. Instead, I urge you to check out the following resource by the National Network for Interpreting. It’s entitled “Stamina”, and when I first saw the title, I thought it would contain advice along the lines of “practice all alone in the booth for hours on end, then half-hour turns will seem a cinch in comparison”. Of course, it doesn’t. Instead, the NNI offers some sensible advice about eating right, staying fit, and basically just taking care of yourself over the long term. Wise words. After all, we all want to lead healthy, happy lives as interpreters, not burn out under all the constant heat, right?

Stamina, by the National Network for Interpreting

Mind Your Manners!

Conference interpreters must be a very poorly behaved bunch. Why else would there be so many resources out there dedicated to teaching us proper manners? There are seemingly countless articles, slide presentations and videos explaining the dos and don’ts of interpreter etiquette, as well as the inevitable cartoons poking fun at those interpreters who don’t seem to have consulted any of the former before stepping into the booth. Today, I’d like to go through some of what’s out there.

To me, minding your manners as an interpreter should essentially be a matter of common sense: try to treat your colleagues how you would like them to treat you. However, for the novice interpreter, it’s not always clear just exactly how one would like to be treated, or what constitutes good and bad etiquette in the booth.

I still have vivid, and mostly painful, memories of some of my own slip-ups during my first few weeks in the booth. One day, I had to be reminded by a senior colleague not to munch my sandwich in full view of the delegates (“but I was on my break, what harm could a quick snack do?”). On another occasion, I was told never – NEVER! – to touch another interpreter’s console (“but your turn was over, I thought I’d just switch off your mike for you!”). Needless to say, these are lessons that I will never forget.

Fortunately, thanks to all of the resources available, interpreters these days should not have to learn the hard way. Let’s take a look.

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Public Speaking for Interpreters

I was digging around the other day, looking for good material to use in my workshop on communication skills for interpreters. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself (once again!) on the website of the National Network for Interpreting. The NNI site is a lot like the Interpreter Training Resources site and Lourdes de Rioja’s video blog, A Word in Your Ear: no matter how often you visit, you always seem to find something new. Aren’t we interpreters lucky that these people take the time to prepare and compile all of these resources for us!

Anyway, what I want to share with you briefly here today are two resources prepared by the people at NNI to help train interpreting students in public speaking skills.

She seems to have it all figured out - except for maybe the dress code

The first is a slide presentation called Good public speaking – specific skills that walks students through the skills required for good public speaking. The best part comes on the fourth slide, where we are shown two short videos – the first is a case study of how NOT to present a consecutive interpretation, and the second is, of course, an example of how to get it right. The whole exercise takes only about 15 minutes to run through, and it is great for new students who might not have thought about the importance of communication skills in interpreting before.

The second resource, called Good public speaking – register, is a series of slides looking at the use of register in speaking. Here, students are asked to listen to a few short speeches given in different registers, and then given a short quiz (well, two, actually) about what they’ve learned.  I won’t tell you how I did on the quiz part because it’s too embarrassing – maybe if I had actually listened to the speeches, instead of just skipping straight ahead to the questions, I might have done a bit better. Anyway, try it out for yourself and see how you do.

More interpreting fun next week! I’ve got a couple of great guest posts lined up for you, so please stay tuned…