Business, Interpretation


An informative overview of how to succeed in the interpreting profession. BY DOMENICA NIEDDU

On Saturday, January 29, at the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus, Julie Burns presented a workshop on how to get started as interpreters and discussed the tools and resources necessary to succeed in the profession. She also provided the participants with a general survey of the status of the trade.

Julie is a well-known interpreter trainer, California Worker’s Compensation Certified Spanish interpreter, and ATA-certified translator. She provides professional trainings to prepare bilingual individuals to work as interpreters in hospital and clinic settings, and offers continuing education workshops for linguists’ professional development and stress management.

There were 21 people at this four-hour workshop; among them were two representatives of Accent on Languages, a translating/interpreting agency in Berkeley, interested in recruiting new interpreters for its roster of linguists.

Differences and Similarities

The first point that Julie covered was the difference between interpreting and translating: how the nature of translations is permanent while interpreters work out of the fleeting moment (verba volant, scripta manent). She also explained that both types of linguists require a certain level of proficiency, with additional listening skills that are a prerequisite for interpreters. Translators often work in teams and might need to engage in substantial amounts of research, while the interpreter needs to obtain the information ahead of time in order to prepare for the assignment.

The concept of “register” was introduced, which refers to the level of formal or complex language a person chooses to use (for example, the high register of a well-educated speaker vs. the lower register of everyday speech). Julie explained how the interpreter needs to adjust his/her wording to reflect the register used by the speaker.

Julie noted that interpreters have multiple roles in the community and can act as Advocate (oftentimes in healthcare settings), Culture Broker, Clarifier (being transparent and adjusting register), and Conduit (speaking in the first person: “I have a headache” as opposed to “He is saying that he has a headache”). She also listed and clarified the different modes of interpretation (consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation) and the various professional settings (community, health care, legal, and conference interpreting).

The class then watched a very entertaining video with Catherine Tate on “How to improvise multi-lingual interpreting skills.”

Skills and Qualifications

Julie explained how an interpreter is required to possess and use a wide range of skills, qualifications, and decision-making abilities; basic bilingual proficiency is not sufficient to enter the profession. She showed a slide of the proficiency assessment chart of “The Language Testing International” (an organization that arranges language assessments in 60+ languages for corporations, government agencies, academic institutions, and individuals) with the four levels of expertise: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior. Julie clarified that the Advanced Level represents the minimum requirement for a professional interpreter.

The participants then watched a video of an interpreter working in a medical setting. The intent of the presenter was to help us identify the skills that the interpreter applied to the situation. We were all divided into small groups and were asked to single out the main abilities used by the linguist in the specific setting. Some of the abilities noted in the video by workshop participants were the following:

  • Language proficiency
  • Active listening skills
  • Message conversion skills
  • Cultural knowledge
  • Unbiased attitude
  • Stress tolerance, resilience
  • Fast speed of comprehension
  • Ability to anticipate
  • Mind nimbleness or alertness
  • General interest and curiosity
  • Analytical skills and memory
  • Ability to speak in public
  • Ability to identify differences in meaning
  • Clear speech
  • Ability to project information with confidence
  • Knowledge of key concepts
  • Ability to decide quickly
  • Ability to be assertive
  • Good memory

Julie highlighted the importance of active listening and short term memory for interpreters, and suggested that we divide into pairs to practice this skill. Two short passages were read by the instructor about a funny ER home intervention and a village in Italy; then, we all took turns repeating to our partner what we remembered of the piece read.

Some of the tools to improve one’s own capacity to retain information are: visualizing (making a mental picture of something specific that the speaker just said), and echoing (repeating silently a phrase or number to oneself).

Another subject covered during the workshop pertained to training and educational options. The instructor mentioned that several opportunities are available for interpreters to obtain a certification in healthcare interpreting and other areas. NCTA’s Director of Continuing Education Sarah Llewellyn, who also attended the workshop, e-mailed a list of links and web-site addresses related to training, certifications, and evaluations to participants after the event. To obtain a copy of this very informative reference, please e-mail Sarah directly. (Contact info here.)

At the end of the workshop, Julie allocated some time to allow participants to ask questions and obtain answers.

This informative workshop provided great tips for a stellar career in interpreting! DN