MS in Translation & Interpreting (MSTI) students enrolled in the Principles of Interpreting course taught in Spring 2022 by Yasmin Alkashef, PhD, have been exposed to the interpreting profession, its different settings and modes, and the applicable codes of ethics. They had an assignment to shadow or interview a practicing interpreter. The interviewees ranged from family members and work colleagues to past and current classmates. One student in their quest to find an interpreter physically went to the local court to interview a professional interpreter. Students asked a range of exciting questions inquiring about background, career progression, education, challenges, and what a normal day looks like. Interestingly, almost all interviews had one question in common: “What is your advice for new interpreters?”
Below are some of the common themes from the responses of the practicing interpreters!
Find your niche
Newcomers to the interpreting profession are advised to find the specialty they are most suited for. Karen Hillstrom, an experienced interpreter in healthcare and educational settings, told student Hannah Papenfuss to find a niche within a specialty. “Sometimes interpreters try to cover too many fields,” said Karin. But this does not let them stand out in any of them. Even within one specific area of interpreting, there might further be a niche to hone your expertise.
Certification is and has been a trademark for quality. Finding out the route to certification in your area of specialty as early as possible is a step in the right direction. Certification requirements may also vary from specialization to specialization. Maintaining your certification also becomes very important. This advice was reiterated by a number of interviewees. “It not only gives you leverage over someone who is not certified but gives you stability and credibility because a lot of state agencies and companies require that you're certified,” Eva Lizett Schreffler, a healthcare and legal interpreter and also a MSTI student, told Veronica Rosario.
Elaine Wu, a Chinese-English business interpreter, told MSTI student Jingyi Du to speak up boldly and not be afraid to make mistakes. The same advice was echoed by another experienced interpreter who was interviewed by Andrea D. Flores. Safira Amazan, an experienced English-Haitian Creole Healthcare interpreter, told Mariam Moustafa to "have confidence in your skills and abilities. Don’t let … nervousness overwhelm you.”
The interviewees also reiterated the importance of continuous learning and practicing. Eva Lizett Schreffler told Veronica Rosario to constantly look for new learning opportunities. “I think that was part of the reason I was made Lead Interpreter because I'm constantly looking for new learning opportunities.” Judith Oringer, an experienced French/English interpreter, suggested to Avi Shimshon to practice as much as possible to maintain one’s language skills.
MSTI students were told to try to detach themselves emotionally from the difficult stories they get to hear during interpreting. This is important to protect oneself as much as possible from vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Similar to many others working in professions that offer help to people in need, interpreters may find themselves deeply impacted by the stories they hear and repeat. Familiarity with vicarious trauma and development of coping techniques is essential for interpreters.
MSTI students were also advised to stay on top of their note-taking skills. Community interpreters who work mostly in the consecutive mode need excellent note-taking skills. Although there is much guidance on how to take notes for consecutive interpreters, Elaine Wu told Jingyi Du that it was helpful for interpreters to come up with their own note-taking habits that they find most comfortable and convenient.
Thanks to the excellent work done by the MSTI students, newcomers to the interpreting profession can find valuable advice that will help in their upcoming journey. From getting certified and finding your niche, to overcoming nerves and developing note-taking skills, these are all essential ingredients in the good interpreter recipe.