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URGENT: been asked to interpret, zero experience
Thread poster: blahdibla (X)

blahdibla (X)
Feb 3, 2012

Hello everyone, I'm new here, and have come looking for some advice. Basically, I'm a translation student, and started doing voluntary translation work as a way of getting some practical experience. After a few weeks, one of the associations contacted me to say they desperately needed me to interpret for them, since they left it too late to get an official interpreter.

Apparantly, it's a fairly informal lunch and discussion with 15 participants - however the environment is extremely intimidating (a very high profile institution is hosting it).

I'm not sure what to do - please don't flame me: I'm not getting paid, and they know I'm not an interpreter, so I'm not sullying the reputation. Here are my questions:

1) Should I do this? Would you, if you were me? I don't want to let them down, and it would also be a brilliant opportunity to meet people from the association....at the same time, it sounds terrifying. What if I mess up?

2) I don't have the first clue about interpreting...I was told there might be some ''chuchotage''...what is that?! More to the point, just generally, how do I go abut this, bearing in mind I only have a week to prepare! Apparantly my main reason for being there is one of the participants doesn't speak the main language - does this mean I'm supposed to be quietly interpreting every little thing that goes on...is that what the 'chuchotage' is?

I really, really need some advice here.

Thank you.


 

Alma Ramirez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:38
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Don't do it! Feb 3, 2012

Don’t do it! Interpreters have a huge responsibility and there is some liability involved too. If you do not know what to do, you better refrain from doing it.

You mentioned the opportunity to meet people from the association. You will have the opportunity, but if you do not do what it is expected, you will be remembered as the “bad interpreter”, and they will not think that it was because you were a student or because it was your first job as an interpreter.

Even if you are a student, I suggest you being professional and make good decisions on what you are able to do.

You also mentioned that you only have a week to prepare. One week is plenty of time for them to get a professional interpreter, how can they be desperate if there is still a lot of time to get the right person for the job?


 

Christian Strugariu  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:38
Member (2012)
German to Romanian
+ ...
Answer Feb 3, 2012

Hello!

I read you post and I want to tell you what I would do in your place.

1. If the participants know you're not an official translator than this is OK. I would go,= although I would be very nervous at the beginning, witch is a normal feeling given your profile, experience...!
It's a very good opportunity to gain experience both in translating and familiarize with such meetings, situations, environments and as you said, meet new peopleicon_smile.gif
2. I think the would definitely appreciate your effort!
3. chuchotage= whispering So if there's only one fellow who doesn't know the main language then all you have do do is to whisper what will be discussed at the table and of course translate for the other what that fellow may have to say.

I'm not an interpreter, although I've done this kind of job 2 or 3 times for 2-3 days as I can remember and at the beginning I was also nervous until I familiarized with the people, subject and environment.

So...go go go!!!

Hope I could be of help!

Best regards,
Christian
GERMAN-ROMANIAN TRANSLATOR


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Not a good idea. Feb 3, 2012

All interpreters have to start somewhere, but this sounds like a baptism of fire. It partly depends on your language skills - it might be a possibility if you were completely fluent in both languages, but in my view it's too big a risk.

Being a good translator doesn't automatically make you any good at interpreting. I went for an interpreting aptitude test with the European Commission when I left university. I had to perform in front of all my fellow applicants, a couple of dozen people, and I was so embarrassingly bad I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.


 

blahdibla (X)
TOPIC STARTER
thank you for your reply Feb 3, 2012

Alma Ramirez wrote:

Don’t do it! Interpreters have a huge responsibility and there is some liability involved too. If you do not know what to do, you better refrain from doing it.

You mentioned the opportunity to meet people from the association. You will have the opportunity, but if you do not do what it is expected, you will be remembered as the “bad interpreter”, and they will not think that it was because you were a student or because it was your first job as an interpreter.

Even if you are a student, I suggest you being professional and make good decisions on what you are able to do.

You also mentioned that you only have a week to prepare. One week is plenty of time for them to get a professional interpreter, how can they be desperate if there is still a lot of time to get the right person for the job?


Thank you for your reply! But surely if they're willing to use a non-pro and have described it as informal, there can't be too much liability involved? (By the way, regarding your last point, I have absolutely no idea).

I just don't want to be disappointed in myself; feel disappointed that I didn't try something just because I felt scared.


 

Iciar Pertusa  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:38
Member (2010)
French to Spanish
+ ...
No, no and no! Feb 3, 2012

A week is time enough to contact a professional interpreter, and if it is supposed to be such a high-level meeting, they should not ask an unexperienced student (no offence) to cover it. They are the ones being unprofessional too!

In my opinion, what they aim is to save the money normally used to pay a more experienced interpreter.

Your first experience should be in a more relaxed ambiance, more simple topics and if possible, no "chuchotage" (or "whispering"), that is simultaneous interpreting next to the client without booth.

You will have time enough to meet new clients, a "no" at the right time can avoid a bigger harm!


 

blahdibla (X)
TOPIC STARTER
but what about their opinion of me? Feb 3, 2012

Iciar Pertusa wrote:

A week is time enough to contact a professional interpreter, and if it is supposed to be such a high-level meeting, they should not ask an unexperienced student (no offence) to cover it. They are the ones being unprofessional too!

In my opinion, what they aim is to save the money normally used to pay a more experienced interpreter.

Your first experience should be in a more relaxed ambiance, more simple topics and if possible, no "chuchotage" (or "whispering"), that is simultaneous interpreting next to the client without booth.

You will have time enough to meet new clients, a "no" at the right time can avoid a bigger harm!


Thanks for replying - maybe you're right, maybe sometimes it isn't about trying to take every opportunity you get, but about sifting through those opportunities.

I'm a bit torn because although some translators only seem to feel really comfortable with the written word, I actually really enjoy the oral aspect to language, and the mental acrobatics involved in flipping between the two quickly and accurately (I've only ever interpreted once, randomly, for security in a hotel who were questioning these english people suspected of dealing...I really enjoyed the rush of it all). The more rational side of my brain though recognizes that interpreters train for years for a reason, they gather years of experience for a reason - because there's so much more to the art of interpreting than just knowing your languages perfectly, there's the methodology and technical aspects - and how on earth could I ever expect to have those, at this stage? In other words, I'm torn because I think if it really is as informal as I'm told, maybe this could be something I could do. On the other hand, the context, as I said, fills me with terror, and I'm afraid that under pressure and without training, I would fail terribly.

I've been enjoying translating for them though, and am worried that if I refuse, they will feel let down...


 

Marina Steinbach  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:38
Member
English to German
You aren't getting paid? Why? Feb 3, 2012

blahdibla wrote:

I'm not sure what to do - please don't flame me: I'm not getting paid, and they know I'm not an interpreter, so I'm not sullying the reputation.


Hello blahdibla,

You aren't getting paid? Why?

Marina


[Edited at 2012-02-03 23:55 GMT]


 

Katza
Local time: 17:38
English to Romanian
+ ...
I wouldn't do it, but it's up to you Feb 4, 2012

Hi,

Just my two cents as a professional interpreter. First time should be easier, so as not to scare you off interpreting for good.
Speaking from personal experience, a meeting with 15 people, no matter how informal it is, is bound to be scary, particularly for a young person. Your lack of experience, combined with the novelty and the fact that it's a high-level meeting is bound to have your adrenaline working over time. An informal meeting isn't necessarily easy, it just means they don't have an agenda set in stone. As other people have pointed out, a week is plenty of time to hire somebody, my guess is that they just don't want to pay for the interpretation, so they're trying to trick you into accepting. They shouldn't do that because chuchottage (or whispering) is no easy task. You basically have to stay really close to that participant and do simultaneous interpretation in a very low tone of voice, without headphones. As far as I'm concerned it's the most difficult mode of interpretation - at least for me - because you have a lot of noise around you (sometimes several people speaking at the same time), you have no time to properly think, you can't properly hear yourself, which is pretty bad, and the list goes on. I'll take simultaneous (or even consecutive) any day. Not being paid for this hard work sounds really bad to me.
Gaining experience is great, but you don't want your first stab at something you like to end in a fiasco, because that would only discourage you, and that's not nice when you're just starting a career.
That being said, it sounds like you enjoy interpreting - maybe you should consider getting into it, it's really a great line of work - you get to meet a lot of people, you get to travel and you get a great workout for your brainicon_smile.gif

Good luck with whatever you decide,
Katza


 

Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 10:38
Romanian to English
+ ...
a short story, Feb 4, 2012

16 years ago I worked for a small used-car dealership in Philadelphia when a good friend of mine, an engineer, asked me if I am willing to interpret in front of a federal judge in an immigration case. I said yes, and three days later I found myself in a full courtroom sitting next to the respondent and his attorney. I had a 10 minutes "orientation" from a seasoned interpreter ... and I was on my own. After a three hours trial, both the judge and the attorney thanked me for the wonderful job I performed.
The morale : If you believe in yourself and are confident, you can do it !

Good luck !

[Edited at 2012-02-04 03:51 GMT]


 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:38
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
No, don't do it Feb 4, 2012

Even for a more experienced interpreter, interpreting a 15-person discussion, ESPECIALLY if it is an informal lunch, is a living hell. People will talk over each other, interrupt each other, you won't be able to hear some of them at all, they will get excited and start talking really fast - your head will be spinning in 5 minutes. They will NOT stop for you to interpret, even if they promise and try at the beginning. You would probably end up whispering the whole time. They will probably offer you lunch, but you won't be able to touch it, as your mouth will be busy otherwise.
You have not said anything about the profession of these people, or the occasion of their gathering. Even if it is an informal lunch meeting, they WILL talk about whatever specialty brought them together. So, if they are attending a nuclear physics conference, and it is "just an informal lunch", you bet they will talk about all the details of their latest nuclear research. If you are not familiar with the subject area, you will be sweating like a pig in no time.

I don't understand why a "high profile institution" would want to do this, it seems very unprofessional.

I understand you are tempted by the opportunity, but this does not seem to be the right type of opportunity for you at this point. Interpreting at a much smaller meeting would be a better start. If you are willing to work for free for the experience, why don't you try and volunteer at a local hospital, or school district, or an organization that helps refugees who don't speak English well enough - although I don't know what your language pair is, but you may find a real need for your skills.

Best of luck
Katalin


 

Arnando Koswara  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 21:38
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Good opportunity seldom comes twice Feb 4, 2012

blahdibla wrote:

Hello everyone, I'm new here, and have come looking for some advice. Basically, I'm a translation student, and started doing voluntary translation work as a way of getting some practical experience. After a few weeks, one of the associations contacted me to say they desperately needed me to interpret for them, since they left it too late to get an official interpreter.

Apparantly, it's a fairly informal lunch and discussion with 15 participants - however the environment is extremely intimidating (a very high profile institution is hosting it).

I'm not sure what to do - please don't flame me: I'm not getting paid, and they know I'm not an interpreter, so I'm not sullying the reputation. Here are my questions:

1) Should I do this? Would you, if you were me? I don't want to let them down, and it would also be a brilliant opportunity to meet people from the association....at the same time, it sounds terrifying. What if I mess up?

2) I don't have the first clue about interpreting...I was told there might be some ''chuchotage''...what is that?! More to the point, just generally, how do I go abut this, bearing in mind I only have a week to prepare! Apparantly my main reason for being there is one of the participants doesn't speak the main language - does this mean I'm supposed to be quietly interpreting every little thing that goes on...is that what the 'chuchotage' is?

I really, really need some advice here.

Thank you.


Hi..

You said that they know you're still inexperience in interpreting so it means that what you will do is not very important (no offence) otherwise they won't let you do it. I think what you are offered here is a good opportunity for your profile so my answer is take it. but it all depends on you.. if you think you can do it, why don't you? don't let fear beat you. You never know how it is if you don't try..
what if.. let's say you don't take it.. and then next week you get another similar project like that. I bet you won't take it either. but it could be different if you've already felt the ride.
In my Experience, don't worry to much about the results that haven't come yet... just enjoy the process. so, I'll say again... if you feel you can do it, well by all means, take it and learn from it icon_wink.gif


 

peninsular  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 20:08
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
Do it! Feb 4, 2012

Hi!

The fact that you have approached people for guidance shows that you are inclined to do the assignment. You have the desire but you are hesitant. Go ahead and take the job. You have to start somewhere.

Prepare well. Compile a glossary of terms that you expect will be figuring in the conversation. The people who have asked you will gladly help.

Remember, people who are conversing at the gathering with each other are not completely dependent on the interpreter. They know the subject and will extract what they want to know. If you go wrong, they will know that the flow of conversation has been broken and will correct you.

It will be a good experience.

Wish you all the best!

Yeshwant


 

Musa Issa
Kenya
Local time: 17:38
Swahili to English
+ ...
GO FOR IT Feb 4, 2012

I can sense some confidence at underneath all that apprehension. I think you should go. Here's what you need to do :

1. Prepare a glossary of terms that will be used. Ask the organizer to give you some material that will be used at the meeting, however informal.

2. Consider getting a more experienced colleague to come with so that you two can help each other out during the interpretation process from time to time. He could do 2 hours, and you could do an hour, and that way, you break up the task into small manageable tasks.

3. Sometimes in life, you must dive into those murky waters head-first. Do not be intimidated by that inner voice that tells you you cannot do it. I believe that you can do this and you will surprise youself at how good you are at this.

4. A few days before the event, you might want to start interpreting everything you come into contact with - the news on television, people's conversations etc - so that you may get your brain used to the task that is coming.

I believe in you. Do it and do not look back. I am speaking from experience as a novice - I once had to do this. I did not think I could, but I eventually went above and beyond my expectations.

You will do great! All the best.


 

Oksana Weiss  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:38
English to Russian
+ ...
Exactly! Feb 4, 2012

Marina Steinbach wrote:
You aren't getting paid? Why?

Good point, Marina!
I wouldn't go, if I wasn't paid, for it would be like going to a living hell for free (Katalin's description was very accurate).
There was a discussion recently of whether the students should be paid for translation jobs, and the general opinion was that they should, although the rate should be different from the professional one. The same should be true for the interpreters.
In this topic the opinions varied, depending on the country. It seems the laws in US are more strict, while people from growing economies are ready to take the challenge. My advice is to wait for someone from UK to speak up.
Good luck anyway and don't be afraid of making the decisions!


 
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