Tips on being an interpreter

I’m no veteran. I am new to the game, having only been a terp for a year and a half or so. In that time, though, I’ve been told and come up some tips that I believe would help any aspiring interpreter. As a sign language interpreter, I will focus on that, but I think many of these points will be relevant to any form of interpreting.

  1. Have thick skin! You will make mistakes. Many of them. Especially if you are a simultaneous interpreter. Even CODAs make mistakes sometimes. No one is perfect. And if you are interpreting for the Deaf, they may tell you point blank that they do not understand, or that a sign/entire sentence was unclear, or wrong:

    2013-05-02

    I love Deaf culture!

  2. Be humble. Accept feedback from fellow interpreters or native users of the languages you’re using. This is very important. Unless you are yourself bi/multicultural/lingual (read: CODA) it’s not your culture/language; and even the critique is from or relating to your own culture/language, no one knows everything about a language.
  3. But be sure of yourself. If you doubt yourself when you’re interpreting, you’ll just end up doing a poor job, and it will be discernible. Believe me.
  4. Expose yourself to other interpreting. I’ve come to realise that if I am in a setting in which there’s an interpreter, my eyes/ears are always on the interpreter. It was a deliberate effort a first, but I’m happy to say it’s becoming quite natural. It’s a good habit to develop, because you not only pick up vocabulary if you’re weak in that regard, but you’ll allow yourself to critique the interpreting: Incorporate what is good, and disregard the bad.

    I've had my eyes and ears trained on this brilliant young CODA terp many times and learned so much from her

    I’ve had my eyes and ears trained on this brilliant young CODA terp many times and learned so much from her

  5. Use the language(s) outside of the stress of an interpreting situation. Interpreting is hard work. It’s important that, as much as possible, you use the languages in social or other settings in which you’re not expressing other people’s thoughts, but your own. Have Deaf, British, Jamaican, Japanese, Spanish, etc. friends, and talk to them frequently. That way, you not only are exposed to more vocabulary (and new vocabulary that may come up in social settings), but the language will become far more natural to you.
  6. Practise on your own. I admit don’t do this nearly enough, but I think it’s a good idea. I’ve been told this at an interpreting workshop and by Deaf. Watch/listen to videos/audio and practise interpreting outside of the stress of a real job.
  7. Know where you stand. Interpreting is a profession with ethics and principles. It is important that you are firm in what you believe you, as an interpreter, should do, and what an interpreter is entitled to, in order to make sure that you do a good job. If you are asked or told to do something that goes against that, you have a right to decline.

I hope these tips help! Be sure to let me know what you think.

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