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  • Yelena McCafferty

The nitty-gritty of interpreting practice

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Few people would need convincing that interpreting requires a practitioner to possess a wide range of skills, with language proficiency being only the most obvious one. Good memory, note-taking strategies, even acting skills (sometimes coupled with impartiality) come into the mix.

Few of our clients realise that to maintain our interpreting skills we need to have regular independent practice, especially if we don’t specialise solely in interpreting but work as translators (with written material) as well.

Practice is key, as my conference interpreting tutor Danielle D’Hayer at London Metropolitan University says. And practising independently doesn’t mean on our own; in fact, Danielle advocates practising with a partner. Only this way will we know how we come across, if we are accurate, clear, stylistically correct and if we used interpreting strategies effectively. The danger of solo interpreting practice is it’s hard to be the interpreter and the customer at the same time and assess ourselves objectively. Naturally, we may not spot our own bad habits and may reinforce them instead.

Making an action plan and “debriefing” are equally important. An analysis afterwards should identify if and why any errors happened, trying again and rectifying them.

Again few of our clients fully understand how much good interpreting relies on good preparation. When we aren’t given any support materials before an assignment, one of the methods suggested by Danielle D’Hayer in preparation for a conference interpreting job is by watching videos on a specific topic or released by a specific organisation. She suggests several rounds of listening to the same video: first to note down key concepts and second time to identify key terminology. It’s always worth checking if the same video exists in our other language. As we write out terminology, it’s beneficial to speak it out to train our brain signals. The next stage of the exercise is listening to the same video muted and acting as a narrator while referring to our notes, once in one language and again in another language. Pausing the video isn’t recommended, even if we can’t keep up.

Another strategy for simultaneous interpreting practice I picked up from Danielle is dividing a speech into chunks after listening to it for general understanding. We then go on to interpret Chunk 1 and review our performance. Once it’s analysed, we interpret Chunk 1 again and add Chunk 2, followed by a review. The same process is repeated with Chunk 3. By the time we have interpreted Chunk 1 three times and Chunk 2 twice, naturally we should notice improvement.

Our clients may not need to know the exact nitty-gritty of what pains we take to keep our skills up-to-date, but if they did, I have a feeling they may have even more appreciation for what we do.

Yelena McCafferty is a trained Russian conference interpreter

In a conference interpreting booth in London

[Tip: if you need to book a Russian interpreter, please call us on 0207 0436940 or email]



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