Faking it

At some point in your interpreting career, you will have to to interpret at your first _______. Yes, it's fill in the blank here. No matter your level of education or level of preparation, there will come a day when you have to tackle a project you've never done before, and it is scary. We remember our first criminal trial, our first psychosexual evaluation, the first interpreting assignment inside a jail, the first high-level business liaison interpreting assignment, and our first international delegation. Every time, we diligently prepared, tried to find out as much about the project as we could, showed up to the assignment at least 30 minutes early, and then faked the confidence we did not have. You read correctly: sometimes you just have to fake the confidence, even if the butterflies in your stomach are chasing each other at the speed of light. No one wants an insecure interpreter, and especially when you are not seated in a comfy conference interpreting booth, the interpreter's nerves (or lack thereof) can really set the tone for the project. 

We are not suggesting that you accept assignments for which you are not prepared. What we are suggesting is the following. For instance, say you are a certified court interpreter and have been doing lots of administrative hearings, home visits for Child Protective Services and psychological evaluations with clinical psychologists. While these assignments are stressful enough and come with their own sets of challenges, they are not as high-profile or stressful as say, a criminal trial. There will come the point when you get the phone call to be one of two (or more) interpreters at a criminal trial, and you will rightfully be a bit intimidated. However, as a certified court interpreter, you have the skills and the knowledge to excel at a criminal trial.

Be sure to ask as many questions as possible and try to obtain any pertinent legal documents related to the case as you can, which is often easier said than done. Try to ask the prosecutor questions about how many witnesses they plan to have, and ask about expert witnesses. If you are lucky, the prosecutor will tell you that a chemist will testify about a specific drug at the trial, which means you need to prepare highly specialized terminology so you can keep up with the level of language used by an expert in his or her field, which is a tall order indeed. Many times, you will not get any information at all. For instance, the German delegation that is coming to the US to talk to high-tech companies might not give you any of the information you have requested, which will make your job very, very challenging. One option is to put in your price quote that services will not be rendered unless pertinent materials have been received X days before the assignment, but then you have to decide if you want to enforce that part of the contract. More times than not, you might choose to roll with the punches, knowing that you will be at a distinct disadvantage of not having any (or enough) background information, but this tends to, unfortunately, be quite common in our industry.

The best advice we have is: 
  • Prepare as much as you can
  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Have a healthy breakfast/lunch
  • Put on your power suit
  • Bring your lucky charm (ours is this
  • Trust your instincts, your knowledge and preparation
  • Fake some self-confidence if you have to
Our experience has been that the first few minutes are always the hardest, but that things do get easier as you start getting into your rhythm. It's just like a tennis match. John McEnroe used to say that being nervous is normal and healthy, and we think that holds true for both tennis and interpreting. 

Have you had to fake some self-confidence? We'd love to hear it. 


Jennifer Bikkál Horne on July 31, 2012 at 7:49 AM said...

My first assignment was just about one year ago and I definitely felt as though I had to "fake it till I make"....and to some extent I still do. I feel as though a huge part of the job is confidence and since I'm still pretty new in the industry, I must not let nerves get the best of me. I love interpreting but I actually have a fear of public speaking, so to remedy this and to gain confidence I started going to Toastmasters (an organization dedicated to help people gain better public speaking skills).

Jennifer Bikkál Horne on July 31, 2012 at 7:59 AM said...

oh and some tricks for self-confidence I have used so far:

-try and sleep well (as you already said)
-energizing MUSIC in the morning (think Beyonce "who run the world...girls" works for me! lol)
-leave extra early so I'm not stressed in case of traffic or if I get lost. Adding stress to an already stressful situation....no good.
-lift stress by following Oprah's advice on being grateful. Focus on how grateful I am to have such a great opportunity and what amazing people I am surrounded by. :-)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 31, 2012 at 8:57 AM said...

@Jen: thanks for commenting. Amazing that you are an interpreter even in spite of your fear of public speaking. Very impressive. And yes, Toastmasters is great.

Leaving extra early is excellent advice. We do that, too, which usually means we are the first people there and have 20 minutes to kill, which is perfect to catch up on the latest issue of the ATA Chronicle! And yes, focusing on being grateful surely works to calm one's nerves.

Cassy on August 16, 2012 at 6:48 AM said...

Great list of tips! Sometimes, faking it really helps a lot as it will boast self confidence.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 22, 2012 at 6:06 PM said...

@Cassy: thanks for reading and for commenting. And yes, interpreting is all about self-confidence for sure. And sometimes you have to fake it!

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