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#TerpSummit2021 – Connecting with Colleagues Online

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Day One – Self-Care for Interpreters

11th January 2021

January is generally one of the quieter periods of the year for conference interpreters.

Fewer meetings, less travel, and a sense of a new beginning make it the perfect month to recharge our batteries in various ways. In recent years, I have enjoyed topping up my Italian in Rome at lectures organised by colleagues from the CRIC Consorzio Romano Interpreti di Conferenza. A ‘refresher course’ as we say in terpspeak. Aperitivi, dinners, and guided tours included in the programme always make for a delightful mini-break to kick-start the year.

Travelling for a refresher course this year, however, was not possible. I was excited, therefore, to hear that fellow English-booth colleague Sophie Llewellyn Smith, aka the Interpreting Coach, had put together a three-day programme for simultaneous conference interpreters, the Terp Summit – Fit for the Future. Although it wasn’t my usual language refresher course, it sounded like a great way to connect with colleagues online and make sure I was well-prepared for the changed world of conference interpreting.

11th-13th January are going to be action packed days with amazing speakers helping you build a comprehensive toolkit of strategies to become more confident, marketable and resilient - with advice on self-care, tech setup, branding and marketing, and advanced interpreting skills.

And action packed it most definitely was! Running each day from lunch-time to early evening (in Europe), with replays available for the following 24 hours, colleagues across the world were able to connect and interact on Hopin as the event happened or catch up later. I enjoyed being able to dip in and out of different sessions and also chatting with a few colleagues I haven’t seen for a while. I didn’t attend everything by any means, but I thought I would put one of Andy Gillies’ top CPD tips in to practice by taking the time now to read through my notes and reflect on what I took away from the sessions I followed. This post is therefore the first in a series recapping my ‘take aways’ from #TerpSummit2021.

The focus on Day One was Self-care for Interpreters. The twelve sessions, many running in parallel, aimed to give interpreters some practical tools to not only take care of our precious ears, voice, eyes, and lower back, but also help boost our confidence and reduce our stress levels. They included Pilates, yoga, voice coaching, nutrition advice, and stress management techniques.

The first session I joined was Move and Interpret Better with Maria Karakostanoglou. A freelance Greek interpreter and brain gym consultant, Maria introduced us to PACE – Positive, Active, Clean, Energetic. She ran through four exercises (available as a download to participants) that interpreters can use in the booth to help relieve stress levels, activate our brains, and free up movement in our head, neck and shoulders so we can concentrate better at work. Taking a moment to reflect as you drink water (energetic), rubbing contact points beneath your clavicles (brain buttons), activating the knee to elbow diagonal (cross crawl), and crossing your ankles and arms (hook ups) are all movements that can be done in a few minutes. I was amazed at the combined effect. I was even more blown away by one last exercise Maria presented towards the end of the session – stretching the ears! Who’d have thought it would have such an effect on horizontal eye movement? Definitely one I need to keep practicing.

Having made my usual New Year’s Resolution to eat more healthily, I decided it would be a good idea to tune into nutritional therapist Jackie Lynch’s session on How To Boost Your Energy & Stop Feeling Tired All The Time. It seems straightforward telling myself to cut out things like biscuits and chocolate, but it was definitely encouraging to learn from Jackie exactly why I should be doing this, especially since it’s a long time since I was in a biology class! Hearing about the blood sugar see-saw and how it might also be one reason people (I) wake up after a few hours’ sleep, definitely motivated me to be more careful about snacks in the evening. I also wasn’t aware of how important magnesium is – I must add it to my next shopping list, or perhaps some Epsom salts for a nice bath. As a bonus, Jackie’s session was also a good ‘refresher’ for basic biology and chemistry terminology.

The panel I had been most looking forward to was Naomi Bowman’s session on What you can do to protect your hearing. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the conditions in which simultaneous conference interpreters currently work. Health and safety restrictions moved virtually all multilingual meetings and large events online. Whilst the specific arrangements for interpreters varied, the main new factor affecting everyone - interpreters and delegates alike - has been the quality of sound. Naomi explained that the technology delegates currently use to connect to online meetings is based on relatively old VOIP technology. Whilst this may be sufficient for standard monolingual calls and meetings, issues such as packet loss, jitter, and feedback management mean that the sound interpreters receive falls far short of the frequency ranges interpreters require to interpret simultaneously accurately for long periods. She briefly spoke about decibels and sound levels that cause acoustic shock and acoustic trauma. Naomi then explained that sound deprivation due to limited frequency range and other interference results in two main problems for interpreters: 1) exhaustion because the brain has to work harder (so-called Zoom fatigue affects delegates too!); 2) damage to hearing from increased volume when we crank up the volume to compensate. She shared her own painful experience of acoustic shock and temporary loss of hearing caused at one event when there was a sudden difference in sound between a quietly-spoken delegate and a video suddenly launched without warning. The presentation concluded with a quick overview of the hierarchy of controls for health and safety and tips on how to protect our hearing:

  • Lower the volume – make sure you stay at 50% to 60% of your maximum volume.

  • Reduce any ambient noise – such as fans or clocks and think about sound absorbing materials you can use to absorb echo in your workspace (if not working in a conference room booth) e.g. rugs, laundry baskets, curtains.

  • Reduce time exposure – limit headphone use, don’t overbook yourself, limit length of meetings by communicating the risk with clients.

  • Invest in good PPE – an ISO-standard headset in the case of interpreters.

  • Try to keep the volume at the lowest comfortable level possible.

  • Use earplugs to protect your hearing in noisy settings e.g. public transport, concerts.

  • Practice binaural listening – work with your headset on both ears, and try to retrain yourself away from a common interpreter practice of listening with one ear and leaving the other uncovered so you can monitor your own voice.

  • Choose an open-back headset so you can hear yourself whilst working without having to increase the volume dangerously.

  • Work with clients to explain why interpreters need better audio than delegates with specific practical requests – dedicated microphone which is higher quality than in-built computer microphone.

The session concluded with some practical Q&A and a chance for colleagues to share their own recommendations for headsets and other equipment such as limiters and mixers.

The last event I attended on Day One covered another ‘tool’ vital to our profession, the voice. Ailsa Gudgeon gave us a taster of how she works as a voice coach with interpreters to help them Meet the Vocal Challenges of Online Interpreting. It has been almost ten years since I attended a voice coaching workshop with AIIC Belgium so Ailsa’s presentation on how our body produces voice was a useful reminder. Where’s my diaphragm again? What’s it supposed to feel like when I breathe well? Vocal folds you say? Two colleagues kindly joined Ailsa on screen as she ran through some practical pointers to consider when in the booth: posture, warm up exercises, breathing, pitch range, forward placement of sound, articulation and the swift silent breath. Overall a very interactive session that made me consider follow-up on a more targeted basis.

All in all, Day One was a very constructive contribution to small steps we can incorporate gradually into our routines in order to remain fit for the future. It went far beyond simply saying ‘Exercise, Eat Healthily & Remember to Breathe’.

Action packed without a doubt! So much so that Sophie, aka the Interpreting Coach, also offered an upgrade. For a modest sum, participants could access the full Interpreter’s Toolkit including not only replays online for 12 months but a whole range of other downloads, discounts and chances to win prizes. What better way to start a New Year?

Did you attend #TerpSummit2021? Do you have any tips for staying fit inside and outside the booth? 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.

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