Kit began by talking about how interpreting is an alien and hostile world for many people, and as she moved into interpreting, she was curious to discover whether an interpreter is born or trained. She therefore ran two surveys, a first one aimed at MET members who aren’t interpreters followed by a second for those who are. Out of 400 MET members, 50-60 describe themselves as interpreters, and 17 of those interpreters answered their survey.
The question “why don’t you work as an interpreter” elicited a wide range of answers from non-interpreters, with the highest score being given to “I don’t feel qualified”, followed by “it’s too stressful”. When asked what they would like to know, most people wanted to know about preparation work, followed by information about the training/qualifications required, while 24% of respondents wanted to know if it is actual sorcery. Speaking as an interpreter myself, I’m happy to confirm that there is no actual sorcery involved, although it is magic sometimes!
Kit had asked interpreters to send photos of themselves at work, which she used to illustrate the various interpreting styles, such as simultaneous, consecutive, whispering, along with their more modern sibling, remote simultaneous interpreting.
The next part of the session described Kit’s own journey. Having studied interpreting at university, life had got in the way and she had only worked as a translator but, living in a small Spanish village, her reputation as an English mother-tongue linguist meant that somebody heard about her and got in touch. David Griffiths was looking for somebody to take on his interpreting work and so, after doing a Trágora refresher course, she “went out and did it”.
David was a very generous mentor and taught Kit the importance of giving back, although he hasn’t actually retired yet, as he had originally planned. I can quite understand that, since interpreting keeps you young (well, young at heart anyway!).
One section of the talk covered preparation:
- Vocabulary lists – “I’m a great fan of preparing them”
- Word baskets – “fill them with words you might need”
- Pre-technical vocab – “helpful to convey the context”
- Real-world knowledge – “you need lots of this”
- Stress – “under-preparation is the greatest cause of stress”
All extremely valid points, particularly the one about stress – we were shown a slide where nearly 60% of respondents said that they found interpreting stressful. It’s certainly true that you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but the more preparation you do, the less likely you are to have problems or to be caught out during an assignment.
As a corollary to stress, Kit asked interpreters to explain how they relax before or after a job. There were plenty of answers, but the one that made me chuckle was the person who said that they have a lot of sleep after an interpreting job. I’d like to know their secret because it takes me hours to wind down.
One slide quoted Gerver (in 1976) who wrote that a stereotypical interpreter is intelligent, assertive, independent, self-sufficient, resourceful, imaginative and creative. When asked if that stereotype was true, Kit replied that it hasn’t been proven. It’s not a bad description though.
Finally, Kit put up a slide with advice for anyone considering a career change, which included the recommendation to “aim to be multi-talented!”. Amen to that.
This METM23 presentation was chronicled by Paul Appleyard.
Featured photo by METM23 photographer Leonardo Rizzato.