Interpreter Training Resources

t h e     o n l y      d e d i c a t e d      s i t e      f o r      s t u d e n t s      o f      c o n f e r e n c e     i n t e r p r e t i n g


Guidelines for Practice

Back to menu


The following text is taken from Conference Interpreting - A Students' Companion by Andrew Gillies (p65-68) and is reproduced with the kind permission of TERTIUM, Krakow, Poland.



Conference Interpreting - A New Students' Companion, Tertium Cracow 2004.



III HOW TO PRACTISE interpreting

There follow certain ideas, which aim to maximize the benefits gained from time spent practising interpreting. These ideas are based on very straightforward pedagogical principles and a certain amount of common sense. The structures suggested also show the value of time spent not interpreting. Too often we simply go into the booth and interpret, engaging in no other practice activity, or analysis of our work, unaware of the fact that the skills that go to make up interpreting can be practised in isolation.

The ideas expressed in this section of the text should be the foundation for the exercises described in parts V and VI, Practice exercises for Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting.

1 The basics

1.1 Practise often - 5 days per week

1.2 Be aware of what type of practice is best for you - 2 x 30 minutes in one day, am. then pm. may be better than 1x 60 minutes etc.

1.3 Practice does not have to be interpreting to be useful.

1.4 Don’t practise if you don't want to

2 Material used should be appropriate for the stage of the course and for interpretation purposes. By this I mean that debates in national parliaments are not suitable for the first week of a course (too difficult / fast) and news broadcasts are not suitable for interpretation at all (they bear little relation to what is interpreted by working interpreters in respect of variety of content/ speed/ grammatical structure of language etc.). Likewise if you want to concentrate on good intonation during delivery then a slower speech will be more useful than a very fast one.

In all things start with the simple and work upwards. A natural progression for texts and speeches used in practice might be as follows,

Week 0-2 Personal narratives (something that happened to me)

Week 3-4 General narratives (eg. newspaper accounts of criminal events)

Week 5-6 Political narrative (eg. the events surrounding scandal/ outbreak of war)

Week 7-8 General speeches (simple political speech)

Week 9=10 More abstract political speeches

3 Practise in groups of 2-4 for consecutive, 3-6 for simultaneous (minimum 3 = 1 speaking, 1 interpreting, one listening). For consecutive practice all students will listen to a given interpretation, for simultaneous half of a given group will listen, half interpret. In multi-lingual groups not all the listeners need have the language combination being interpreted but at least one listener should. The listener may listen only to the interpreter or to the interpreter and original simultaneously, both are valid and useful exercises, depending on which element of the interpretation they wish to concentrate their attention.

Practising in this way the listener is training his/her ability to analyse interpretation performance (that of the other student), this is easier to do through objectively and thoroughly listening to someone other than yourself. It is relevant because most students make similar mistakes and this type of evaluation is an essential skill if you are one day to supervise your own work competently. Meanwhile the student interpreter benefits from the opportunity to interpret to a real audience.Heine notes also that....

“Die Rueckkopplung seitens der Kommilitonen kann nicht nur helfen, Maengel zu erkennen und Probleme zu ueberwinden, sie kann und sollte auch Mut machen und ggf. auch beim Abbau von uebermaessigem Stress und Frustrationen helfen.” Heine.

Obviously simultaneous interpreting can and should also be practised alone with a walkman and a dictaphone, however, the comments of others, and the opportunity to listen to their work yourself are invaluable aids.

4 Always practice with a specific aim. Isolate various aspects of interpretation technique (ie. fluency, intonation, content, register (› V and VI below, Practice exercises for consecutive and simultaneous interpreting) and concentrate on them individually. Early in the course this selection should probably reflect the content of your lessons. Most courses, for example, teach delivery and memory skills first and say note-taking later. A new element can be chosen each time you return to the booth or one element worked on consistently for a period of time. For example, "Today (or this week) I'm going to concentrate on good delivery."

Knowing why we are doing something is crucial in creating motivation. Nobody likes doing things that are pointless. Having an aim and achieving it (practising one element and improving in it) also allows us to see progress being made (thus increasing motivation) and perceive more clearly problems encountered.

Within reason other aspects (even content) are of secondary importance when we practice a chosen element of interpretation technique, say, delivery. At later stages in the course, with increasing regularity we try to combine all the elements at the same time.

5 Analyse problems encountered and how you dealt with them. What caused difficulties? Be aware of why something is difficult or easy. Isolate problem constructions, record examples on tape and practice interpreting them. (for example German “Schactelsaetze[1]”). This applies both to consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.

6 Interpret - take comments - interpret again. When learning to interpret we should have the opportunity to return to the booth (or do a second consecutive interpretation) immediately after hearing comments. 2 x 5 minutes with comments in the middle is better than 1 x 10 minutes. The same text can be repeated or a new text taken. Ideally we would have a continuation of the first text.

This affords the best chance of correcting those technique errors mentioned by your colleague since everything is fresh in your mind and specific examples of a problem can still be recalled.

For the same reasons recap at the end of practice sessions rather than introducing new comments which between now and the next practice session will be forgotten.

N.B. When repeating the same text the aim of this is not to get a word-perfect interpretation but rather to highlight difficulties and think carefully about how to avoid falling into the same traps next time round.

7 Remind yourself of technique issues. One useful exercise is to take a piece of paper into the booth (or note at the top of your consecutive pad) with one word on it to remind yourself of the element of technique which you want to work on, i.e. "ER" to remind you not to say “er” or “um”.

8 Keep a logbook in which to note comments made about your interpreting performances. Make a distinction between vocab and technique issues – perhaps noting technique related comments from the front and vocab from the back.

You can flick through the pad ›ing how the same problems recur, or what progress is being made (as comments noted change over time). It can also be used in the booth to remind you of certain „do’s" and "don’t’s".

9 Keep a logbook in which to note ways of interpreting certain common expressions and ideas that do not lend themselves ready translation (no cognates) or also to note particularly good renderings of expressions from one language in another. (ie. All Polish parliamentary speeches begin “Wysoka Izbo!” (literally “Exalted Chamber”), since we don’t address buildings in English a more natural version in English might be, for example, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the House.” )

10 Record everything and listen to at least some of your own output - correct it! Buy a dictaphone!




Top of Page Contact ITR