Interpreting work is truly challenging to a newcomer in this field; however, it becomes an enjoyable game when you know how to play it. As a long-time freelance interpreter, I feel like I am worth nothing if I keep my experience for my own sake. Therefore, I think all experienced interpreters have the responsibility to share their experience with their juniors to encourage them to enter the world of interpreting as a new promising career. Having such a feeling of responsibility I would like to share my current handful of strategies that are preferably used in the Indonesian environment as I learned during my part-time interpreting with BP LNG Tangguh Project (British-based natural gas company) in Papua, the eastern part of Indonesia. However, I believe interpreting work is universal, so some strategies presented in this article might be beneficial for other new interpreters and in different environments throughout the globe. Basically, 'strategy' is a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal (Thesaurus: US-English) so, I prefer categorizing this as a part of the 'code of conduct' for new interpreters.
2. Strategies for new interpreters before, while, and after performing interpreting work on stage
Before an interpreter steps up on stage he should equip himself with some adequate linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge and skills as a part of strategies he has to take into account.
2.1.1. Language and its usage.
- The interpreter should keep on improving his linguistic knowledge of both the source language and the receptor language through reading and/or listening to discourse genres available from different sources of information, like books, the Internet, television, radio, etc. (either English or Indonesian can be a source language or a receptor language).
- The interpreter should search for an appropriate, accurate, and natural way of using both the source language and the receptor language by asking and observing how native speakers using their language in real-life situations.
- The interpreter should agree with the speaker on how to interpret on stage: statement by statement or giving a summary after the talk. If the interpreter is to interpret statement by statement, he must use the first-person personal pronoun "I" to refer to the speaker; when giving a summary after a talk, particularly in a debate or a discussion, the interpreter must use the third-person personal pronoun "he" or "she" or "speaker's name."
2.1.2. Psychological Readiness
- The interpreter must have an I-can-do-it feeling. He must trust his own linguistic and non-linguistic abilities by saying to himself: "Go and Just Do It! No one is perfect at first" This inner force will strongly encourage him to walk up on stage with full self-confidence.
- The interpreter should assume that nobody else in the audience knows English and/or Indonesian. This is to avoid a feeling that somebody on the floor will identify the mistakes he may make. This is also to increase self-confidence and to decrease anxiety.
2.1.3. Cross Cultural Understanding
- The interpreter must make an effort to understand the differences and similarities between English and Indonesian. This will guide an interpreter on the right track of a culture. For example (only mentioning three out of many aspects):
Eye contactEach interpreter should know that most Indonesians do not always keep their eye contact with the audience or listeners when speaking, which is not the case of English-speaking people. So, the interpreter should keep eye contact with the audience or listeners when interpreting from Indonesian into EnglishDirectness versus indirectness
Each interpreter should know that most Indonesians avoid straightforward statements, because it is culturally impolite to say something right in the face of the audience, while English-speaking people prefer straightforward talk. So, the interpreter must listen carefully in order to digest and convey the intended meaning hiding behind long Indonesian utterances. Terms of addressing
Culturally, the way of addressing a person or a group of people depends very much on some aspects like the relationship between the speaker and the addressee, where the communication takes place, the age, sex, and social status of the speaker and the hearer, and the cultural backgrounds of the speaker and of the hearer. For example, in Indonesia the use of pronoun 'you' (kamu) in a particular statement varies from one interpreting to another such as in English statement like "I am very pleased to be with you here"
Interpreting 1: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama dengan Bapak (in singular)/Bapak-Bapak (in plural) disini;
Interpreting 2: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama dengan Ibu (in singular)/Ibu-Ibu(in plural) disini;
Interpreting 3: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama dengan Saudara (in singular) / Saudara-Saudara (in plural) disini;
Interpreting 4: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama dengan Anak (in singular) / Anak-Anak in plural) disini);
Interpreting 5: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama dengan Bapak-Bapak, Ibu-Ibu, Saudara-Saudara, dan Anak-Anak disini. Literally, bapak, ibu, saudara, and anak mean father, mother, brother/sister, and child respectively. Therefore, an interpreter has to learn and observe how a particular speech community addresses each other within and/or outside its own community.
2.1.4. Cross-Field Understanding
- The common assumption of people is that if a person speaks English, he has the capability of understanding every detail of all fields of knowledge, which is of course untrue. Accordingly, the interpreter must make an effort to familiarize himself with different fields of knowledge in order to enrich and prepare himself becoming a well-prepared interpreter to counterbalance such an assumption.
2.1.5. Logistical Preparation
- The interpreter should to carry his own small tape-recorder or cellphone/recorder with him at all times to record his actual interpreting work for his own performance assessment. Remember, interpreting work is not always in a very well-organized formal situation. It may take place anywhere and anytime. This small extra work may improve his performance and bring the interpreter up to a more professional level. Make sure to let the speaker or the organizer know of this recording by asking their permission to do it for personal improvement, rather than for commercial or political purposes.
- The interpreter should have a pen and a small notebook on him to put down certain points during a session of discussion if the audience is given a chance to comment and raise questions (in a discussion situation).
- The interpreter should ask the speaker if he has a hard copy of the talk and review it before going on stage. This will help the interpreter to find out new terms that he needs to clarify with the speaker or a friend to avoid misinterpreting. If the speaker is invited to deliver a speech without written notes, the interpreter should ask the speaker to brief him on the main points.
2.1.6. Negotiating and Promotion
- The interpreter should negotiate the price when the other parties need his interpreting service for the benefit of their businesses. Ask experienced colleagues how much they charge for an hour or a day service and under what conditions.
- The interpreter should have some spare business cards on him in case someone is impressed by his performance and may need his expertise one day. The interpreter can also promote himself to potential clients during a break.
2.2. While On Stage
Every interpreter should know that interpreting work may occur anywhere, anytime, in a formal way or in an informal way, between individuals or between an individual and a group, through a face-to-face communication or through an electronic device (telephone, skype, SSB radio, walky-talky radio). Below are only a few different occasions, taken from my experience with the Tangguh Project, with different stakeholders followed by some strategies used in the interpreting work.
- Occasions and Stakeholders
- Face-to-face meeting between the Project and individuals (village leaders, religious leaders, tribal leaders, local government leaders, contractors, sub-contractors)
- Teleconference / telephone between the Project and individuals (government leaders and contractors)
- Formal meeting between the Project, government authorities, and agents of private institutions (district leaders, domestic and foreign NGO leaders, universities, etc)
- Opening and/or closing ceremony of a new project outdoors (in the
- field) between the Project, the contractors, the government leaders, and the communities.
- Contentious meeting on labor issues between the Project and the demonstrators
- Formal meeting between the Project and the villagers in the Village Hall
- Formal interview for new recruitments at LNG Tangguh
- Working procedure meeting (safety/toolbox meeting at the LNG Tangguh Project)
2.2.2. Some Strategies
- The interpreter should keep eye contact with the audience or with an individual when sitting or standing in front of them.
- The interpreter should speak up to ensure that the message is clearly heard and understood by the audience.
- The interpreter should ask the speaker to raise the volume of his voice when he speaks too softly. This is to avoid asking for repetition of unclear words or missing the point when the environment is polluted by external noises.
- The interpreter should listen to the speaker with full concentration while performing the job. He must not bring any psychological burden with him that might interfere with his work. He must refuse to do the job if he has a psychological problem or a bad mood on that day.
- The interpreter should ask the speaker to repeat an important point if the interpreter has missed it. He does not have to feel that the speaker or the audience may think he is stupid if he asks for clarification or repetition.
- The interpreter should sit or stand close to the speaker so as to interpret what the first speakers say if it's an event (e.g. opening ceremony of a new project) where several speakers are invited to deliver their speeches, or comments may be made or questions asked by individuals from the audience.
- The interpreter should not look at the written version of the speech if the speaker provides him with one, because this will interfere with his concentration. He has to put it aside right away and concentrate on the verbal message, because the process of listening to and interpreting incoming messages in the Short Term Memory is faster than reading. In addition, some good speakers usually do some improvisation and adaptations while delivering their speeches because of new information received from previous speakers or new ideas occurring to them spontaneously.
- The interpreter should put down some particular points during a discussion, especially if the speaker is flooded with comments and questions from different people attending the meeting.
- The interpreter should select the appropriate language and acceptable forms of addressing when talking to the audience or a particular individual.
- Apart from a hand phone on a teleconference or a telephone meeting, the speaker-phone button on an office telephone must be pressed when interpreting so both the speaker and the interpreter can clearly hear the comments, questions, and answers from the speaker at the other end. The interpreter should stop the speaker at the other end when he speaks too fast. This usually happens when the speaker at the other end does not realize that interpreting is in progress The interpreter should remind the remote speaker to adapt to the pace of the speaker on his side.
- When interpreting a speech outdoors, e.g. at the project site, the interpreter should raise his voice to reach the audience standing far from the speaker if there is no a battery-operated loudspeaker available (in the Indonesian tradition, several speeches are usually delivered prior to cutting a ribbon or laying the first brick to signal the beginning of a new project in an opening ceremony)
- At a contentious demonstration event the interpreter should make quick decisions on omitting a particular offensive statement or taboo expression or irrelevant message and/or paraphrasing them using acceptable equivalent words (emotional demonstrators often yell and speak using foul language or make statements that are irrelevant to the purpose of the demonstration). In such a situation the interpreter only interprets the louder and repeated statements because they are the main reasons for the demonstration. The interpreter should speak in a louder voice because some demonstrators will not stop at the time of the speaker begins to respond. With a louder voice he can attract their attention and make them stop speaking and listen carefully to the speaker and the interpreting.
This is a critical phase for the interpreter to make a self-assessment of what he just experienced while on stage for the purpose of performing better in a future interpreting assignment. The following strategies are taken into account for self-preparation.
- The interpreter should be proud of and satisfied with the mission he has just completed successfully, although he might have some regrets about missing some important points due to lack of knowledge and unforeseen interference. Such a feeling strongly motivates the interpreter to perform better in the future
- The interpreter should play back the recording to assess what happened on stage in order to ensure a poor performance can be improved in future.
- The interpreter should recall and put down some particular statements, terms, cultural aspects that he omitted, missed, or misunderstood during interpreting (This is only applicable if no recording and no note-taking are available). This small extra work is a useful strategy to learn new things that might appear during the next assignment.
Each new interpreter must make an effort to improve his interpreting skill and knowledge in different fields of science and technology. Such skills and knowledge can only be acquired by learning before stepping up on stage, experiencing while on stage, and learning from the experience after performing on stage so as to perform much better in future assignments.
The process of LEARNING à EXPERIENCING à LEARNING is an on-going process each interpreter goes through once he has chosen interpreting either as a part-time or as a full-time career.
By Izak Morin,
Translator and Interpreter, the LNG Tangguh Project (BP)