Contrary to popular belief, it takes more than being bilingual to effectively bridge a language gap between two people. Interpreters must also be good listeners, have the ability to code switch effectively, and have a cultural understanding of the languages they work with.
What’s more, interpreters should strive to have sufficient knowledge of the fields they service so that they understand what is at stake during an interpreting session. Thoughtful dialogue with yourself in the form of self-assessment is key to developing the necessary skills to become a successful interpreter.
Almost 10 years ago, as I was interviewing for my very first interpreting position I found myself constantly asking myself if my voice was clear enough, if I was using the best vocabulary to match the speakers and to appear professionally competent. I was hyper-aware and asked myself constantly if I was staying away from slang. I did not realize it then, but this questioning was a form of self-assessment.
What is a self-assessment?
To self-assess means to look at oneself and one’s interpreting performance from an outside perspective as one reflects on one’s skills.
With the years, I learned to automatically ask myself important questions like these as I interpreted:
- Is my tone cordial?
- Do all parties know who I am and what my purpose in the call is?
- Am I using the proper register?
- Do I sound confident?
After I complete my interpreting sessions, I always ask myself, “Did I do a good job? Did I solve the issue?” If the answer was no, I try to dig deeper to understand where my shortcomings occurred.
Practice makes perfect
Being an interpreter does not stop when the session ends and the headset comes off. Practice is the best form of self-assessment.
Here are a few tips for self-assessments on the go:
- Create glossaries with unfamiliar vocabulary.
- Get a pocket-sized bilingual dictionary, like an English to Spanish dictionary, and read it when you’re on the train or during your commute.
- Read books in your target language.
- Read industry literature. For example, go to bank websites and read their FAQ sections on finance and the services they offer to gain a better understanding of the industry.
- Request an interpreter in your target language for your own needs. This will give you an opportunity to experience the call from an LEP point of view and will allow you to learn from others’ performance.
- Practice simultaneous interpretation when listening to the news in the car. This helps the brain to learn how to process information rapidly and improves cognitive skills.
Marisol Varela is a Spanish-language quality assurance specialist and helps ensure interpreters contracted through CLI always provide exceptional service.