Three Fears Interpreters Face and How to Deal With Them


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Regardless of your skill level and familiarity with the profession, we have all faced the following at one point or another in our career:

  1. Challenges to our experience/credentials
  2. Performance anxiety
  3. Objections to the interpretation

It is important to plan how to respond, in advance, so you won’t be caught off-guard and fail to put your best foot forward.

With regards to experience, have an elevator speech down pat, which is concise and to the point, for the different environments in which you work or plan to work.  It should underscore any pertinent education, certifications that you hold, as well as the work record that you have in that setting.  If you do not have a viable story to tell, your first priority is to research how you can acquire the needed expertise. If you are starting out, you can observe professional interpreters at work in court. You may take basic or advanced courses depending on your level.  If there are none offered in your area, I would highly recommend the short 2 -3 week options at the National Center for Interpretation at the University of Arizona to get some hands-on experience. Subsequently, you can sit for examinations to gauge your proficiency, and after that, you must engage in constant practice/learning to upgrade your expertise.

Performance anxiety cannot be discounted in this job as oftentimes we are thrust into situations where we need to interpret without adequate resources to prepare and not knowing what we are stepping into. The best way to deal with this is to always be in a “learning mode” that will enable you to increase your knowledge and vocabulary in your working languages and to do your best to acquire any available materials for the job at hand.  Attorneys are often hesitant to provide documents which can hurt their case if they get into the wrong hands so it is helpful to educate them as to the fact that you are an officer of the court, bound by confidentiality and that your ability to see the documents in advance, will only help their case by making the interpretation smooth and flawless, especially in the case of technical testimony.  Science has proven that the brain is susceptible to persistence and dedication and that learning, especially if imbued with passion, creates new synapses in the brain, allowing you to improve your output. Furthermore, it “connects new information with what you learned in the past.”[i]

Read about a great resource to learn from elite schools, about a myriad of subjects online and for free, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/elite-education-for-the-masses/2012/11/03/c2ac8144-121b-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_story.html.

Find out what an established interpreter has to say about fear here.

Do not take objections personally. Remember that in a legal setting, one of the roles of an attorney is to bring up to the jury any information he feels could help his case.  You must not let your emotions get the upper hand, causing you to experience feelings of unfairness, anger, fear or helplessness if an objection is leveled at your interpretation. This emotional reaction takes place in your reptilian or instinctive  brain which was designed for survival.

According to best selling author, Dr. Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School, before these feelings get out of hand, you must STOP[ii]:

S- Stop

T- Take 3 deep breaths and smile

O- Observe what is going on

P- Proceed with mindfulness

If called upon, collect your thoughts and deliver your explanation to the challenge calmly, in a positive and confident manner so as not to undermine the trust the players in this scenario have in you. If you are wrong, correct the record professionally and move forward.  Do not get stuck on a mistake or misunderstanding that may trigger more pre-programmed negative responses.

Keep abreast of new developments and best practices by following the opinion of interpreting industry leaders,  reading literature about the profession and  joining local and national trade associations where pertinent issues are regularly discussed.

Share with us if you feel there are other fears that are more common and how you deal with them.


[i] Chopra, D. & Tanzi, R.E. (2012) Super Brain, New York, Random House, Inc. pp.44

[ii] Dave Povero (Director), Christina Morano, Director (2012) Super Brain With Dr. Rudi Tanzi, (PBS Video) Inky Dinky Worldwide, Inc. (Producer).

About mariacristinadelavegamusings

Certified SpanishEnglish interpreter by the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts, the State of Florida and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), where I have served on the board of directors, am chair of the Public Relations Committee, and have a column entitled "Getting Down to Business" in Proteus, the association newsletter. I am a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and have a monthly column named "Interpreters Forum". In addition to the prior two associations, I also belong to AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters). I own ProTranslating, Inc., an LSP in Florida. I hold an MBA, which keeps one foot firmly grounded in everyday waking consciousness while the other aggressively seeks unity consciousness...

Posted on January 3, 2013, in consecutive interpreting, court interpreting, Interpreting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A chest full of resouces!! Thank you, I know I still need to work at being more assertive, that is why I was doing the voice work, I’ve also joined the Gables-Grove Toastmasters. There are those that are members of several of the clubs and compete regularly. thank you again, Consuelo

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Note™, an AT&T LTE smartphone

  2. Georganne Weller

    Dear Ma. Cristina,     Such fine advice you always give us, thanks so much!  As you know, I was just in Miami for a couple of weeks for work, putting things in order at the apt. (new tenant etc.) and since I didn’t hear from you with respect to the prospect of getting together I assumed you still aren’t ready and try not to mix too much with others – no problem of course, your health is first!     I hope that 2013 will treat you a lot better than 2012 and that we can resume our friendship in the sense of getting together and working together.  ABRAZOS, MIS MEJORES DESEOS…..

    Greetings/saludos

  3. Hi, another fear or rather tension that I have to face sometimes is that among the audience there are often people who know English rather well and they have a tendency to “check” if I interpret exactly what the speaker is saying. They do not handle a sufficiently large vocabulary that is why when I use in my interpretation another word than they know they become suspicious about my proficiency :)

    • If you are comfortable with your choice, don’t worry about what may be suspicions on the part of a “peanut gallery”. If there is a true concern it will be brought up and discussed and you can then give your explanation. If you confirm a problem with the word you used, it is brought up, and it can impact the case, definitely correct the record. Remember that interpreters are not robots and we can all make a mistake interpreting on the spur of the moment. Always try to have with you a relevant dictionary, either a hard copy or electronic device so that you are prepared for challenges. It may not even be a matter of meaning but of having heard the wrong word. Furthermore, be very calm and professional when you give explanations so as not to undermine the trust of all the players relying on you. It can be a slippery slope to regain that trust if you don’t react properly, while it can stand you in good stead to respond logically and coherently. Thanks for sharing!

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