Voice Maintenance for Interpreters (or How to never get sick)

Voice Maintenance for Interpreters (or How to never get sick)

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As an interpreter, your voice is your livelihood. No voice, no job. So, it is important to understand how to maintain a healthy voice. The following is a collection of tips I have accumulated over the years. Please remember, I am not a medical professional. This is nothing more than a list of things I do to keep healthy.

Preventative Care

Tell your PCP how important your voice is to you

Your primary care physician must understand that without your voice, you don’t work. When you get sick, make sure s/he knows that voice recovery is your number one priority. This will change the type of medicine s/he prescribes for you

Take elderberry syrup and a multivitamin

There are lots of conflicting information about supplements. However, I have a good track record with elderberry syrup. It is a natural anti-viral agent that is safe to take daily. I don’t take it everyday, but when I am feel a tickle in my throat, I take it immediately until that “I might be getting sick” feeling goes away.

Drink lots of water

Your vocal chords do not function unless they are properly lubricated. The worst thing you can do is speak all day without drinking anything. I aim for at least 80 oz a day. Also, ice water is damaging to your vocal chords so make sure you are drinking room temperature or even warm water.

Warm up your voice

Before you go into an interpreting job, you should always do vocal warm-ups. I have a playlist here on youtube. These will get you ready for the intense amount of speaking you are about to do. Remember, just like you have to stretch before you run, you have to warm up your voice before you speak.

Don’t whisper!

Whisper interpreting should never actually be done in a whisper. That is one of the worst things you can do for your voice. Speak in a low volume, but never in an actual whisper.

Sleep and Exercise

Jonathan Downie’s book, Being a Successful Interpreter, has a section on the impact of exercise to an interpreter. We sit most of the day and do something extremely mentally taxing. If we aren’t also keeping our body in shape, then our health will deteriorate leading to more sick days. The same thing goes for sleep. When you were in college, you may have been able to pull an all-nighter before a test. But staying up late before a conference is a sure recipe for a cold. Your body needs the rest.

 

When you start getting sick

Take a decongestant immediately

One of the reasons your throat gets dry and scratchy is due to the mucus that runs down and irritates your throat when you are sick. So, when I feel I am starting to get sick, I immediately start Sudafed (a decongestant) and Flonase (an anti-histamine) to stop the nose from impacting my throat. Sometimes, this is enough to stop the cold in its tracks.

Sleep with a humidifier

When you are sick, water helps thin out the mucus so it passes quicker with less impact to your throat. But when you sleep, you are spending 8 hours not drinking anything. The humidifier will help lubricate your nose and throat.

Blow that snot out

Do.Not.Sniffle. You don’t want that snot going anywhere near your throat. So, blow it out, don’t sniff it back!

Gargle with salt water

A teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water does wonders for the throat. (Gargle, don’t drink!) It helps ease inflammation and loosens mucus. You can do this several times a day, before each meeting if you want. I usually gargle with salt water when I get up and before I go to sleep if I am sick.

Drink more water

Water becomes even more important when you are sick. It will help to thin out the mucus and flush it through your system. If you are having trouble with water, try adding lemon and honey to some warm water.

 

When you lose your voice

Ask your doctor for steroids

Again, I am not a medical professional. However, my voice always gets better when I have steroids. My doctor even prescribed me an inhaled steroid that I can use in emergencies when I absolutely have to speak. This links back to explaining to your PCP how important your voice is before you lose it.

Do a day of vocal rest

One technique singers use is a day of vocal rest. This means absolute vow-of-silence level quiet. Don’t say a word for the whole day and your voice will be remarkably better the next day. Just be sure you have a pen and notebook handy for when people try to talk to you.

Unless it is the last day of an assignment, don’t push the little voice you have

If you only have a few more hours to interpret, it may be alright to strain your voice a little, as long as you can take vocal rest the next day. But, if you are on day 1 of a multi-day assignment, you need to call your agent and let them know you are losing your voice. Then get to the doctor right away. The more you strain your voice, the longer it will take you to heal.

Don’t whisper!

I can’t say this enough. Whispering is the worst thing you can do for your voice. If you can’t speak in a normal volume, don’t say anything at all.

 

In the end, everyone understands illness. It may be inconvenient, but your clients will understand an hopefully your agent will have someone else who can fill in. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but do treat it immediately before it becomes a bigger problem.

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How to practice interpreting in shared space

How to practice interpreting in shared space

If you work in an open office, like I do, it can be very hard to practice interpretation. In the rare free time you have, you will end up just reviewing Anki decks or reading NHK so you don’t disrupt people. While these are valuable ways to study, nothing can take the place of actually practicing interpretation. So, here are some quick ways that you can practice effectively while still being at your desk.

Prepare to interpret

First, select the speech or other media that you are going to use to practice. Do not listen to it now. That would ruin your practice. Just have it ready. Try to select a fairly short piece of no more than 5 minutes on a single topic. (search and selection time: 5-10 min)

Next, begin your background research. Read articles related to that field. Listen to previous speeches by the same speaker. Read current news articles about this topic. (30 min, more if a very unfamiliar topic)

Then, prepare your vocab lists. Make them simple, one-word equivalent lists in excel. You can use these while interpreting as a reference too.  (List writing and study time: 20 min)

Lastly, practice Quick Response using your vocab list. This will help you to memorize the words. You can usually do this whispering at your desk without causing too much of a disturbance. But, you can also do it in your head.

Make sure your mic, recorder, and notes are all set up to begin interpreting.

Do the actual interpretation on your lunch hour

Once everyone in your immediate vicinity leaves for their lunch breaks, that is the time to do the actual interpretation. If you are doing simul, it shouldn’t take you longer than the media track. If consecutive, plan for close to double time. This means you have more than enough time to do multiple takes before everyone gets back. (20 min max)

Review your interpretation

Once the office is full, you can begin listening to your interpretation. Take a notebook and make notes of any pronunciation errors. Then listen to the original again and see if you missed any content.

 

And there you have it. Complete interpretation practice for a silent office.

Interpreter Training in Columbus

Interpreter Training in Columbus

IMAG0056The Japan Association of Translators is running a great seminar called The Japanese Automotive T&I Seminar. This is a continuation of the Honda seminar that I had blogged about a few years ago. It is going to have two very experienced instructors.

If anyone out there is in my area and interested, you should definitely join us on September 1, 2016.

See details below:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-japanese-automotive-ti-seminar-beyond-the-words–tickets-26413062180

 

Interpreter Training Tapes

Interpreter Training Tapes

I found a wonderful resource of old interpreting tapes on Youtube. They are probably from the 70s and a little slow paced, but they have great practice exercises (starting around 2b). Also, you will get to hear Nishiyama Sen-sensei around 30a, so that is exciting. If you don’t know that name, you really should. He is basically the father of J<>E simultaneous interpreting.

Enjoy!


 

Interpreting Essentials: Confidentiality

Interpreting Essentials: Confidentiality

I want to start a series on the essential skills involved in interpreting. While I would love to start with something nice and easy, I am choosing to open the series with the most essential skill: maintaining confidentiality.

Much has been written on this topic from the AIIC (conference), NAJIT (judiciary), NCIHC (healthcare), among others. If you take the time to go through these standards, you will see that interpreters are held to the same level of confidentiality as doctors and lawyers. So, we are going to take a different approach here. We are going to discuss how to handle confidentiality when you work in close quarters; in-house.

Let’s take this common example. You are interpreting at a meeting with American and Japanese staff. Things are going smoothly, when one of the Japanese associates says something inflammatory, immediately followed by 「さっきは訳さないで」(don’t translate that). Even if you are working simultaneously, you likely hadn’t caught up to the inflammatory statement yet. So, what do you do now?

This happens all too often, especially when the in-house interpreter is someone who the Japanese staff trust and rely on often. So, first, congratulate yourself that the staff member was willing to say that in front of you. But then what?

Think of it from the Americans’ perspective for a minute. They just heard something. Don’t know what, but it sounded pretty angry. They want to know what was said. They are relying on you to provide that. But then switch perspectives. The Japanese person let his tongue slip because he thought no one (who might be offended by the comment) could hear him. He is trusting you to keep it secret.

So the first thing you must do is:

Manage the Flow of Discourse

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You are in control of what happens now. Both parties are looking at your panicked face waiting for your next word. So the best policy is to let the room know what is going on. You can either do that by saying, “The speaker would like the last statement not to be translated” (not my fault guys), “The interpreter would like a minute to clarify” (I can smooth this over), or “Kindly disregard the previous outburst” (he’s just venting guys, don’t worry about it).

But how do you decide which to do?

Who are you accountable to?

accountableYou are being paid to translate one language into the other. Both parties are trusting you to conduct your work fairly. They trust that what you are saying accurately reflects the speaker’s intended meaning. If you lose that trust on either side, you are no longer reliable; regardless of how good your language skills may be. Confidentiality is the most important skill for an interpreter.

But you are first and foremost accountable to your own conscience.

If something is said that is unlawful, unethical, or otherwise morally grey and the speaker is asking you not to divulge that information to the other party, that is line you should never cross. Both parties must know that you are reliable but also an ethical human being. If you are ever in the situation where you are asked to give a false statement, interpret something that you know to be illegal, or cover up someones indiscretion, you should immediately recuse yourself from the meeting. You do not have to keep interpreting when you are not morally comfortable with the situation*.

*Note: This is not true of generally uncomfortable situations such as when someone is cursing a lot, talking about a traumatic experience, or yelling at someone. These are all uncomfortable, but you have the responsibility to portray them faithfully and not try to downplay anything that is being said.

Second, you are accountable to your company. They hired you and they expect you to work for them. So if the meeting was between your company and another company, you should keep what was said to yourself.

What I do

interpreter-4589When I am faced with this situation, I like to handle it this way. Usually I am working simultaneously so I am close to the offending comment. I pause and then say, “Don’t translate that last part,” just as the person said it. This way the Americans know that something was said and can chose to push back or leave it be. If I cannot do this, I will say “The interpreter has omitted the last statement at the request of the speaker.” This usually makes the Americans perk up and want to know what was said. But then you are back to interpreting, not intervening.

But the most important thing you can do is:

Training

Being in-house, you have the unique ability to haul other associates off into a room and say don’t you ever put me in that situation again. Okay, maybe not that forcefully, but the offending party does need to know that what they did is not acceptable behavior. Anything said in the room will be translated in the room. So if they want to vent in their language, they should stop the meeting, ask for a minute, and then they can say whatever they would like. Little quips when they think no one is listening would be inappropriate in any business setting, even when two languages aren’t involved.

So remember, in the moment it will be tough, but you have the opportunity to clear it up later and help stop it in the future. Above all, please remember to maintain the trust of both parties equally. Once you break on parties’ trust, you are no longer considered reliable, and that’s what confidentiality is all about.

 

Practice along with me: Word Chaining

Practice along with me: Word Chaining

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In my last post, I explained how to use Word Chaining to practice memorizing random words; which will help you get better at interpreting.

I stumbled upon a website that is great for that. Brain Connection’s Word Recall Game will show you a series of random words – each for a few seconds. Then it stops and asks you to write down as many as you remember, before showing you the answers. It is the perfect format for practicing Word Chaining. Give it a try today!