Admitting you’re wrong is one sign you’re an expert

All interpreters make mistakes. There is no denying it. Moreover it’s really easy to do. So, if it is inevitable then what can we do about it as interpreters? I’ll cover techniques in a few posts, but for now let’s begin with how I practice to avoid mistakes using a persona and note taking. Let me first begin by saying, how you handle yourself on the job is the key to your success. Mistakes or not, keeping clients satisfied will result in your getting called again.

My strategy for staying sharp includes creating a persona who lives in Spanish language: going over old glossaries, reading books, watching movies, and even preparing meals and yes, even drinking margaritas. How fun! My goal is to build a personality of a different person who speaks Spanish. He has a name and has a whole history, some real some not. It’s a powerful technique used by method actors and it works. You can call on this persona before an assignment and they can guide your skill. Cultivating this persona helps me to stay active even when I am not interpreting. As COVID-19 rages its critical for all of use to continue working our techniques. Interpreting is indeed a performance skill.

Of course, you cannot discount the skill of note taking. Many omission errors happen as a result of memory fail. However a few interpreters I know don’t use notes or use them in unsuspecting ways. For example, during long statements from the interpretee I attempt to recall the beginning of their message while continuing to listen. Drawing icons for new ideas I hear, and going over the earlier ones at the same time helps me keep my focus in check. After I have interpreted a few questions I may not rely on the notes at all to render the entire message. It’s already been fixed in memory.

It can be difficult to to know what to do to handle an error, especially if you are just starting out. If you are inexperienced or not mature in the profession, you my try to avoid the awkwardness by leaving immediately after the session is over or hanging up. It can be a great temptation especially for novices. Don’t do it! Admit you’ve made an error. Ask to correct the record or simply apologize for the confusion. You’ll immediately regain control over a painful situation and get called again.

Seth Hammock, MLCI

Seth Hammock, MLCI

Seth Hammock is a licensed court interpreter for Spanish speakers in Austin, Texas. Since 2017 he specializes in personal injury and criminal law. He has a B.S. in Computer Science from Baylor University and serves as the Director of Professional Development for the Austin Area Association of Interpreters and Translators (AATIA).
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