By Ana Cecilia Alduenda Peña

Despite interpreters’ different preparation strategies for an assignment, sometimes problems arise when interpreting owing to “processing capacity limitations, errors in processing capacity management, and gaps in interpreters’ Knowledge Base”. (Gile, Daniel. Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. (Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1995), 191-201).

As Daniel Gile¹ asserts, many of said problems are encountered regularly even by interpreters with a solid reputation and long professional experience. Some professionals have referred to interpretation as “crisis management” and, given interpreters’ everyday experiences, these are appropriate words to describe a facet of our work.

The aforementioned difficulties affect comprehension and production. Thus, when we become aware thereof, we tend to use several tactics to cope. These tactics are a quite essential practical skill in our activity, and can be taught with practical exercises by means of trial and correction: trial on the student’s side and corrections from the instructor.

According to Daniel Giles’ research, the comprehension tactics we interpreters employ to cope are as follows:

  1. Delaying the response

If there is a comprehension problem, interpreters may respond right away by delaying their response for a while (a fraction of a second to a few seconds) to have time for thought while they receive further information from the source-language speech. After that time, perhaps they will have to resort to other tactics.

  1. Reconstructing the segment with the help of the context

If interpreters did not hear or understand well a term, name, figure, etc., they can try to reconstruct it in their mind utilizing their knowledge of the language, the subject matter, as well as their extralinguistic knowledge (current context or situation, etc.).

This process may indeed become a conscious endeavor and, if successful, it may bring about the full recovery of information. However, it entails waiting for a while until more information is available.

  1. Using the boothmate’s help

In simultaneous interpreting, there is an active interpreter producing a target-language speech and a passive one listening, but not speaking. The latter has more chance of understanding difficult speech segments, can refer to a glossary, look up a term on the Web or even consult an expert that might be found amongst the audience or organizers of the interpreting assignment so as to use the appropriate ‘in-house term’, as I like to call it. Afterwards, the passive interpreter can give this information to the active one.

Both interpreters should agree beforehand what their hint to provide this assistance shall be: a glance, a movement of the head, writing difficult terms, figures, names, etc.

As Gile points out, this is a very good tactic that “does not cost much in time and processing capacity, and pooling the knowledge and intelligence of two persons

[…] provides a better chance of finding the information than using the resources of only one person.”

He also adds the relevance of teachers emphasizing the “value of cooperation between interpreters as well as its importance within the framework of profes­sional ethics aiming at offering clients better service. The practical aspects of such cooperation, involving in particular large and legible handwriting, should also be stressed.”

I have always thought that interpreting in a booth is a shared-effort teamwork: we are there to support each other and both interpreters have the responsibility to assist the other —not only in terms of the work—, but also being polite, respectful, i.e., having booth manners notwithstanding the situation to make work as pleasant as possible.

  1. Consulting documents in the booth

If the passive colleague is not in the booth, interpreters may solve the situation by referring to documents they have before them. Personally, I have found that using colorful, bright post-its and a highlighter works very well for hard-to-remember or tongue-twisting terms, and acronyms that come up many times during the assignment, apart from having the respective glossary in electronic form.

Gile says that “documents should be laid out in the booth, sorted, and marked in such a way as to minimize the time needed to access them and to recognize their identification numbers or titles, possibly with different stacks for each language, sorted by numerical sequence, type of document, etc.”

‘Practice makes perfect’, says the old adage. That is also the importance of “deliberate practice” and never, ever assuming you have learned everything there is to know and staying in your comfort zone. We have to aspire to more, continue preparing and really enjoy what we do; otherwise, it may become burdensome. So, as Chinese philosopher Confucius wisely said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

¹ Daniel Gile, Professor Emeritus Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, Conference Interpreter, AIIC member, Member of the European Society for Translation Studies.

© Copyright Ana Cecilia Alduenda Peña

By | 2017-06-16T20:53:29+00:00 August 10th, 2015|Posts|3 Comments

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  1. Georganne Weller 13/08/2015 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Querida Ana Ceci:
    Muchas gracias por transmitirnos estos consejos de la gran eminencia Daniel Gile. He tenido el gusto de tomar clases con él y disfrutar de sus enseñanzas, pero muchos colegas NO. Hay que tomar sus recomendaciones en serio. En este momento les voy a pedir a algunas profesoras de la maestría de la Anáhuac que circulen este artículo. Gracias de nuevo.

  2. roc 20/05/2017 at 8:12 am - Reply


  3. Ursula 05/02/2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Thank you very much for this excellent article! I shall share with my students!

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