So you think you have what it takes to become an interpreter?

By Nicole Davies

From an European perspective, as the borders began disappearing and as the EU began expanding, the scope of the need for understanding and common ground has never been greater. Along with other socio economical changes, this process has influenced how young people perceive the job market, they also notice the increased demand for those that can build bridges between 2 willing parties. An interpreter serves a crucial role in this chain and his skills can often meant the difference between the success and failure of the whole enterprise.

Before you choose to this intriguing and often very rewarding path, you need to realize what you're up against. There are 2 main obstacles you need to face in this line of work, one unfortunately cannot be completely overcome - but other can. The unavoidable one includes many factors but they all come down to one thing: the quality of your delivery. A lot of diction issues can be eliminated with hard work and repetition, however speech disorders can become a real issue. Some languages use specific, unique sounds an interpreter needs to be able to reproduce, some use such a variety of sounds the speaker needs great flexibility. This has to be addressed on a case by case basis.

The biggest problem by far and the one you can do most about is: stress. As an interpreter you will be doing a lot of public speaking. You will be addressing officials and businessmen, in various circumstances. In situations like this, mastery of the language can prove to be useless, when your palms are sweaty, your throat is dry and you're starting to stutter. Being aware of the responsibility, of the consequences that might follow if you fail at your job is not helping either. This is why a good interpreter must master 2 skills: language and stress control. Since you're thinking this is the job for you, you must have some grasp on the language and you know it requires constant work and years of practice. But what about stress? Unfortunately there is no quick and easy way of overcoming it, there are some tricks I will mention in a moment but for it all to work you need to work on public speaking. The more you do it the better you become at it, it might seem obvious but with so many people looking fo a shortcut, there is a surprising amount of interpreters out there way in over their heads, trying to work on an advanced level without mastering the basics.

Under severe stress, refer to tricks used by professional actors. Don't be an interpreter, play an interpreter - you know how one should act, act that way. Forget about anything else, focus on the task. Don't dwell on mistakes - everybody makes them. Fix the mistake, move on. Similarly, if you wake up in the middle of the night thinking you could have done something better, used a different word - don't dwell on it. It is done, learn from it and move on, forget about the shame - or at least know you should. Finally remember your job is to help people understand each other, you're a bridge builder. Focus on that, learn to distinguish between what is relevant and what is not. And don't let the latter get to you.

Summing it up, if you feel you can handle the stress and responsibility when choosing this career, or if you're way in over your head, reading this text the night before an important conference, remember your biggest opponent - stress, can be controlled.

About the writer

Nicole Davies works at ShortCourseFinder, a website providing a simple way to find and sign up for online short courses from Australia's top providers. Main areas of her interest are language teaching and the use of new technologies in classroom.


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