“You have to practice regularly and get some good coaching before you go on-stage”

Interpreters, just like any high-performing athletes or artists, need to stay in shape. If you are starting out your career as a freelancer, or you work in a market that has long periods of inactivity, you need to get some guided practice in a controlled environment to make sure you deliver the quality work that you know you are capable of.

In many ways, the experience of a freelance interpreter compares to that of a freelance professional dancer (I was a dancer before changing paths). You have to practice regularly and get some good coaching before you go on-stage.

Although most of us have extensively done interpreting exercises when we were at interpreting school, these practices tend to be forgotten or neglected once we start working as professionals.  In order to help you dig up distant memories of your interpreting training, here are a few tools to keep your muscles in shape either on your own or with the help of a colleague:

Exercise yourself

  • Sight translation. You can use this exercise to work on reformulation, packaging or speed. You’ll need to record yourself or have a partner listen to you. If you are working on speed, you can race your partner and see who finishes first, or you can time yourself and try to significantly reduce your time the second time around.
  • Transcribing texts into consecutive notes. This exercise helps keep your symbols active, refine old ones, create new ones and see how well you can then reformulate your notes!
  • Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting from online videos/audio that you can find at Speech Repository 2.0, Speechpool, UNWebTV, or this wonderful compilation from info.

The tips below can help you to have a successful and motivating training

  • Choose the language combination and the type of speech you want to work on.
  • Decide on your objectives for your practice. My recommendation is to limit yourself to one or two very specific goals per speech. For example, you can decide to use a sight translation text to familiarize yourself with specific terminology. Then use another text to practice speed, and perhaps a video to work on your décalage. By setting clear and simple goals you or the person who will be listening to you, will have clear parameters to evaluate your performance.
  • Set a timeframe and stick to it. Decide on a date, time and length of your practice session helps keep things realistic and achievable.
  • Take notes of the issues you need to work on as well as the positive aspects of your delivery.
  • Keep a journal if possible so you can compare to previous notes and see if something is a recurring problem. If this is the case and you are working with a partner, you can discuss some strategies together.

Finding a partner to practice with

  • Start with the basics: call up a friend that you trust from your group of classmates.
  • Join a practice group (or start your own!) A couple of places you can check out are:
    • Interpreters in Brussels Practice Group. This is a group of professional interpreters and recent graduates who meet twice a month in Brussels. Participants get to practice both, consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, and in exchange for their peers’ feedback, they have to prepare a speech in their mother tongue. You can visit their Facebook profile, of their YouTube Channel and learn more about what they do.
    • Interpreters in Madrid Practice Group. This group started in Madrid in 2015 brings professional interpreters and interpreting students once a month. Just like with IBPG, participants are expected to bring a speech in their mother tongue and give each other constructed feedback on their consecutive skills.
  • Can’t physically join a group? Join Interpretimebank. This is a Google+ community created and managed by interpreters that works as a time-bank. Many of us already travel too much as it is and cannot commit to a regular practice schedule, not to mention that you may live in a city that does not have a practice group. However, you don’t have to miss out on constructive feedback from fellow interpreters. With this virtual community you can arrange a practice time that suits your schedule, meet new colleagues and get different perspectives because it is open to interpreters form all over the world. It is now in its beta version but you can already join and request for someone to listen to you and offer your time to listen to someone as well.
  • This tool allows the user to record their own interpretation of a speech from the Speech Repository and share it with other students or trainers for evaluation. The only caveat is that it is only available to students from partner universities and to EU-accredited interpreters, because you have to log in through the European Commission Authentication System.

We hope you find this compilation of tips and sources useful to keep developing your talents and skills.

And you, do you have any tips to share?