13th January 2021
January is generally a quiet period for interpreters, which means it's a great time to invest in professional development. This year fellow English-booth colleague Sophie Llewellyn Smith, aka the Interpreting Coach, put together an action-packed three-day programme for simultaneous conference interpreters, the Terp Summit – Fit for the Future. It sounded like an excellent way to connect with colleagues online and get up to speed with recent developments, so I signed up immediately.
Before we got down to business, however, we were treated to an inspiring keynote speech by Claude Durand, former Head of Multilingualism at the European Commission’s Interpreting Service (SCIC). Looking back on his long career, Claude shared his thoughts on lifelong learning for interpreters. Much has of course changed since he started out in 1974, showing how essential lifelong learning is for interpreters. The Internet, for example, makes it easier for interpreters to prepare meetings. However, we now need to sift through the information we find much more carefully to identify reliable sources said Claude. He noted how hard graduates need to work in the beginning to hone their skills once in the booth. But it doesn't end there, interpreters continue honing and broadening their language combinations throughout their careers, perhaps even developing a specialisation in a specific area. It is a lifelong commitment indeed. He urged us to nurture our curiosity, cultivating it in the awareness of the wide range of settings in which interpreters are called to work. He concluded by sharing how his own specialisation in the steel sector paid off in many enriching ways, notably seeing engineers cooperate successfully only 25 years after their countries had used the same steel to make arms and go to war against each other. Training means a constant effort to reinvent yourself – benefitting not only our work, but also our own personal development as citizens of the world.
Next up was fellow English-booth consultant interpreter Matthew Perret with some tips on how to apply The Skills of an Actor in Interpreting. A keen amateur dramatist and stand-up comedian, Matthew's delivery in the booth is always animated and convincing. ‘Sound more convincing,’ however, is one of Matthew’s bugbears when it comes to training feedback. How exactly do you sound more convincing? Well, we could apply the method acting principle and live undercover as an accountant for a few weeks ahead of a big meeting to really get into the speaker's skin, like a Hollywood actor preparing a role. This isn’t exactly feasible, however, given the range of speakers to whom interpreters are required to lend their voice. Matthew offered emotional memory as a way of inhabiting our speaker ‘characters’ instead: know why someone is saying something as well as what they are saying. He explained this approach using the example of an unfortunately common feature of 2020, the pandemic press briefing. A scientist, a politician, and a journalist all feature, yet play very different roles. Consider their perspectives: the cautious scientist presenting gloomy forecasts and facts; the politician confidently constructing a convincing narrative from the science to serve his political aims; and the journalist questioning both the scientist and the politician, reconstructing the narrative in turn. Understanding a speaker's perspective can help interpreters go beyond simply speaking and start sound convincing. A lively session showcasing just how much of an instrument our voices can be.
My inner bookworm was of course drawn to NATO interpreter and trainer Chris Guichot de Fortis’ session on Interpreting Literature and Quotations. By the end of his session Chris wanted us to both gain confidence - if it can be said, it can interpreted - and share his love of the English language (not Globish!). He gave us an overview of the richness of the English language, noting that it contains the highest number of commonly used words in comparison to other UN languages (Russian, Chinese, French, and Spanish). Communication is composed of content and style, so it’s important interpreters are familiar with the range of language used if they are to give clients the ‘full fat’ experience with all the nuance, content, form, context, register, humour, and style of the original. He then presented seven reasons why speakers use quotes, and the three main sources (native) English speakers like to quote.
He entertained the audience with some of his favourite videos of Shakespeare monologues, TED talks reciting poetry, and other reflections on language and communication, before offering some practical tips on what interpreters can do in the booth to convey quotes, useful for all language combinations. Interpreters must be daring and confident that they can interpret quotes. They also require certain skills, such as knowledge of pseudo-archaic register and the most quoted literary giants. They must also be able to distinguish between contemporary meaning and the original meaning of the quotes. It all sounds like a tall order, and I don’t envy colleagues working from English, but Chris certainly did his best to reassure us it is possible!
I wrapped up my time at #TerpSummit with English booth interpreter and trainer Andy Gillies’ session on CPD for Conference Interpreters – How to Get the Most out of Online Webinars, highly apt given it was what we had (hopefully) been doing at #TerpSummit. Andy set the context by identifying the different kinds of training available: interpreting skills; language courses; knowledge-based courses e.g. how courts work; and ancillary skills, such as accounting or IT. He also reminded us of all the ‘informal’ training we ‘do’ as we keep up with the news, read books in our languages, go about our daily lives if we have moved abroad, and perhaps even live with spouses who speak a different language! Keen to get us working as we listened, Andy presented a memory visualisation technique he then applied throughout the rest of the session. For each point, we were to visualise a number linked to an image representing the concept. It was a very useful technique – especially since Andy had no less than 22 tips on how to get the most out of webinars. For Number One, we were to picture the figure 1 as a magnifying glass allowing us to focus, and therefore specialise. It was definitely a fun approach, and I was impressed at how creative Andy’s suggested images were. The question is, how fresh are they in my mind now … I'll admit that more practice is required on my end. At least I've implemented tip 11 by writing these posts. I’ll you leave you to come up with your own images for the visualisations.
And then that was it, the end of an action-packed, motivating, and inspiring three days for and with fellow interpreters. I certainly enjoyed connecting with colleagues online and was grateful for the opportunity to think more actively about how I approach all aspects of my work and life as a conference interpreter. Hats off to Sophie for pulling it all together!
Wishing all my fellow interpreters a fruitful 2021. May you all feel Fit for the Future in the new normal!
Did you join #TerpSummit2021? Do you have any top tips for CPD? How do you develop and boost your interpreting skills? I’d love to hear from you!
Johanna McCalmont is a freelance conference interpreter based in Brussels, Belgium. She works from French, German, Dutch, and Italian into English.