Interpretation comes with much practice. It is a skill that requires much dedication and knowledge regarding two or more languages. It is a skill that can definitely be learned if one is willing to take the time to do it. There are many different exercises that have been used to help with this learning process. These exercises are useful in preparing to interpret and in interpreting figures of speech, humor and numbers. Practicing these exercises will help fine tune an interpreter’s skill level.
A good interpreter begins their interpretation long before the time comes to actually sit down to start interpreting. There are many different exercises you can try to help get prepared. Some things to consider in preparation is how knowledgeable you are regarding the topic you’re going to cover, can you attend any meetings in advance to help get to know the speaker better and can you get a copy of the speakers written speech if there was one prepared in advance. A good interpreter will know everything there is to know about the speaker and his speech well in advance so that they will feel more comfortable with what is said on the actual day of interpretation. There are many other ways to help get ready for interpreting a speech. James Nolan, translator and professor, discusses many exercises that can be done to practice interpretation in his book titled Interpretation Techniques and Exercises. One exercise he mentions is that before any public speakers give a speech either on television or in person, prepare a list of words or phrases that you think the person might use. Then watch or listen to the speech and see how many you got right. Nolan says this exercise will help in being able to know your speaker and be more comfortable with the terms and phrases they like to use. This exercise should be repeated until you feel comfortable in knowing your speaker (19). Often times a message may become hard to understand either because of technical difficulties or maybe just a weird pronunciation. When this happens, a technique Nolan uses is to interpret the emotion behind the message. He suggests practicing this by writing down a small sentence and then reading it with many different emotions. For example, you could read, “The fox likes the color red.” with feelings of anger, sadness, happiness or annoyance. Record yourself repeating the sentence with the different emotions. Having finished recording all the emotions, listen back to the recording and see if you were convincing. Keep recording until you can really sense the different emotions. This will greatly help with your conveyance of the meaning of the message, not just the words (21-22). Another way you can prepare in case of any technical difficulties, according to Nolan, is to find a paragraph in a magazine and mark out some of the key words with a black marker. Then read over the paragraph and try to fill in the blanks that have been blackened out with words that help keep the context of the message (22). After getting comfortable with this method, Nolan states:
Repeat the exercise again with a new photocopy. This time, blot out the final words of key sentences in each paragraph. When you do the sight-translation, try to finish the sentences in a way that makes sense without altering the main thrust of the sentence. Check yourself against the original. In those cases where you were not able to reconstruct the original meaning intended, consider whether it would have been better to take an educated guess or to drop the entire sentence rather than risk getting it wrong. This depends on your judgment and on the context in which the sentence appears (24).
Having followed these techniques well in advance will not only help you feel better prepared, but it will also help perfect your interpreting skills.
Another thing that often stumps even the best of interpreters is the many different figures of speech used in every language. Nolan states that “The most common pitfall to be avoided is not recognizing figurative or idiomatic language and translating it literally (67)”. Nolan also gives an exercise to help with this problem. He gives a list of many different figures of speech such as idiom, simile, parody, pun or play on words, euphemism and hyperbole and then has you come up with as many examples as possible for each one in both your first and second language (68-72). It is important to be able to translate the meaning of the message, and not so much the actual figure of speech. Along with this, Nolan gives another exercise which has you take the moral or lesson given in a well known story, and make up a different story in the other language that would give the same moral (103). By doing this you are helping to grow your vocabulary in such a way that you may able to recognize figures of speech and translate them in such a way to help the audience understand the meaning, and not the literal translation.
Another stumbling block for many interpreters is translating humor. Jokes can carry such abstract ideas that it is extremely difficult for even the best of interpreters to get a laugh out of the audience at the same time as the speaker. Nolan yet again has an excellent idea on how to overcome this possible pitfall. The exercise is rather simple. Tell jokes (274). That is the whole way to be able to interpret a joke in a different language. You should look up and be able to tell jokes in any language you speak. The art of telling a joke comes with practice, so if you’re trying to interpret a joke and you’re not good at telling jokes yourself, you may have a problem.
The final topic I wanted to cover is the technique of learning how to take good notes, especially while interpreting consecutively. Deborah A. Garretson talks about this skill in her book titled A Psychological Approach to Consecutive Interpretation. She talks about an experiment wherein they tested the ability of the interpreters to recall the information that was presented. She states:
The wording, the surface structure of the sentences, is largely lost by the subjects within a short time after presentation; yet when questioned about the content of the material presented, the subjects were able both to recognize as well as actively recall their contents with accuracy (247).
The key to good note taking is practice, practice, practice. Nolan gives many great examples on how to practice this technique, one of which is the writing of the story about the tortoise and the hair without using any words, just shapes (298).
As we can tell, there is much to be learned when it comes to being an outstanding interpreter. But with much exercise and practice one can become trained enough to give a great interpretation.
Garretson, Deborah A. “A Psychological Approach to Consecutive Interpretation”. Meta 26 (3), September 1981.
Nolan, James. Interpretation : Techniques and Exercises. Clevedon, GBR: Multilingual Matters Limited, 2005.