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How to break into simultaneous interpreting

ADVICE SIM
On Mon, 6 Mar 1995, KR wrote: 
> Some time ago, there was a lively series of messages on how to break into 
> interpreting. I believe the series was started by someone who had a week or 
> so to practise up before taking on a job. I wonder if anyone put together 
> all the messages in one file. If so, I'd love to have a copy. 
>
> Ken, Montreal 

Here it is. Enjoy! 
/Helge Niska 
list owner 


Date: Wed, 9 Nov 1994 20:14:13 -0500
From: Leonid Fridman
Subject: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

I have done a lot of consecutive (seminar) interpreting, and I am now very comfortable doing it. I was asked today to do simultaneous interpreting for a conference. I told them that I never did this before but am willing to try. They seem to be desperate, so they agreed.

Can anyone with experience in conference interpreting give me some tips on:
1. Ways of training myself (e.g. should I just practice with two tape recorders?).
2. What exactly does the interpreter's booth consist of? I have never seen one. What problems to look out for before I begin? What kind of controls does the booth have?
3. Any tips on interpreting process itself. E.g. what do you do when you encounter a term that you don't know or you can't immediately think of the translation? In the case of seminar interpreting I have no problem asking the speaker to clarify what (s)he means, since I feel that it is better to interrupt once in a while than to risk seriously misleading the listeners. But obviously one can't do this if you are sitting in an isolated booth.
4. I will have a chance to talk to the conference speaker beforehand. Anything in particular I should ask him or of him?

I realize that many professional conference interpreters will be appalled by the idea of a novice in a booth. Please don't flame me. I may be doing a stupid thing, but I have been itching to try my hand at simultaneous interpreting for a long time (I feel I have "peaked" in consecutive) and this seems to be the right time to do it.

Any advice would be much appreciated. If there is a consecutive interpreter on the net who lives in the U.S. (or even better, in Boston area) I would love to get a chance to talk him/her over the phone, if someone would be generous enough to offer a few minutes of their time.

Thanks in advance for the help,

Leonid


Date: Wed, 9 Nov 1994 17:41:29 -1000
From: David Ashworth
Subject: RE: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

I suggest you contact ACEBO company in Monterey California. THey have practice tapes and instructional materials for interpreter training (mainly for the courts and medical, but useful generally). Their numbers are FAX: 408-455-1541 PHONE: 408-455-1507
David Ashworth.


Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 11:43:33 +0100
From: ultimtex
Subject: RE: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

Hello Leonid,

Try putting on headphones connected to your radio or TV set and try to do some interpreting when the news is on (hardest thing, because they read very fast -- so do some speakers at conferences). Easier: discussion programs. You can put a cassette recorder next to you and record your voice, so you can check afterwards what you produced. Good luck.

Never having been in a booth and accepting a job like this comes close to jumping in the ocean when you have had only theory instruction on how to swim.

Regards,

Gabor Menkes

______________________________________________________________ 
E-Mail: ultimtex@xs4all.nl                   | Address: 
                                             | P.O.Box 38 
Phone:  +31 - 5470 - 76662                   | NL-7470 AA Goor 
Fax:    +31 - 5470 - 76750                   | The Netherlands 

Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 21:04:29 JST
From: rrr@TWICS.COM
Subject: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

>>Can anyone with experience in conference interpreting give me some
>>tips on:
>>1. Ways of training myself (e.g. should I just practice with two
>>tape recorders?).

Sounds like a good idea. You could also practise with TV and radio to check how you keep up. You'll find the job is a lot easier once you are ensconced in your booth, with headphones on and the doors closed. Don't worry too much.

>>2. What exactly does the interpreter's booth consist of? I have
>>never seen one.

Basically, there is a little contraption in front of you with 3 dials (input channel, output channel, and volume), and 2 switches (off and mute). Two chairs, two mikes, and a fan that is usually either too noisy or to weak.

>>What problems to look out for before I begin?
Bring a hook and a coat hanger. For some unfathomable reason, interpreters' booths never seem to have them.

>>3. Any tips on interpreting process itself. E.g. what do you do when you
>>encounter a term that you don't know or you can't immediately think of
>>the translation?

Talk around it quickly, and don't loose your thread. In general, look out for they points that the guy wants to get across. Keep a steady flow of words, and don't waste time fumbling for the perfect one. Try to find a delay that is comfortable for you.

>>4. I will have a chance to talk to the conference speaker beforehand.
>>Anything in particular I should ask him or of him?

Of course check if he/she has manuscripts. Also try to find out as much as possible about the event itself. Often there is a "hidden" agenda besides the official one, and it can take you quite a while to catch on, because they are all talking circles, so to say.

>>I realize that many professional conference interpreters will be
>>appalled by the idea of a novice in a booth.

I got into this business by accident without any official training whatsoever, and have by now about 100 intl. conferences under my belt. I have met many interpreters of all sorts and must say that I find very little correlation between their "certified" qualification and how good they are at doing the job. Some people are good, others are not, and that is all there is to it. Of course the certificate holders (and the schools who issue them) will tell you the opposite, but that's life...

Hope you enjoy the job. Myself, I like conference interpreting. It gets me away from the desk, it is sort of a challenge, and there are no endless "follow-up" jobs like in translation. Consecutive and "whisper" jobs I really don't like. Other people have other preferrences.

-- Rene von Rentzell rrr@twics.com


Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 06:06:19 -1000
From: David Ashworth
Subject: RE: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

I learned this procedure from a friend who studies interpreting in Japan and it does work here in Hawaii, where we have radio stations in both English and Japanese: Practice shadowing the news in, say, English, and then shadowing and/or interpreting the news from Japanese by listening to the Japanese station. It is more efficient if you record the news in both languages and practice from the tapes. There is usually about a 40% overlap in the news, so to that extent they "support" each other (in terms of vocabulary, for example - you might hear 'bilateral talks' in ENglish, wonder what the Japanese might be, and then hear a similar piece on the Japanese news that answers your question).


Date: Fri, 11 Nov 1994 04:24:26 +0100
From: "Haydn J. Rawlinson"
Subject: SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETERS

>1. Ways of training myself (e.g. should I just practice with two
>tape recorders?).

That helps, but the best choice of recorded material depends on the format of what you're going to be interpreting. Try to find a radio or tv broadcast with a similar format: phone-ins or discussion groups if it's going to be a round-table discussion or a dialogue (handling an exchange between 2 or more voices on your own takes a bit of getting used to); newscasts or correspondents' reports if it's going to be one long speech by one speaker.

>2. What exactly does the interpreter's booth consist of?

The essentials are: headphones, microphone, carafe of water, ashtray (probably in that order). Avoid lightweight "walkman" type headphones like the plague (I always feel happier with the heavier, early '70s stereo equipment type): you want to concentrate on the speaker's voice, not yours. The phones should also have their own volume control for you to adjust: some people shout, others whisper. And I always insist on being able to see whoever's talking (through the booth window or on a monitor), so I can see whether his tongue's in his cheek before I put my foot in it, so to speak.

Make sure you do sound tests for volume levels, etc., before you start. If in any doubt, ask them to turn it up. This is vital in temporary installations such as hotel banqueting suites wired for cordless headsets, which tend to fall apart at the least provocation. Most sound technicians are actually quite friendly people.

>what do you do when you encounter a term that you don't know

With adequate preparation, that should not happen :-). In the real world, you have to make something up or miss it out. Bluff. Repeat the last thing you understood in slightly different words. Catch up with the speaker when you can follow him again. Just keep talking and remain coherent. He who panics is lost.

>4. I will have a chance to talk to the conference speaker beforehand.

Do talk to him; it helps you get used to his voice. Pump him for as much information as possible. A copy of the speech would be nice, because then it's just sight translation with a bit of acting.

>I realize that many professional conference interpreters will be appalled
>by the idea of a novice in a booth. Please don't flame me.

I didn't think I was that good until I saw some of the other professionals in action. If you fail miserably, simply apologize profusely at the end of the event and offer to tear up your invoice.

-- SPEED 1.30 #1260: Haydn Rawlinson, Mexico City * HRawlinson@Spin.COM


Date: Mon, 14 Nov 1994 00:05:53 +0100
From: Renate Greiner
Subject: RE: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed [LONG!]

Date:         Wed, 9 Nov 1994 
From: Leonid Fridman  
Subject:      Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed. 

I have done a lot of consecutive (seminar) interpreting, and I am now very 
comfortable doing it. I was asked today to do simultaneous interpreting 
for a conference. I told them that I never did this before but am willing 
to try. They seem to be desperate, so they agreed. 
Date:         Wed, 9 Nov 1994
From: David Ashworth 
Subject:      Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

I suggest you contact ACEBO company in Monterey California. THey have 
practice tapes and instructional materials for interpreter training 
(mainly for the courts and medical, but useful generally). Their numbers 
Date:         Thu, 10 Nov 1994
From: ultimtex 

Hello Leonid, Try putting on headphones connected to your radio or TV set and try to do some interpreting when the news is on (hardest thing, because they read very fast -- so do some speakers at conferences). Easier: discussion programs. You can put a cassette recorder next to you and record your voice, so you can check afterwards what you produced. Good luck.

Never having been in a booth and accepting a job like this comes close to 
jumping in the ocean when you have had only theory instruction on how to 
swim. 

Date:         Thu, 10 Nov 1994
From: rrr@TWICS.COM

>>Can anyone with experience in conference interpreting give me some 
>>tips on: 
>>1. Ways of training myself (e.g. should I just practice with two 
>>tape recorders?). 
Sounds like a good idea. You could also practise with TV and radio 
to check how you keep up. You'll find the job is a lot easier once 
you are ensconced in your booth, with headphones on and the doors 
closed. Don't worry too much. 
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 
>>4. I will have a chance to talk to the conference speaker beforehand. 
>>Anything in particular I should ask him or of him? 
Of course check if he/she has manuscripts. Also try to find out as 
much as possible about the event itself. Often there is a "hidden" 
agenda besides the official one, and it can take you quite a while 
to catch on, because they are all talking circles, so to say. 
>>I realize that many professional conference interpreters will be 
>>appalled by the idea of a novice in a booth. 
I got into this business by accident without any official training 
whatsoever, and have by now about 100 intl. conferences under my belt. 
I have met many interpreters of all sorts and must say that I find very 
little correlation between their "certified" qualification and 
how good they are at doing the job. Some people are good, others are 
not, and that is all there is to it. Of course the certificate holders 
(and the schools who issue them) will tell you the opposite, but 
that's life... 

Date:         Fri, 11 Nov 1994
From: "Haydn J. Rawlinson" 
>2. What exactly does the interpreter's booth consist of?
The essentials are: headphones, microphone, carafe of water, ashtray 
(probably in that order). Avoid lightweight "walkman" type headphones 
like the plague (I always feel happier with the heavier, early '70s 

stereo equipment type): you want to concentrate on the speaker's 
voice, not yours. 
>I realize that many professional conference interpreters will be appalled
>by the idea of a novice in a booth. Please don't flame me.

I didn't think I was that good until I saw some of the other
professionals in action.
If you fail miserably, simply apologize
profusely at the end of the event and offer to tear up your invoice.


Date: Mon, 14 Nov 1994 10:41:08 JST
From: rrr@TWICS.COM
Subject: Re: Interpretation advice needed

Renate Greiner writes:

>>Yes, there are some rare talents out there that will
>>interpret like a pro from the moment they first set
>>foot in a booth and Rene von Rentzell may well be
>>one of them

No, no, that's not what I wanted to say. Sorry for sounding like bragging. What I did want to say is that the job is not as scary as he might imagine, never having done it, and that worrying makes things worse. If he stays relaxed, he is half there.

I would assume he is not alone in his booth; if it is a full day event, there should be at least one more interpreter. When I arrived for my first job, absolutely ignorant about what to expect (there was no internet to ask questions), I met 2 very nice collegues who immediately took me under their wings, and by noon I was doing just fine. Of course, if he took a first assignment where he is all alone, maybe he *should* worry...

-- Rene von Rentzell rrr@twics.com


Date: Wed, 16 Nov 1994 21:03:18 -0500
From: Gloria Wong
Subject: Re: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed [LONG!]

Dear Sir

Your answer is elegant and to the point. While I am a consecutive interpreter, and fairly good at it (:, I would not and dare not go into a booth to interprete simultaneously. Afterall, I only have two ears and one mouth.

My hat off to you!

Gloria Wong


Date: Wed, 16 Nov 1994 22:53:15 -0500
From: Leonid Fridman
Subject: Re: Simultaneous Interpreters' advice needed.

Hi,

I wanted to thank here everyone who replied, publicly or privately, to my plea for advice re. simultaneous interpreting. One of the most helpful tips was the advice to call ACEBO Co. and buy a set of training tapes from them. I found this set very useful, and logged on uncountable hours practicing, learning to increase my decalage, modulating my voice, increasing endurance, etc. Actually, I found simultaneous to be an awful lot of fun, though, of course, very challenging. I now can't wait to "do it for real". But ... I just got a call from the company saying that they didn't get enough response for their conference and they are cancelling the whole thing. Oh well. At least their original offer prompted me to start learning a new skill, and hopefully I will get a further chance to practice it.

Thanks again to everyone for their help,
Leonid


Date: Thu, 17 Nov 1994 13:26:13 PST
From: Dominique Blachon
Subject: Re: SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETERS

Very good points offered by others, I would like to add a couple suggestions, I hope helpful:

:-)4. I will have a chance to talk to the conference speaker beforehand.


Anything in particular I should ask him or of him?


* First, just like in consecutive, gather as much background material as possible. Getting the actual speech is best, but any other previous presentation, a video of a conference on the same topic, spec sheets of products being talked about, etc. Getting existing similar material in the target language is quite nice. Do go over it in advance, and flag things you don't feel comfortable with, and ask the speaker for clarification.

* Meeting the speaker is a definite plus. You can *educate* him/her and make your (and his/her) experience much less frustrating. Try to plead your cause and make the presenter realize you'll be there, interpreting. Many speakers don't realize this, or if they do, don't appreciate the difficulties of the task. And even if they do, once on stage they'll most likely forget about it, right from the start or after a few minutes.

I try to go over the few following main points with them, and give them this little cheat sheet as a reminder, and even post it on the podium (print the main points only, big!). I only have a very limited experience in simultaneous interpreting, but I've never met a speaker who was not glad to try to follow my guideline (emphasis on "try" ;-( ).

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Your presentation is going to be reproduced simultaneously by one or several interpreters into one or several foreign languages. In order to make sure that your audience gets the full benefit of your "performance," please consider the following points to ensure your interpreters can do justice to it.

*Speak slowly, and...
...Pause between sentences, and/or after you've made a point.
==> Especially if you are reading your presentation. Interpreters cannot "think up" words and appropriate expressions in the target language as fast as you can pronounce them.
They may need to use more words than you to express the same thing, especially if you've had time to review and polish your speech, and they are doing it in a split second. They will need time to catch up with what you are saying, and can only do so when you pause.

* Beware of your accent. Try to speak in as neutral an accent as possible, and/or slow down.
==> Whether you are a native speaker of English or not, your interpreters might have difficulties if they can't understand your accent. They may be from a different area, or a different English-speaking country, or they may themselves be non-native speakers of English.

*Check with the interpreters all throughout during the presentation.
==> Make sure everything is fine (the speed of your delivery, the sound system, ...) You can a) look at them in the booth and/or b) ask them directly: they hear you! Remember to do so regularly during the whole presentation.

* Speak loudly, clearly, and close to the microphone.
==> Make sure your interpreters can hear you well. If you don't have a lapel mike, and move away from the podium, chances are they will not be able to hear and understand what you are saying, and will not be able to translate anymore.

* Repeat questions from the audience.
==> Interpreters cannot hear the audience, and will not be able to translate the question to the rest of the non-English speaking audience, or simply might not be able to understand your answer.
Even if there is a microphone in the audience, it might be difficult for the interpreters to hear it.

* Remember these guidelines throughout the whole presentation.
==> Once you are caught in the delivery of your presentation, it is very natural to not remember these guidelines. Do consider adding flags at regular intervals in your notes to remind you of them.
("INTERPRETERS?!", or "SLOW DOWN!" in red in the margin at the bottom of each note page, for example.)

Thank you for your help!
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

While I'm at it, here's another sheet w/ a few different points, that I give in advance to presenters when I'm only doing "on-demand" escort interpreting, i.e. when the audience will follow most everthing the speaker says in English, and I'm only here to clarify certain points.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Here are a few points you might want to consider when preparing and/or making a presentation to an audience that comprises foreigners. It will help the participants for whom English is not their first language understand you better, and will help them get more benefit out of your presentation:

* Speak slowly, and...
...Pause between sentences, and/or after you've made a point
==> make sure your audience has time to assimilate what you've said.

* Use Visual Crutches, i.e., provide good comprehensive handouts, and...
...Do not hesitate to use the white board to explain a point
==> You audience will rely a lot on the visual cues you provide to understand what you're saying.

* Try to avoid American slang, and very colloquial expressions
==> e.g. "up at bat" most likely would not be understood by anybody who doesn't play baseball -- that covers most all foreign countries!

* Be patient when you ask if there are any questions.
==> Participants will take some time translating in their heads what you had said, then will take some more time thinking up their question. Please give them the time they need, don't hesitate to let a pause last a little longer than you would for an American audience.

* Beware of your accent. Try to speak in as neutral an accent as possible.
==> Many in your audience might know enough English, but have been taught *British English* and a very different accent might be enough to throw them off.

Thank you!
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

OK, client education is part of our job, right?! Good luck.
Cheers. do mi no :-)
dominb@microsoft.com

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