Educational and personal discomfort in interpreter training

by M. Haldimann

Two prolific bloggers have weighed in on our discussion of interpreter training didactics sharing their own experience as interpreting students and teachers. In Elisabet we have found another champion of a more modular approach in order to practice specific sub-skills or certain interpreting situations such as exams. In her post she points out, however, that most interpreting courses lack the funding to provide a more diverse curriculum with enough teaching time, a lower student-staff ratio and good connections to outside experts. Jana, on the other hand, cautions against giving students too much time in the comfort zone as the freelance interpreting market will not cut them any slack either. On that note, I would like to get closer to the core of this fuzzy term ‘comfort zone’ by introducing the distinction between educational discomfort and personal discomfort.

By educational discomfort I simply mean the frustration when struggling to master a new skill. It cannot be helped and is part of any learning process. I am sure many will agree that this particularly applies to learning simultaneous interpreting. As much as you might practice shadowing and sight translation beforehand, you will never quite be ready to tackle your first few weeks of actually practicing in the booth without feeling some measure of frustration.

However, after a while our neurons will ideally have aligned to the demands of their new task(s) and we will gradually become more comfortable while interpreting. I think it is this easing of educational discomfort that Brian Fox warned us about in his speech at the DG Interpretation – Universities Conference back in March. He described his experience of teaching students as a very comfortable routine. He would always read the speeches the same way, the students would always sit in the same booths, they would always discuss their performances following the same pattern and so on. It is this comfort zone, this protective bubble he asked us to leave constantly stimulating our neurons with new challenges in order to prepare ourselves better for EU accreditation exams and, as Jana has pointed out, indeed for the demands of our professional practice in general. As a case in point, Andreas’ recent post about his first assignment perfectly illustrates the fact that interpreting in the real world is fundamentally different from interpreting in your final exams.

I completely agree that we should embrace educational discomfort as a sign of our gradually improving interpreting skills. We should leave the comfort of our cosy classroom routine more often. However, this should not come at the cost of the underlying positive and reinforcing atmosphere in class. Educational discomfort should not be confused with personal discomfort. Nor should the need for the former serve as an excuse for creating the latter.

I was rather taken aback by one particular comment during the Q&A after the second day of the DG Interpretation – Universities Conference. One head of department mentioned Brian Fox’ call to chase students out of their comfort zone as vindication of the austere classroom regime their department was traditionally notorious for. Judging by the amusement this comment caused in the other participants I am sure it must have been an ironic jibe. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to make sure we all agree that interpreting class need not be living hell.

As Elisabet has pointed out, interpreter training is traditionally tough. The question is to what extent this image has emerged because of the inevitable educational discomfort and to what extent because of an excess of personal discomfort: The fear of failure, feelings of inferiority, humiliation.

I think we can all agree and might even have experience ourselves that if not properly managed educational discomfort can lead to personal discomfort. Equally undisputed, I think, is the fact that personal discomfort is a huge obstacle to progress in any interpreter’s training. In my view, the resources to manage educational discomfort and to avoid excessive personal discomfort can be found in the people involved in interpreting class themselves, students and teachers alike, and in their relationships to each other. Students can be brought to explicitly reflect on their educational discomfort learning to appreciate it as a sign of a healthy learning process. Together, teachers and students can create a reinforcing classroom culture that values mutual support over competitiveness. In the psychology of the interpreting classroom trust is not an abstract concept but can be systematically built and put to use in order to boost progress in learning.

I am not only hypothesising here. During my own training I have seen these resources tapped into, though more often instinctively than strategically, and yet it made all the difference. However, I have so far not found any research to back my ideas. My guess is that the concepts I have touched upon are well established in educational psychology and didactics but have never been specifically discussed in how they apply to interpreter training. For the time being, I would submit that properly harnessing the dynamics of interpreting classroom psychology considerably reduces personal discomfort in interpreting students thus helping them develop their skills faster and more thoroughly.

The comfort zone dilemma in interpreter training

by M. Haldimann

Just a quick thought from a recent graduate’s point of view on the second day of the 16th Conference DG Interpretation - Universities. Brian Fox gave a highly interesting and witty presentation on the trends in language demand in the EU institutions and on why candidates usually fail the SCIC accreditation test. Now, on this second point the conclusion was that many students emerging from their masters programme struggle with the stress they experience during the test and because of that lose accuracy. Universities and trainers were consequently urged not to let students work too much within their comfort zone.

One good way of doing this, I think, are mock exams. We didn’t have them in Heidelberg but our consec and sim performance in all language combinations was graded after each of the four semesters, which turned out to be a good preparation for our finals. It will also help us should we go for accreditation at an international organisation.

Obviously, universities should teach their interpreting students how to deal with stress, which is, as many say, indispensable for quality in our profession. However, to conclude from this that every single class has to be designed as some sort of test would be absolutely counterproductive. In my experience, many new interpreting students are constantly operating out of their comfort zone, anyway. After all, they are learning a new and very difficult skill in the company of strangers to whom they are comparing themselves every day of the week. The primary cause for stress at this early stage, I think, is the fear of failure.

So in my view, trainers should first creat an atmosphere of trust between all those present in the class room. Experimenting and failing must be welcomed as necessary elements of a healthy learning process. Exam stress could be dealt with in a dedicated module towards the end of the course e.g. by introducing mock exams. This is particularly necessary because the format of interpreting exams poses, as I’m sure many would agree, first and foremost a psychological challenge.

How can trainers help their students to reduce their fear of failure, particularly at the beginning of the course? As I said, building trust is a good start. At today’s conference, one university was lauded for working with a psychologist. Brilliant, I think that’s a step in the right direction. Personally, my experience in improvisational theater had helped me a lot in dealing with my fear of failure in general and in improving my consecutive interpreting performance in particular. I bet that there are many other innovative approaches.

Getting to grips with exam stress should be part of any interpreting course. But trainers, with all due respect for the complexity of your job, please, let students first find their interpreting comfort zone before chasing them out of it again.

Die Lust am geflüsterten Austausch mit dem Sitznachbar

von M. Haldimann

Neulich beim DVÜD-Existenzgründerwebinar wirkte der reibungslose technische Ablauf sowie das simpel gehaltene Interface bei auf mich als Webinar-Neuling sehr überzeugend. Kein Wunder gewinnt dieses Format in der Fortbildung immer mehr an Beliebtheit. Allerdings war ich froh, dass sich die Präsentation auf 45 Minuten beschränkte. Die Mischung aus PP-Folien und mündlichen Erläuterungen vermag die Aufmerksamkeit nicht lange zu binden. Zu verlockend ist die Ablenkung durch eingehende Mails am Computer oder anderen Büroarbeiten (meine Empfehlung: Live-Zwitschern, vgl. #DVÜDwebinar). Für längere Veranstaltungen müsste die Webinar-Plattform mehr interaktive Elemente des guten Präsentierens erlauben wie z.B. kurze Um- oder Zwischenfragen an das Publikum. Klar, man spart sich die Anfahrtskosten. Man hat aber auch nicht die Möglichkeit sich in der Kaffeepause mit anderen Teilnehmenden auszutauschen. Eine Alternative bietet vielleicht ja der Google Hangout (eine amerikanischere Bezeichnung war wohl gerade nicht zu finden), der seit kurzem auch für den kollegialen Austausch in unserer Branche genutzt wird (vgl. #EPT). Oder vermag sich dieses Videokonferenzformat inmitten der hierzulande so leidenschaftlich geführten Datenschutzfehde gegen den Internetmoloch nicht zu behaupten?

So sei es: Das handliche Webinar als Vorlesung 2.0, das aufwändige BDÜ-Seminar als Gelegenheit zum Networking. Die unbezwingbare Lust am geflüsterten Austausch mit der Banknachbarin bzw. dem Sitznachbarn wird indes die Einheit des Ortes als Prinzip in der Fortbildung nicht so rasch verschwinden lassen. Für die kleinen Freuden des gemeinsamen Lernens, ohne deren soziale und psychohygienische Funktion ich die Schulzeit wohl nie unbeschadet überstanden hätte, muss die Version 2.0 erst noch erfunden werden.

Guter Rat umsonst

von M. Haldimann

Wir hatten die Ankündigung hier gepostet, gestern war es dann so weit. Tanya Quintieri und Franziska Schäfer vom DVÜD präsentierten die 3. Ausgabe des Webinars zum Thema Existengründung: „Von der Theorie in die Praxis oder: Erste Schritte nach dem Studium.“

Die virtuelle Veranstaltung findet auf der Plattform statt und beginnt mit der Vorstellung des selbst noch in der Gründung begriffenen Deutschen Verbands der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher e.V. Danach werden in rund 45 Minuten mögliche Formen der Tätigkeit als Übersetzer/Dolmetscher sowie die Themen Spezialisierung, CAT-Tools, Praktika, Akquise, Preisgestaltung, Versicherungen und Steuern angerissen. Die Präsentation endet mit dem ausdrücklichen Aufruf an Berufseinsteigerinnen und -einsteiger, sich mutig in Netzwerke zu integrieren und sich ohne Scheu mit Fragen an erfahrene Kolleginnen und Kollegen zu wenden. Dazu bietet sich den Webinarteilnehmerinnen und -teilnehmern im Anschluss auch gleich die Gelegenheit. Im Chat werden Fragen gepostet und von den Referentinnen kompetent und ausführlich beantwortet.

Über viele der besprochenen Themen war ich bereits mehr oder weniger im Bilde. Eine Frage aber, für die ich mir bisher immer zu gut war, wurde ich in der Fragerunde endlich los: Der Sinn eines Geschäftskontos erschließt sich mir durchaus, aber wie nur gelangt der Gewinn auf mein Privatkonto? Zahle ich mir von meinem Unternehmen ein Gehalt aus?

Natürlich ist es so, wie ich angenommen hatte. Die Gründungsphase ist oft geprägt von Unsicherheiten und Zweifeln bei den kleinsten Dingen. So tat es unheimlich gut, mir von den sympathischen Kolleginnen bestätigt zu lassen, dass ich in diesem Fall mit meinem Hausverstand richtig lag. Und nicht nur das. Ich wurde auch gleich informiert, dass meine Hausbank zwar günstige Privatkonten anbiete, man bei den Geschäftskonten aber verhältnismäßig tief in die Tasche greifen müsse. Guter Rat ist bekanntlich teuer. Ich bekam ihn umsonst und werde damit erst noch Geld sparen.

Außerdem wurden wir auf die folgenden nützlichen Ressourcen aufmerksam gemacht:

Im nächsten DVÜD-Webinar wird das Thema Preiskalkulation vertieft. Ich freue mich darauf!

AIIC Training of Trainers Seminar, Rome, Italy, 3-4 & 5-6 February 2012


  • Course 1: 3 February (pm only) & 4 (all day) February 2012
  • Course 2: 5 February (all day) & 6 (am only) February 2012

Place: Rome, Italy

Daniel Gile will give this year’s Training of Trainers Seminar on

Research Results and Implications for Interpreter Training

Follow this seminar on Twitter: #aiicT4T
or read the Twitter transcript record on Chirpstory: Day 1, Session 1 | Session 2 | Day 2
(created by Interpreter Diaries)
The Powerpoint Presentations are now available online:
Main Presentation
Conclusion and Prospects
Even just by reading through the Twitter posts there is so much information being exchanged, it’s hard to summarize all of it.
Here are just some of the links mentioned in those Tweets:
# Interpreting related journals with free access
# CIRIN bulletin
# AIIC Communicate! Webzine
# The Interpreters’ Newsletter (Trieste) (since 1988)
# Best Practices in interpreter training (AIIC)
# Paper: Computer-Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT) Tools: Black Box (by Annalisa Sandrelli)
# Paper: Analysing Prosody in Simultaneous Interpreting: Difficulties and Possible Solutions (by Barbara Ahrens)
# Interpreter Training Resources (website by Andy Gillies and others)
# Booth Manners (VEGA)
# and more
Find AIIC on Twitter: AIIC online
Young Interpreters

by J. Mermod

The 5th issue of the interprenaut’s launch pad just landed in my inbox - hurray!

I am always looking forward to reading the launch pad. It is still quite new - just in it’s fifth issue - but so very compelling! For those readers who don’t know the launch pad: it’s a newsletter on the newest trends in the interpreting world, of research topics in interpreting studies, a platform for the many voices of professional interpreters out there. It’s compiled by Nataly Kelly, a language professional and consultant in the US. You can also find her/it on Facebook and Twitter.

In the 5th issue a topic gets mentioned that is of special interest to me: retiring interpreting professionals and the lack of young ones. As a young hopefully-soon-to-be interpreter myself (same goes for my blogging buddy Matt), this is of course good news. Even though I guess Kelly is talking about the US market, the same story is being repeated in Europe too: most interpreters started their profession in the decades after WWII, not a few of them in self-study (at least thats what is rumoured). Especially in the EU and other international institutions located in Western Europe not a few of them will retire in the coming years. Even though one might think, there should be enough interpreters on the market, not least because interpreter training has been available for the past 50 or more years. Every year there are numerous graduates just in my university - and I can’t but wonder where they all go. Where are all the professional interpreters in their 30ies and 40ies? Of course, most of them don’t work in institutions but freelance, so they might not be ready to give that up and move. Nonetheless, this really puzzles me.

Maybe the institutions are only looking for English interpreters. It is not a secret that English native speakers are less enthusiastic about learning foreign languages - and that therefore there are few interpreters with English as a native language. Even though English is probably the language most sought after…

Then again, there’s also the possibility that most conference interpreting graduates simply don’t work as interpreters - for whatever reason. Several of my fellow students told me that they don’t want to work as interpreters in the future. Even tough when they entered university, they were quite determined that they wanted to work in this field. Maybe they lost passion on the way to their degree. One shouldn’t forget: people change, and so do their dreams. Studying conference interpreting isn’t fun all the time (was it ever?). It’s easy to question one’s decision after some time.

So maybe this problem isn’t just about showing young people how "thrilling and exciting" the profession of interpreting can be?

How I got my first job

by M. Haldimann

This initial post is inspired by a request from our colleague over at Dolmetscher-Berlin. She asks for accounts of how interpreters started their careers after completing training. Well, if that is what you are interested in, we invite you to keep watching this space. Voilà, the first episode:

I consider myself lucky. In the run-up to our final interpreting exams I have something far more important to focus on: my first fully paid freelance interpreting job at a two day research conference during the week right after my exams. Due to the highly technical nature of the conference I am allocating a considerable amount of time and energy to getting ready for it. I am not saying that preparing for this job comes at the expense of exam preparation - I am doing that, too - but simply knowing that my (professional) life does not depend on or end after the exams adds to my emotional stability going through this stressful time.

How did I land this job? To be honest, I owe it to two of my tutors from Uni. One referred the client to me and the other taught us how write an offer, how to negotiate conditions and how to manage the back office. What gave me the confidence of thinking that I could do it? Again, at least two more tutors have contributed to this. One taught us how to research and manage knowledge and specialised terminology in preparation for technical conferences. The other tutor, upon hearing about this job, supplied our team with specialised reference material through her contacts in the industry. As you can see, the obvious conclusion here is that I owe this job to my amazing tutors. They have wisely taught me relevant skills apart from interpreting, they have believed in me throughout my training, they are now actively supporting me as I kick-start my career and they are generous enough to share the market with me.

Of course, I know that this single early conference does not equal a smooth career start. I am just very lucky to get an opportunity to put into practice all that I have learned so quickly at real market conditions. In a month I will report back here about how I fared on this particular job. In the meantime, I will continue writing about my preparations for the conference and about my training in Heidelberg.

First insights on how to get your career started in interpreting: Apply for a training program with good tutors in your working languages. Do not focus on interpreting skills alone, but learn how to navigate the market, as well.