Lets talk about the downs
Thread poster: Muna khleifat

Muna khleifat  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:54
Arabic to English
+ ...
Jan 21, 2007

Hello there,

I have been thinking about an interesting thing in this career, which just like any career has ups and downs.
Forget about ups I want to talk about those dreadful downs.

Is it healthy to have fiascos? Can you experience it and still pursue a successful career afterwards? Of course I am not talking about those mistakes made at the very beginning of one's career.

How can we explain being really good in a function and really bad in a similar if not simpler one? OK , not as bad as receiving complaints from the audiance , but bad as in being shaky, gasping and speaking really loud to the mike!!

Has any one had such an incidents- and would not mind talking about it? Does any body happen to know why an interpreter’s skills, which have been supportive for a long while, would fail them on a day (not longer hopefully)? Would simple medication like pain killers influence an interpreter’s performance?

How do you handle those situations?
Thanks in advance,


[Edited at 2007-01-24 14:22]


teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:54
English to Spanish
+ ...
the hall of shame Jan 21, 2007

Interpreters make mistakes like anyone else, so the logical answer to your question "can you experience fiascos and pursue a successful career afterwards" would be yes. Of course, we are not talking about huge mistakes. We are assuming that the interpreter has the minimum skills (or certifications) to do a good job, he comes prepared to his assignments, and knows how to behave in an ethical manner. In this business, your reputation is everything. This is extremely important if you interpret during court proceedings, where people's lives could be on the line. One of the first things they teach you is that you must correct the record as soon as you realize that you've made a mistake. It takes guts to admit you've made an error, but when others see that, they know that when they hire you, you don't let your pride get in the way of fixing things.

I've interpreted in courts for many years, and have lots of friends who work in the same field. We all agree that we have days when we are "on", and there are days when we struggle with things that shouldn't be that hard. I think this happens in most -if not all- professions. We are not machines.

As far as huge mistakes in court interpreting, one of the worst things that can happen to anyone is that the judge declares a mistrial because of an interpreting error. I've heard of someone that had this happen to him, and he's been able to move on. This happened when he was a fairly new interpreter, and I don't know the details of the situation.

It will be interesting to read what other colleagues have to say. I bet most of us know someone, or heard of someone, who made a mistakes with serious consequences.


Andrea Matthews
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:54
German to English
Simultaneous Interpreting Disaster! Jan 22, 2007

Hi Muna,

Yes, I must admit it, I once made a complete a**e of an interpreting job. I had been working as a court interpreter for a couple of years, when a colleague suggested I should accompany him to The Hague to do a simultaneous interpreting job. Although I had some experience of simultaneous interpreting, I had never sat in a booth with headphones. You can imagine what happened... After many hours of practise and feeling confident, I froze on the day in the booth and just could not get my act together. When the German team of lawyers looked directly at me sat in the booth, I wanted to die of shame. I handed over to my experienced collegue and he took over from there. The conference went on for three days, so I worked through the night, translating all the scripts, so that all I had to do the next day is read them (if the speakers followed them!!). Luckily they did, so although I hadn't slept a wink in 24 hrs, I was able to bluff my way through the conference and got paid in the end. I learned from this incident to stick with what I know and although I enjoy interpreting very much, I realise I am a better translator, so that's what I do!

I hope this has been of interest to you. I look forward to reading about other colleagues experiences. Surely, I can't be the only one!!!


Angeliki Papadopoulou  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:54
English to Greek
+ ...
No, Andrea, you certainly are not! Jan 22, 2007

I had a similar experience, when I confidently said, sure, I'll interpret, how hard can it be? Well... I discovered it can be very hard indeed. Fortunately a REAL interpreter was part of the team as a back-up (I am so ashamed...) so I handed over to him, flew back to Athens, reimbursed the company for the airfare and never tried again.

There's one more incident, translation related this time. It was a very small project, less than 200 words and I took very little time over it. The day after I sent it in, it was returned to me with tracking changes switched on. My face still goes bright red with shame at the thought. I apologized, for my substandard contribution, said that, of course, I would not charge for it. I am happy to say that the company recognized it as an isolated incident due to overwork (no excuse, but... thank God, is all I can say) and the whole thing was forgotten.

I even managed not to lose them as a customer, which is very good, but the lesson has been learnt!



Suzana Brailescu
Local time: 10:54
English to Romanian
+ ...
You may or may not be able to go on Jan 25, 2007

Of course, as it has already been said, we are not machines. And, by the way, machines fail, too, from time to time. I have had good times and not-so-good times (no disasters so far, thank God). I remember one event where the sound system was awful and I just felt it all slipping through my fingers. It depends very much on the shape you're in. One of the best things that can happen to you when you're not in top shape is to have a good colleague who is. I usually work with people who are helpful in the booth. Regarding the question (can you still go on?), I believe that, if the problems only refer to being shaky, gasping and speaking in a very loud voice, as you said, then it's all right. If it happens on a regular basis or if you start making big (and frequent) mistakes, perhaps you should reconsider your career. But otherwise, I think you can just relax and blame it on a bad day. Maybe you can find the cause. Maybe next time you could read more about the topic, eat better, sleep longer, try a relaxation technique... And pain killers just might have the effect you fear, especially if there is a warning against driving vehicles while taking them. Also, if before the event you thought that the pain killers might influence your performance, you may have done it to yourself. Next time, think of the best performance you've ever had and say to yourself that if you could do it then, you can definitely do it again. Good luck!


Muna khleifat  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:54
Arabic to English
+ ...
Thank u all for your comments! Jan 30, 2007

In deed, all were useful!


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