Conference Interpreting — A student’s practice book by Andrew Gillies is a must-read for student interpreters. This book comes with a ton of practice ideas, which we can apply to our daily practice sessions. This book completely changed my view on how we should practice. He says, “You should not, only, interpret to get better at interpreting.” We tend to default into interpreting all the time, but he views that complex skills can be broken down into a few manageable components and each component can be practiced in isolation — this is very refreshing to know. For instance, one practice idea he offers is to read speech transcripts and practice noting without time pressure (as if it were a speech that had to be interpreted consecutively), and then review your notes. He says to “correct your notes into an ideal set of notes that reflects the notetaking techniques you are learning”, but surprisingly, my school offered very little in that aspect. He says comparing notes with others or seeing experienced interpreters’ notes can help us assess our notes and make improvements.
As for feedback, he advises to identify why you made that mistake, and I think this is something we overlook as well (as we are obsessed with getting words right). We keep practicing interpreting but don’t take the time to think about what we have done. The most common excuse we have is this: it is too painful, or unbearable, to hear our own interpreting. This is true, but Gillies says that it is important to think about our work because learning comes not only from doing, but from thinking about what you have done. He even recommends a logbook to keep a record of all the feedback, so that we can be reminded of the do’s and don’ts, and also compare our performances over time. Another good advice is to make a distinction between issues relating to vocabulary and issues relating to interpreting techniques. Also, making a distinction between new terminology and recurring expressions is important. I find our peer feedback is often limited to vocabulary, but more technical issues need to be explored as they may recur, hence, to be much more useful.
He asks, “What is your goal as a student interpreter?” He answers, “Your goal is to speak when interpreting like a competent public speaker giving their own speech.” This is so true, and that is one of the reasons why our studies are so challenging because we don’t normally talk about, say diplomatic issues, or macroeconomics, in our daily conversations. I am not sure how often we will be interpreting speeches in real life, but I feel like, in order for us to be able to fully digest world-renown speakers’ speeches, we have to be at the speaker’s level or above to be able to fully digest their talk. That is not going to happen, but I am sure with practice and frequent exposure to similar topics, I am sure it is not entirely impossible.
He ends with a chapter on stress management, and there was one passage that made me chuckle: “We don’t have to be unhappy to interpret well!” But when you are put on the spot to perform in front of others and/or every single thing you say is scrutinized, it is inevitable that we feel defeated sometimes.
But what we should keep in mind is that growth takes pain, and interpreting is not an exercise to perfection; there is always room for improvement, even for professional interpreters. In fact, we should be grateful that we all get a chance to be criticized and evaluated by our colleagues and professors, because when we are out in the real world, no one would care to do that, and the consequences of making mistakes are much more serious.
I say to myself: Practice often. Don’t expect success too soon and too early. Expect to work for it. Expect to overcome your limitations. Only then can you expect to get somewhere.