Got scared first time you sat in the booth? Were you unable to focus on both making sense of what is being said and producing a meaningful (or sometimes any) utterances at the same time? Well, first of the good news: don’t worry, it gets better. And now the bad: you need to practice. On your own. A lot. And no one can do it for you.
There are people who sit down in the booth, start interpreting and feel as if they found their second home but I doubt they don’t struggle at times. Others grow more and more sure that they will never interpret again with every second spend interpreting. If you want to (or for some reason have to) gain the simultaneous interpreting skill despite the difficulties which arose at the beginning, you need to work on your multitasking skills. You need to work on yourself first, the time in the booth (I am guessing you don’t have unlimited booth access) should only be a sort of a climax of all your hard work at home.
I already think that we live in a world that pushes us towards multitasking. I frequently find myself doing three or four things at once while thinking about a fifth one and planning my day as I go. This may not be the best approach to life (we should be able to “live in the moment” and fully commit to just one thing) but it often is the simultaneous interpreter’s fate. Once you learn how to multitask, it’s quite difficult to go back. And yes, other people may seem a bit slow after that. But never mind that, let’s first practice multitasking and then take care of the rest.
So… what can I do?
- Try sight interpreting. Take a transcript of a speech (don’t use texts that were not meant for public speaking like newspaper articles and novels) and try to interpret it from sight. If you are having a hard time, read the speech through first and try to solve translation problems you may see arising. Formulate natural sounding sentences and translate the words you are not familiar with. Then read and interpret. You may have a few speeches at hand which you analyze first and come back to them after some time.
- When possible, try to multitask in your everyday life. There are many possibilities as to how to do that. Try some of these or come up with your own:
- Watch TV while doing something else. Start with manual tasks. When you get used to that (or if you already are), try e.g. writing an email, chatting with your friends online, reading a newspaper article… while having something on in the background. Do try to control your attention to the “thing in the background” because you may develop a tendency to ignore it completely. This can also be done when you go out or sit in the bus:
- Try to eavesdrop on people sitting close-by while talking to someone or while reading. Don’t forget to step back once in a while and check if you are still doing both things equally well. Don’t worry if your results are poor in the beginning, focus on giving each task the same amount of attention and not favoring one task over the other.
- Try counting or solving math problems in your head when talking to someone. Solve mathematical problems (start with something easy, then challenge yourself) while talking to someone or while listening to what someone is saying.
- Listen to music with sung lyrics while translating. Now I am not saying you should watch TV and translate simultaneously (although I have done that, especially with easier texts. If you do that, always proofread several times without any distractions before sending the translation to your client or teacher) but you can listen to music while doing a translation. Translating should be a natural activity to you by now and many of us already do listen to music, although we usually choose something without lyrics. Try listening to songs in which you are able to recognize the lyrics – you may have to try out both source and target language songs to see which distract you more. You can even try a completely different language (but one which you speak well, of course).
- Interpret in your mind. Interpret silently while watching a movie or while running errands and listening to everyday conversations. When in a store, imagine you have to interpret for the customer who asked the shop assistant for help.
- May sound weird but if you are able to, try singing harmony and/or do any sort of harmonizing whether alone or with friends. Choose songs you are familiar with at first. Singing in a choir where you need to listen to several voices, harmonize with them and perform something completely different from what you hear on your own – and all at the same time, is an amazing thing to do anyways. Now imagine that you are also practicing a lot of skills needed for simultaneous interpreting! Furthermore, it is believed that a musical talent makes a great interpreter. Try signing up for university choir if you have the gift and feel like it and consider your weekly sessions a simultaneous interpreting training. If you don’t have the time but do have the ear, try watching a few YouTube videos, learning how to harmonize or just playing some records of choir singing and sing along with your voice (soprano, alto, tenor or bass).
- Interpret at home. Over and over again. And switch the languages. You can “cheat” and interpret the same speech several times or listen to it first and then interpret it. Switching languages may help, especially when you are having problems with reformulating. People tend to think that it is easier to interpret into your mother tongue and this may well be true. But for an untrained mind, it may be a relief, when it doesn’t have to think about a thousand possible formulations in the target language because only one comes to mind in the B language. Choose well-trained speakers that speak slowly.
- For Slovak → English (or other languages) combination, I recommend our president’s speeches. It is clear that Mr. president was instructed as to how to speak to an audience, he speaks clearly, slowly, with well-structured sentences and tries to address the speeches to „the people“, so no difficult vocabulary is usually involved. I also recommend interpreting something with an emotional aspect, especially if you also feel strongly about the topic and you are able to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. This helps you with your anticipation skills as well.
- Try shadowing in every-day life. Shadowing is one of the techniques used to teach simultaneous interpreting. It is also often criticized but if you don’t result to doing just that, you should be fine. Shadowing means repeating exactly what is being said word-for-word with a bigger or smaller time lag (ear-to-voice span EVS). When you are having trouble concentrating or something, try repeating everything that is being said in your head. Like during a boring lecture or a boring conversation. After you feel you are able to repeat everything without really trying, try doing simple tasks while shadowing – draw something, solve math problems, and write the alphabet (backwards). Involve more and more difficult tasks and try changing the ear-to-voice span.