How to practise your interpreter skills

Like any other professional, it is important for you as an interpreter to keep up with your skills. You use your language skills every day. It is important to constantly practice them and improve them. Our world is fast-paced, and languages develop constantly, with new words and expressions popping up. We have to stay alert and increase our knowledge to stay on top of our profession.

But what about the other skills you need to master as an interpreter?

We can divide these additional skills into three areas:

  • Behaviour skills (presentation)
  • Note-taking skills (memory, understanding, concentration)
  • Speech skills (listening and speaking)

Interpreters tend to forget to practice these skills, even though they are as equally important as language skills and extensive general knowledge.

How can we develop, practise and maintain these skills?

Keep things simple. Practise your presentation skills by asking friends, family or even your friendly next-door neighbour to listen to your presentation, and ask them to think critically about your behaviour. How do you come across? Do you look confident and trustworthy? Is your body language neutral and not distracting?

Always remember that as soon as you walk into a room, present yourself in a video conferencing call or speak up during a phone call, your public/audience will immediately make a first impression of you based on how you look and how your voice sounds. It is vital to always dress smartly and look professional, even when you are speaking over the phone. Although others cannot see you, how you dress will reflect on how you speak and sound.

To practise these skills, you can record (using audio or video) yourself so you can discover your weaknesses and improve on them.

Another skill you might want to work on is taking notes. Taking notes is common during consecutive interpreting. If you know the subject of the meeting beforehand, you can ask your client for material or get information from the Internet to strengthen your general knowledge of the topic.

If you like to take notes during an assignment, write down key information and use abbreviations. To develop an efficient note-taking system and practise using it, you can record news programs and interviews and listen to them while making notes using familiar abbreviations.

Your memorisation techniques are also important. Try to increase your analytical skills by reading high-quality newspapers and magazines (such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Economist) or listening to news reports and interesting shows, like Ted Talks. As you listen, concentrate on understanding what is said, and then summarise and analyse the content. In addition, you should always try to read as much you can in your non-native language(s).

The third important skill is your speech. People do not realise how important our speech is. Like your presentation skills, your speech contributes to the overall impression people form of you. Use a pleasant tone of voice, and adjust your speech to the level of animation in the voices of those you speak with. Try not to speak too slow or too fast, and keep your voice steady. Make your interpretation flawless. If you do not understand or hear something, ask the speaker to repeat what he or she just said. It is better to be sure than to make a mistake. Never panic, and stay focused. If you want extra practice and guidance for this skill, you might want to consider taking speech courses.

To learn more about all these skills, check out this video.

Good luck!