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.
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.
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.
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.