5 Reasons Why Interpretation Practice Groups are Good for You

Interpretation practice can be defined as those activities we engage in to acquire, improve and/or maintain our interpreting skills, such as our memory retention, note-taking, medical terminology, ethical decision-making, and many other interpreting skills needed to be a competent interpreter.

Whether you just finished an interpretation degree, a 40-hour medical interpretation program, work as a professional interpreter, or you’re getting started as an interpreter, interpreting practice is going to be a crucial component of your education and continuing professional development.

Interpreting is one of those professions in which you need to continuously sharpen the saw, it’s a lifelong learning journey. If you don’t use your interpreting skills for a long time, you may get rusty or the quality of your interpretation may decrease over time. So, interpreting is a lot like being a mental athlete who constantly needs to keep themselves in shape by practicing with interpreting exercises, role-plays, and scripts.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for interpretation practice to fall through the cracks after finishing your interpreting training course, becoming a certified interpreter, or when you work as an interpreter since it seems like ”it’s no longer needed”. Many beginner interpreters keep learning on the job, sometimes by trial and error, instead of intentionally practicing interpretation in a set time and space aside from work or an initial training course.

Even as a double-certified medical interpreter and trainer, I always try to practice consecutive and simultaneous interpretation independently whenever I have the time. Learning is fun and I’m making sure my skills stay sharp.

Nanyi Mateo (NBCMI and CCHI Certified Spanish Medical/Healthcare Interpreter)

Interpreting exercises can come in different shapes and forms for both beginner and advanced interpreters. I believe that most interpretation theories should be accompanied or followed by hands-on practice sessions to really integrate concepts into real-life interpreting situations.

Although you can certainly learn and benefit a lot from independent practice, it requires strong discipline and motivation, which may be hard for some people. When practicing with other people, a lot of that friction goes down and you may even acquire essential interpersonal skills that will help you in your interpreting career and beyond. There are many other reasons to practice interpretation in groups, but today, I’ll give you 5.

1. It’s fun and easier to stick to interpreting practice habits

Interpreting practice buddies help you hold yourself accountable for showing up to your practice sessions. If you’re the type of person who finds it very hard to build momentum and commit to practice on a regular basis, interpreting practice groups may help you reduce procrastination. You have an added social stimulus to keep joining the meetings and practicing. When you hit a roadblock, let’s say memory for consecutive interpretation or a challenging medical term, you have your team members to help you shorten the learning curve and make the overall learning experience a little bit less frustrating.

For example, during our live meetings at InterpreMed, we have a safe, judgment-free space where people can practice all modes of interpretation: consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation, give and receive feedback, and learn from each other experiences. Sometimes, very funny moments come up! Like that time we all randomly wore red t-shirts on the last Friday of the month, and ever since, we created a new Friday tradition.

2. Expand your perspective

In Spanish, there’s an idiom that goes ”cada persona es un mundo”, which means something along the lines of ”every person is a whole world”. This idiom holds true for languages too! There’s so much language diversity, dialects, accents, cultures, worldviews…

Trying to decide on the correct translation of specific medical terminology can bring up so many debates among speakers who share the same language, but speak different variations. For example, Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic or Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Mexico. We’re fortunate to have a diversity of speakers in our Spanish interpreting practice group from Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S.A, and more.

Practicing with other people with different backgrounds, ages, experiences, and language variations can open your eyes to a world of possibilities and consider perspectives different from your own. This is especially important because you may have to interpret for people with different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds than you, so we have to stay open-minded and have cultural flexibility, which can be developed through regular interaction with a diversity of people.

3. Develop hard interpreting skills and give/receive feedback

Hard skills are specific abilities acquired through education, training, and practice required to perform a job. For example, a hard skill for interpreters would be ”note-taking and memory retention” or ”ability to convey medical terminology from one language to another”.

Developing these hard skills can take time, patience, and a lot of work with a number of practice materials, medical interpreting dialogues, audios, scripts… It’s hard, but not impossible! Great interpreters are made, not born.

When it’s hard to figure out how to practice and improve hard interpreting skills, for example, how to practice note-taking, it’s beneficial to work in a team because your team members can give you advice and tips on an aspect of interpretation that you find particularly challenging. There may be somebody who went through the same process as you and shares very specific advice on how they overcame such challenges and point you to useful interpreting practice resources.

Your team members can also give you constructive feedback on your accuracy and completeness, tone of voice, medical terminology, etc. used in your rendition. They may be able to spot mistakes that could have been overlooked during individual practice, for example, having a native speaker listen to your rendition in your non-native language is great to help you identify standard and non-standard language usage for certain words and phrases, which helps you sound more natural and professional.

Being open to feedback and handling it gracefully is part of a having growth mindset to keep learning from all of the new experiences we are exposed to both in interpretation practice and real-life work. Giving feedback also proves helpful in understanding your own reasoning behind your interpretation decisions. Why do you translate something a certain way? Why did you make that decision in an ethical dilemma? Having to explain it to someone else helps you revise and deepen your knowledge.

A combination of self-paced interpreting practice, with live interpreting practice, is not just a nice thing to have, but something essential to the development of important interpersonal, academic, and interpreting skills.

4. Network and build friendships with other interpreters

After practicing with the same team members for quite some time, you end up becoming very acquainted with each other: your struggles, your personal and professional goals, your successes… Some of them may even become friends! If you want to practice for the NBCMI or CCHI medical interpreting certification, having a team of people working on the same goal to support you is great for morale and keep studying despite challenges or exam retakes.

Recently, in the Spanish interpreting practice group, several team members who regularly joined our interpreting practice meetings passed their NBCMI and/or CCHI exams and were hired by a language agency and/or a local organization. In freelancing, it’s very common to have a colleague or friend ask you to cover an appointment if it conflicts with their schedule or to have a simultaneous interpreter ask you to be their booth partner. A member of the interpreting practice group can ask you to collaborate on other professional or educational projects.

Aside from all the great benefits of practicing interpretation in groups, a person who has practiced with you for weeks is in a good position to see your strengths; they could recommend you to an employer or give you access to a specific resource or information that you need to advance in your career. The interpreting world is relatively small and there is always someone who knows someone who knows someone. Having meaningful interactions with other linguists is always beneficial for finding the kind of professionals you want to be around with. An interpreting practice group is a melting pot of people with different talents and strengths who share a common trait: the desire to improve themselves and give a better service to the LEP community.

5. Maintain and improve already acquired interpreting skills (sharpening the saw)

Even if you’re a professional interpreter who works 8 hours every day, you want to debrief and look back on your performance, whether it’s about an issue with medical terminology, an ethical dilemma, cultural competency, or patient safety, it’s important to think about what can you do better or differently next time, before, during, or after the interpreting encounter.

A practice group is not strictly about consecutive interpreting dialogues and scripts, it can also be about other demands and controls that an interpreter may apply during an interpreting encounter. The word practice means to perform a skill repeatedly to improve it. Whether that is intervening, managing technology, making an ethical decision, or acting as a cultural broker: practice helps us learn better.

Sometimes it’s hard for working interpreters to make time to practice, that’s why it’s so important to keep educating yourself with self-paced or live continuing education courses that involve not only theoretical aspects of interpretation but some sort of practical component.

When it comes to consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, it becomes even more important to practice. Hard interpreting skills are lost over time if not used. As I mentioned in the beginning, you want to avoid getting rusty.

There’s a popular story called ”Tale of the Woodcutter”. I came across this story for the first time in Stephen Covey’s book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Tale of the Woodcutter

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” you inquire.

“I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Let me know what you think in the comment section and/or how does this story apply to interpreting practice.

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