A single device option for teaching simultaneous online

If you’re a fellow interpreter trainer and you’ve dipped your toes into the online training waters, it probably won’t have taken you long to realise that teaching consecutive is relatively straightforward, but simultaneous is less so.

I’ve tried Skype calls, and I have extensive experience with Zoom. I’ve also been fiddling with the Zoom interpretation feature and testing a variety of other apps. Today I’m going to tell you about Watch2Gether.

I haven’t hit upon a definite solution that works in every situation yet. Most solutions are mash-ups or workarounds, and they often involve multiple devices.

The holy grail for me is a solution that would allow me to do the following:

  • Listen to the input and output simultaneously, i.e. the speaker or video and the interpreter.
  • Adjust the volume of each track independently, so I can have a louder or softer interpreter.
  • Make sure that the interpreter(s) and I both have good quality sound.
  • Ensure that the interpreter and I are listening to the same bit of the speech at the same time.
  • If I’m working with a group, make sure that everyone can hear the same speech at the same time (i.e. that people logging in from different locations don’t have different lag times).

All of these may sound like  sine qua nons, but alas, they’re not. And if I can’t do all these things, I can’t properly assess the content or the interpreter’s technique (especially when it comes to décalage).

If you’ve tried teaching simultaneous on a platform like Zoom, for instance, you’ll have encountered various irritations, such as students in breakout rooms not being able to hear a video played in the main room, varying lag times for students in different places, not having a way to adjust the speaker’s volume and interpreter’s volume independently, etc. etc.

I can’t solve all these problems for you in a single blog post, so today I’ll focus on one way to run a simultaneous interpreting class, primarily using video material (but a live speaker would work too).

You will need to access a website called Watch2Gether at w2g.tv.

Watch2Gether

You may have encountered Watch2Gether as a way to have a movie party with friends during lockdown, sipping cocktails and commenting on the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

And yes, it’s definitely a way to Netflix (without the chilling). But it can also be subverted as a non-Zoom, non-Skype, single-device way of running an interpreting class.

SPOILER ALERT: it has a major disadvantage relating to the source material you can use. I’ll tell you about that in a moment.

Here’s how it works.

Go to the Watch2Gether website. You don’t need to create an account, and it’s free. Here’s what you will see:

Some points to note.

The room created is private by default and is deleted after 24 hours.

At the bottom left (circled in red), you can see my avatar. I haven’t uploaded a photo, but you can see a gold crown, showing I’m the room host. The username is generated randomly, but you can click and change it to something more suitable (you’ll see I’ve renamed myself Sophie Ll S here):

If you create an account (still free), your avatar will retain your username and you can keep your room permanently (meaning that you can save playlists of videos, for example, i.e. you could prepare suitable teaching material and place it in a playlist, in readiness for a class – or several, since you can have several playlists).

You can invite as many people as you like to join the room, using the ‘invite friends’ button (in yellow, top right of the screen). If you click on it, it generates a link that can be copied and sent to your students by any means you like (email, text, WhatsApp, etc.).

Here’s the link generated by the ‘invite friends’ button

When others join the room, their avatars will also be visible along the bottom of the screen. They can also change their assigned usernames.

Choosing source material (video)

Watch2Gether supports a number of sources of video material, including Youtube and Vimeo, as you can see in the image below.

apps supported by Watch2Gether

You can simply enter keywords in the search box to look for suitable videos. Here I’ve searched for ‘Trump coronavirus’ in the Youtube videos:

Results of a Youtube search with keywords ‘Trump coronavirus’

Or if you already know the url of a suitable video, you can just enter it into the search box.

You can also queue up a series of videos by putting them in a playlist, thus allowing you to prepare a whole class’s worth of material. In the screenshot below, you’ll see I’ve made a playlist with three clips about energy. You could create multiple playlists to prepare several classes in advance.

playlist with 3 speeches about energy

Watching the video 

At this point, all you have to do is press play, and everyone in the room will watch the same video at the same time. Watch2Gether synchronises the playback function. No need to play the video in two or more places (on the trainer’s device and on the student’s device) while trying to synchronise by counting ‘1, 2, 3’.

Caveat:

By default, everyone in the room can press pause at any time, or select another video!

However, the host (i.e. the trainer, who’s created the room), can disable various functions to avoid chaos in the virtual classroom, by using the Settings (top right).

Have a look at the screenshot below, which shows you what the host can do by using the ‘Enable Moderation’ function.

enabling moderation: host-only commands
  • Members only: the room host has to approve people who want to join the room.
  • Player: Only the room host can select videos and control the playback of a video (play, pause, seek…)
  • Playlist: Only the room host can change playlists.
  • Colours: Only the room host can change the appearance of a room (colours and background image).

Interpreting

If you want to be able to see your students, ask them to switch on their camera. Definitely ask them to turn on their microphone, using the settings on their avatar button at the bottom of the screen.

On the following screenshot, you’ll see that I have clicked on the video icon, making it turn green, so that my camera is switched on. I’ve circled this in red so you can find it.

I’ve also clicked on my avatar (bottom left) to show you that I can place myself in the middle of the screen, so I’m more visible to my students.

Obviously if I were playing a video for interpreting practice, I wouldn’t put myself in the middle of the screen! To start, I would click play to start the video, and adjust the volume of a) the video (using my computer audio settings), and b) each individual interpreter, using the little microphone icon on their avatars.

If you are finding the avatars a bit small, you can enlarge them, which gives you more control over the volume setting. Here’s a shot of the bigger avatar; you can turn it into a thumbnail and move it around the screen:

Now, to listen to interpretation: let’s say I have 5 students in the class. I would turn 4 of them down to zero volume (mute), and turn up the fifth’s volume.

I’m now watching the video, hearing the video’s audio track, and listening to an interpreter at a volume of my choice. If I want to swap to another interpreter halfway through the speech, I simply turn down the volume of Interpreter 1 (to zero), and turn up Interpreter 2.

All the participants are able to do the same.

This feature also makes it possible to have a live speaker instead of a video as source material: simply have two participants’ volumes turned up (to a level of your choice).

One more useful feature: there is a built-in chat box (bottom right, see screenshot for the speech bubble icon circled in red), so you can type in vocab, links, etc.

The downside

OK, where’s the downside?

So far, it’s all good. You can play videos, have a live speaker, listen to your students in turn without having to enter and exit breakout rooms, adjust the volume (it’s not as flexible as true twin track, but it gives a lot more flexibility than the Zoom interpreting feature, where the original sound is around 20% and the interpreting at 80% volume, but you can’t control it at all), use the chat box, prepare material in advance…

Where’s the catch?

I’m sorry to say, the catch is in the limitations on source material. After all, the platform was designed for watching TV and films with your mates, not for interpreting practice. 

My first thought was that some of my usual sources of practice material, namely the SCIC Repository and Speechpool, would be ruled out. Anything protected behind a login (e.g. Speechpool material) is a problem, and the europa website which hosts the SCIC Repository is (obviously) not one of the apps supported by Watch2Gether.

However, hold tight because I’ve got the solution!

Speechpool

At the moment, Speechpool videos are hosted on Youtube, which allows you to get round the Speechpool login issue. Here’s how you can watch them on Watch2Gether. The method is a little roundabout, but effective.

Login to Speechpool. Find the speech you want. 

In the bottom right hand corner of the video window, you’ll see the Youtube symbol. Click on it to view the speech in Youtube.

Copy the url from the address bar and paste it into the search box in Watch2Gether.

Voila!

SCIC Speech Repository material

This is a different story. It requires more effort to set up than the Speechpool workaround, but it’s doable.

Go to the SCIC speech repository. Choose the video you’re interested in. Here’s an example:

Copy the url and paste it into the search box in Watch2Gether.

Because the europa website isn’t one of the apps supported by Watch2Gether, you (and everyone else in the room) will need to instal a browser extension on Firefox or Chrome to be able to watch this video.

Each user must now click on Open. The video will then open in a separate window, W2gSync will detect that video and makes sure that playback is in-sync with every user in the room.

So far, so good. When I tested this with a colleague, I was able to control the Play, Pause and Seek functions, playback was synchronised, and there was no time lag.

One disadvantage: because you’re now working in a new window (clicking on the Play/Pause controls in the WAtch2Gether window will not synchronise playback), it’s trickier to see the chat box.

There is a way around this, using the ‘Link’ feature in the Watch2Gether window, but I found it didn’t work, probably because of the way the europa website is designed (the ‘Link’ feature won’t work with Flash, for example).

Summary

OK, I’ve given you a lot of explanations and screenshots, which make the whole thing sound complicated, but it’s really not.

The massive plus, from my point of view, is that I can switch my online coaching and group calls to Watch2Gether and do things I can’t do on Zoom: synchronise playback, hear both audio feeds and adjust the speech and interpretation volumes separately, allow several interpreters to work from the same speech at the same time.

Best of all, I can do it all on one device, without messing about with a tablet or mobile, two sets of headphones, a mixer, or anything else.

PROS of Watch2Gether

  • Free
  • Relatively simple to use
  • Suitable for 1-1 sessions or groups
  • Only one device needed
  • Unlimited number of participants
  • Easy replay/pause of video, allowing you to check sections of the speech
  • Volume of speech and interpreter can be adjusted separately
  • Built-in chat function
  • Host can disable certain functions to stay in control

CONS of Watch2Gether

  • Limited options for source material (Youtube, Vimeo), but there are workarounds
  • There is no recording feature, so you can’t record students’ performances from within the app (unlike Zoom, for example). You could get around this by using screen recording software.
  • There is no screen sharing facility or whiteboard.
  • No breakout rooms; but as described above, you don’t need them.
  • No more than 10 video cameras can be on at any time, so you can’t see everybody’s face in a large group
  • Ads – they’re annoying, but we’re all used to tuning them out. You can get rid of them by signing up to w2g.tv PLus, but this doesn’t offer any real benefit in terms of features

Let me know what you think!

Interpreting Coach logo

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills, sign up to my flagship membership site for English retourists, Rock your Retour, and check out the website for digital material to complement your face-to-face learning and empower you to take control of your learning. If you’re interested in personal coaching, feel free to book a free discovery call (although my availability is very limited at the moment).

CPD

CPD blog post cover

CPD = lifelong learning

So, you’ve just taken your final year interpreting exams, and you’re looking forward (hmm…) to entering the brave new world of post-coronavirus conference interpreting.

But your skills aren’t 100% up to scratch yet. Perhaps you need more practice in simultaneous. Or you’re thinking of adding another passive language. Or you’re totally stressed about your…stress management strategies. Or you need to learn more about Remote Simultaneous Interpreting platforms because…well, let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Just imagine if one day interpreters all work from home…

The point is, all of this comes under the umbrella of CPD, or Continuing Professional Development.

Maybe you’re not a recent graduate. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already discovered that lifelong learning means just that. It. Never. Ends. There is always more to learn. And that is definitely the case for interpreters.

But what? How? When? And even: what for?

In this blog post, I aim to help you get more clarity about your CPD needs and how to achieve them. If you’d rather listen than read, click for my dulcet tones (ahem) in your ear.

I’ve also produced a workbook for you. If you take the time to go through it and fill it in, you’ll have a solid plan that will see you through years of CPD.

CPD is the intentional maintenance and development of the knowledge and skills needed to perform in a professional capacity.

CPD is sometimes a legal requirement in order to practise a particular profession or obtain insurance. In Italy, for example, a certain number of CPD hours per year is a compulsory requirement for interpreters.

Even if evidence of CPD is not a legal requirement, it may be a compulsory condition of membership of your local professional association.

And beyond that, CPD is also about being the best interpreter you can be and setting yourself the highest possible standards.

CPD – key points

The definition I’ve given above contains a number of key ideas.

  1. ‘intentional’: CPD is self-directed, i.e. it’s up to you to identify your needs. Unlike a university course with a set list of modules, when it comes to continuing professional development, you need to diagnose your weaknesses and lacunae and come up with a plan (perhaps with some help).
  2. ‘maintenance and development’: maintenance is a minimum, so you can keep doing your job properly. It would be nice to think that once you’re qualified, you’re done. But we all know that note-taking skills get rusty, and if you don’t do simultaneous for a few days or weeks, you’re no longer match fit. So the bare minimum when it comes to CPD is having a plan to keep your interpreting skills and relevant knowledge up to standard. Development is what will allow you to progress in your career: take on new assignments or work in new markets (because of new expertise, a new passive language, a ‘retour’), or get promoted.
  3. ‘knowledge and skills’, ‘perform in a professional capacity’: interpreting isn’t just about technical skills (sight translation, note-taking, salami technique…). To be a professional in this field, you need all sorts of other skills and expertise (for example, networking and marketing to help you find clients and stand out in a crowded market).

A final point: the great thing about CPD isn’t that it isn’t rigidly defined. There are all sorts of things you could do to enhance your development, some formal, others informal. Alongside courses, workshops, webinars, and communities of practice, you could also find a mentor, shadow a more experienced colleague at work, read blogs or research papers, watch videos online, play language games, join a debating society, and more.

Defining your goal

You can only define your CPD needs if you know what your goal is, so your goal should be your starting point.

Are you hoping to work as a freelance interpreter for the UN? For NATO? Are you biactive and hoping to break into a local private market? Your needs will be quite different. For UN work, you’ll need specific passive languages, a strong grasp of geopolitical realities, and the ability to deal with very fast simultaneous and simultaneous with text. For NATO, your B language will have to be nearly on a par with your A language. To work on certain local markets, you’ll need to be good at marketing yourself and networking.

Here’s what you need:

  1. A vision of where you want to be and why (what country – one where your A language is rare, hence an asset; or a country that will help you develop your B language, or improve a C language? What type of interpreting: conference, or public service interpreting? Private market, or international organisations? Translation and/or other work as well, e.g. teaching, subtitling?). Remember that the answers to these questions will change, which is why you need to review your goals every so often.
  2. A good understanding of the skills you need. Does your ideal interpreting job require consecutive or not? Do you need specific IT skills? Must you be able to use a certain type of software?
  3. A clear idea of the standard and how far you are from achieving that standard. Do you know what standard is required in order to pass an EU accreditation test, if that is your ambition? If not, you need to find out.
  4. A list of priorities. You can’t address all your weaknesses at once.

Take a few minutes to think about questions 1-3, and jot the answers down on a piece of paper – or use my workbook . Read on to find out more about defining, refining and prioritising your CPD needs.

Defining your CPD needs

The exercise I’ve just asked you to do was intended to help you identify what you’re aiming for, and what is required to fulfil that ambition.

Now you need to work out how much of a mismatch there is between those requirements and your existing skills and knowledge.

I like to think of all the elements that make up a top-notch interpreter in a very visual form, using a mind map (some of you may call it a spider diagram).

Here’s an example from the National Network for Interpreting website.

NNI interpreting skills map

I talk through the skills map in more detail in this video:

Time to get down to the nitty gritty!

Sharpen your pencil, get yourself a cup of tea (or a latte, or whatever floats your boat), and get your thinking cap on, because it’s time for a skills audit.

Skills audit

Have you heard of SWOT analysis? It’s an approach often used in business, to determine the a company’s strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, and then to decide on a plan in the light of these insights.

A SWOT analysis, also known as a skills audit, is a very useful tool in your arsenal. It’s something I encourage interpreting students to do at the beginning of their interpreting course, and again a few weeks before their exams, so they can decide where to focus their efforts.

It’s also a very useful way of establishing your CPD needs.

Divide your page into four, and write down the four headings: strengths, weaknesses, threats, opportunities. Like this (or follow along in the workbook):

SWOT analysis

I’ve put some examples in the ‘strengths’ column, just to give you an idea. Obviously this is a very personal exercise.

Think about the interpreting skills mind map (which you can of course break down into even more detailed skills; for example, for public speaking, you could consider pronunciation, intonation, ‘ums’, fillers, eye contact, etc.), and try to classify these skills as strengths or weaknesses of yours, in the light of your ‘vision’ – i.e. where you want to work, for whom, and what standard is required.

Perhaps public speaking is one of your strengths, but stress management is not.

Perhaps you are a people person, and very good at networking, but you’re a bit chaotic and you need to work on business skills and being more organised.

Write it down!

Then think about those factors that are external to you: the threats to your development, and the opportunities. Again, these are very personal.

Your threats might include lack of money, or family obligations that mean you can’t travel, or lack of equipment (headphones, or a laptop), or Brexit.

Your opportunities might include willingness to travel, or a partner who speaks one of your passive language, or good contacts in the industry.

Make a note of everything.

Spend a few minutes thinking about how you can use your opportunities and how you can minimise your threats.

Now we’re going to focus on your weaknesses, because these are your CPD needs, i.e. these are the areas of skill or knowledge that are ripe for development.

Refining your needs

It’s one thing to know what you need to improve (i.e. your weaknesses), and it’s another to know how to improve them.

What course would best suit you? Should it be intensive or spread out? Would you be better off working alone or with a coach?

Sometimes the answer isn’t as straightforward as you think.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter is really good at maths, and she loves it. But when she sees a question type she’s never tackled before, she gives up immediately, wailing that she doesn’t know how to do it, and often bursting into tears. This is not a skills problem, it is a mindset problem. There is little point getting her extra maths tuition when she knows the answers already. What she needs is an approach that will boost her confidence and help her develop problem-solving abilities and a growth mindset.

So now that you’ve identified your weaknesses, you need to examine them in a way that will help you determine how to tackle them.

To do this, one approach I find useful is Dilt’s logical levels (from neuro-linguistic programming, if you’re interested).

Dilt's logical levels

If you want to make changes in your life (in this case, improving your skills or knowledge), you need to understand at what level you’re operating. Often, the way you talk about these challenges will give you hints.

For example, if you say ‘I don’t do enough interpreting practice, because my office is so cluttered and I keep getting interrupted’, this is an environment problem, and the environment is what you need to fix!

If you say things like ‘I don’t really have time to work on my retour’, or ‘I’m always meaning to listen to podcasts, but I have so many other things to do first’, this could be a sign that you are procrastinating, and you need to find strategies to address that behaviour.

Phrases like ‘I don’t know how to do this’, ‘I’ve never done simultaneous’, ‘I’ve just been asked to teach online and I’ve never done it before’, ‘I haven’t done consecutive for five years’, sound like a skills gap, which can be addressed at the level of competence – you can find a course, workshop, coaching opportunity, etc.

On the other hand, if you say something like ‘I find sight translation really difficult’, or ‘I hate dealing with numbers’, ‘or ‘I’m really bad at consecutive’, this could either be a skills gap or a mindset/confidence issue.

And if you’re saying things like ‘I can’t be bothered to do this’, or ‘I don’t see the point of this for me’, or ‘interpreters shouldn’t be asked to do this’, this is a reflection of your beliefs or values, and you will have to examine those before deciding whether you need further training.

Phew! Bet you didn’t realise that CPD would involve so much soul-searching, right?

You’re nearly there, though. And remember, you can use my workbook to guide you through this process.

OK, your final step is to prioritise your needs.

Prioritising your needs

This should be relatively quick, now that you have laid all the groundwork.

• Think about your lacunae in the light of Dilt’s logical levels, to help you understand how to tackle them.

• For each weakness, ask yourself: how important is this to me? How essential is it to develop this competence now? Remember, you can’t do everything at once. Some skills may need immediate attention because, say, you’re applying for a job right now.

• Distil your CPD needs to 4 or 5 key skills or areas of knowledge.

Planning your CPD

Reflect on how to get from A to B. You’ll need to a) do some research, to find out what’s available in terms of workshops, courses, practice groups etc. that might meet your needs, and b) consider how much time you have available.

Make a list for each of your 4 or 5 key areas.

There’s an increasing array of CPD options available for interpreters. I won’t list them all here, because they won’t all be relevant to you, but you can have a look at this free list if you happen to be a recent graduate with mainstream European languages, and your ambitions involve working on the conference or institutional market in Europe. I’ve listed various volunteering, internship, and networking opportunities, as well as online resources for conference interpreters, such as course and webinar providers.

Reflective practice

…but it’s not all over!

The value of reflective practice in an educational setting and in the workplace is increasingly recognised.

It’s also important to keep a record of your CPD efforts in case you ever need to provide an employer or professional association with evidence of your learning.

For this reason, I highly recommend keeping a combined learning journal and portfolio of your CPD work.

You can find an example – guess where? – in my workbook , but the idea is fairly simple: note down the date of any CPD activity you engage in, the provider, the type of activity (remember, this doesn’t have to be a formal course. It could be reading in your own time, or contributing an article to a publication, or doing outreach work). Write down what you found useful about this activity, how you will apply it in practice, or what you would do differently next time.

DATEACTIVITYPROVIDERWHAT WAS USEFUL?IMPLEMENTATIONNOTES
01.01.2020webinarAIIC
15-21.06.2020WISE workshoppeer group

To flesh this out into a portfolio, keep a note of your needs and goals on the first page, and review these regularly (say, every 6 months or annually). Also keep copies of any certificates you obtain after attending CPD courses.

Two key areas for development

I’ll wrap up with a couple of areas I think are increasingly important, given the situation on the interpreting market, and also the way the world has developed in the past twenty years or so. I’m venturing beyond the narrow limits of interpreting skills here, into other skills and areas of knowledge.

Business skills

Newcomers to the interpreting market need to be much more professional in how they present and market themselves these days, I think. More and more, language professionals are running a language business, and they need the right skills to allow them to do so.

I won’t go into detail here. Just think about where you are with regard to the following:

  • Administrative procedures for freelancers in your country, including health insurance, VAT, pension arrangements
  • Business skills such as accountancy, invoicing, client management
  • Making sure you have the right equipment, including a laptop or tablet, headphones, jacks, webcam, etc.
  • A solid and visible business presence, including a good, up-to-date CV, business cards, a permanent (professional looking!) email address, and possibly a website
  • ?Preparing for remote interpreting. Are you intending to go down this road? What extra skills do you need?
  • Marketing: in a crowded market where interpreters are often treated as commodities (and don’t get me started on working conditions during the COVID pandemic…), you need to understand your value as a skilled professional. You could consider a seminar such as Julia Poger’s Know your Worth.

Health and wellbeing

Interpreters have very specific needs when it comes to health and wellbeing. The very sedentary nature of our work, the increasing use of computers and screens, and the stressful aspects of interpreting, should lead you to try to establish good habits from the start.

Here are a few key areas to think about:

  • having an ergonomic office set-up (height of chair, distance from screen, etc.)
  • eye strain
  • hearing. Amid increasingly frequent reports of acoustic shock, it’s important to have regular hearing tests.
  • voice. Your greatest tool as an interpreter. Look after it!
  • general health (nutrition, exercise). Conference interpreters are prone to back problems: we spend too much time seated, and our position isn’t always ergonomic.
  • stress management. I could say all sorts of things about this (and I often do, in seminars and webinars), but I’ve already written thousands of words in this blog post, so I’ll keep it short. Different approaches to stress work for different people, so try to find what works for you. If you’re looking for a short course with a holistic approach, that covers the basics of relaxation, meditation, and nutrition, try Gabriela Bocanete’s course, which involves delightful Yoga Nidra sound baths.

Enjoy it!

OK, that’s enough! That’s it!

CPD can be fun: it’s satisfying, because you’re learning something and opening up new career opportunities, but it’s also a great way to meet new people, make friends, and feel connected to your ‘tribe’.

Good luck!


Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL)

Ruth Helyer, Journal of Work-Applied Management, ISSN: 2205-2062.  Publication date: 6 October 2015

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills, and check out the website for digital material to complement your face-to-face learning and empower you to take control of your learning. If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

Finding fifth gear: how to speed up your reaction time in simultaneous

Fifth gear blog post

I was teaching a class at the University of Manchester yesterday, and listening to the interpreting students tackle a piece of rapid, ‘real-life’ French reminded me of the days when I was a trainee on the SCIC stage, honing my own interpreting skills at the European Commission in Brussels.

At the time, I had three mentors – well, they were actually called godmothers and godfathers – and I vividly remember sitting in a dummy booth in the Borschette building, feeling totally inadequate as I tried to follow arcane customs negotiations and interpret into English under the watchful eye (and ears) of my vastly more experienced colleagues.

fairy godmother

One of my mentors, twinkly-eyed and bearded, reminded me of a genial brown bear. He would doze off gently in the back of the booth, while the delegates’ German reached parts of my brain other languages cannot reach.

slow reaction time
No wonder my mentor used to snooze when I worked from German.

One day, my mentor hit me with these words of wisdom: ‘The problem with your German, Sophie, is that you don’t have a fourth gear’. My internal reaction to this pronouncement was ‘Ha ha ha, I’d be happy if I could even find second gear!’, but by then I had already learned that it was a bad idea to show weakness, so I didn’t say it out loud. This was one of the few times in life that I managed to keep my mouth shut instead of blurting out my innermost thoughts and putting my foot squarely in my mouth.

not saying it out loud

In class yesterday, I found myself repeating those words to the students. ‘When you’re dealing with fast and furious French like this, you need to be firing on all cylinders. You need to find fifth gear. You need to be 100% on the ball.’ And other such imagery.

Image my consternation when one of the students pointed out that this isn’t a very helpful comment. What does it actually mean to move into a higher gear, and how do you do it?

Huh.

It always rocks me back on my heels a little when I say something I think is fairly obvious, and it becomes apparent that it’s not that clear to everyone else. It’s a salutary reminder that our brains don’t all work the same. Or at least, that my brain doesn’t work like anyone else’s.

So I tried to unpack my own statement.

Shifting into a higher gear

What does it mean to shift into a higher gear?

To me, this phrase describes the difference between ambling along at 30 mph admiring the scenery out of the car window, versus zipping down the motorway at 70 mph (obviously, I’m so law-abiding I never break the speed limit…).

In the former case, you have plenty of time to react to hazards (dozy pedestrians, aggressive drivers, unexpected cyclists just around a bend, potholes, or where I live, hedgehogs). You can change course in time to avoid a collision. In interpreting terms, this equates to a reasonably slow, well structured speech, which allows you some time to think, adjust your décalage, tidy up the speaker, and reformulate into elegant English/Turkish/whatever your target language is.

When you’re driving much faster on the motorway, however, you have to react very quickly to anything new and/or dangerous and be hyper-aware of everything going on around you at all times (e.g. other drivers’ behaviour). In interpreting terms, this is where you have a crazy fast speaker throwing facts and figures at you (or quips, jokes, asides, interjections, examples…). If you take too long over your analysis or reformulating, there’s a good chance you’ll make a mistake or miss an idea (or possibly several sentences).

In other words, ‘fifth gear’ in simultaneous implies being able to deal successfully with fast, dense speech. And that, in turn, implies a faster reaction time.

So when I talk about fifth gear, firing on all cylinders, or being on the ball, I really mean that your reaction time needs to be super-sharp.

Knowing this is one thing. Doing it is another. How can you speed up your reaction time when interpreting in simultaneous mode?

Speeding up your reaction time

In order to react faster when faced with lots of information delivered quickly (possibly with the extra challenge of asides, in jokes, or cultural references thrown into the mix), you need to a) process and analyse the information faster, b) say it faster in your target language (i.e. get to the point), or c) both.

Spit it out

On the output side of the simultaneous equation, here are some techniques to try:

  • Don’t repeat information. Say it once, and move on. If the point the speaker is making has been covered already during the speech, or can legitimately be subsumed in a slightly more general point, leave it out.
  • Choose concise solutions in your target language. Good news for English As and retourists: English is generally a very concise language (see my blog post about making use of this feature, and others, to improve your interpreting).
  • Use intonation strategically to make up for being less explicit. You can do a huge amount with your voice alone: highlight a specific point, indicate that you’re mentioning a secondary item of information, introduce a digression, link to the next part of the speech…
  • Speak faster! I don’t generally advise my students to practise doing this, because it’s difficult to change your natural speech style, but I know other trainers who do.

Coincidentally, if you put all of this into practice, you will be saying less, and freeing up more space to listen to the speaker. If you think of your brain’s processing capacity during simultaneous interpreting as being a finite resource, freeing up some of that capacity by being more concise and streamlining your output should enable you to process what you hear better and faster.

Process faster

On the input side of the simultaneous equation (i.e. what you are hearing), there are also techniques you can apply to help you process (i.e. hear, understand, digest, edit) the information faster.

  • Keep working on your source language comprehension, especially if it’s one of your C languages and not a B. Just trying to understand the original, especially if the syntax is convoluted, can burn up a lot of brain juice, leaving you much less for incisive analysis and good expression in the target language. So work hard on your comprehension.
  • The same goes for cultural references in the source language. If you haven’t immersed yourself in the culture of the source language, you may completely miss some of the speaker’s references; or you may hear something, but not really understand what it relates to; or you may get it, or half-get it, but be unable to come up with a decent, brief explanation quickly enough.
  • Ditto background knowledge. If you have a solid understanding of the issues involved, so that much of the material is familiar to you from the news or your prior experience in this field, you won’t have to work so hard to decipher what the speaker is saying. If you’re interpreting a panel debate about Brexit, and you don’t know much about the workings of the EU, British politics, or previous referendums, your work will be very much harder.
  • Improve your reflexes. If you like sport, you will know how important muscle memory is to performance. Athletes, dancers and gymnasts (and professional musicians) go over the same movements over and over again, so that they can bypass their conscious brain in pressure situations and fall back on ingrained habits. Their body remembers what to do without having to think about it. When you’re interpreting, it’s really useful to have ready-made solutions for problems that come up again and again. In simple terms, this means practising frequently-occurring phrases – perhaps speech openings and closings, or typical comments from the Chairman of a meeting, especially in your B language – but also giving some thought to fragments and expressions that are characteristic of your source language. In French, for example, you don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel every time you encounter something like ‘langue de bois’, ‘sur la forme et sur le fond’, or ‘des pistes de réflexion’. So think about your options in advance, when you come across one of these ‘classics’ in a podcast or article, or when listening to the news.

Finally, when you’re dealing with a speaker who’s like greased lightning, it’s important to manage your décalage.

Although I usually urge my students not to stick too closely to the speaker (for fear of linguistic interference or of ending up facing a brick wall in simultaneous, leading to unfinished sentences or errors), most interpreters won’t be able to get all the information in if they leave a long décalage when dealing with very fast speech.

There is an argument, therefore, for not dilly-dallying, especially if the speaker is throwing out lots of figures. Your brain can’t retain them in the same way as it retains ideas, so stick close behind and get them out as quickly as possible (if the speech is very fast, writing down the figures and units will inevitably lead to a loss of other information). However, this is by no means an excuse for copying the syntax of the source language or slipping into ‘parrot’ mode, i.e. repeating what the speaker says without sufficient analysis. Even in a fast speech, there is room for analysis and reformulation. For me, the trick lies in hanging back a little when the next idea/sentence begins after a pause. If you don’t jump in straight away, you can decide which way you’re going to leap, and do some strategic shifting around of information. Elsewhere in the sentence, which may be very long, you may have less room for manoeuvre. This way, I have a better chance of beginning the sentence in an idiomatic way, and then I chop the rest of it up into manageable pieces (salami technique/chunking), so that I don’t get bogged down in long and complicated syntax.

A final point: if the speaker is very dense and factual, you really need to stay on top of him (or her). On the other hand, if the speaker delights in peppering the speech with asides, in jokes, cultural references, quotes, and the like, your priority must be, at all costs, to understand the main ideas. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, with a rapid flow of information, it’s easy to lose sight of this most basic of principles. If you don’t catch the main ideas, the next two or three sentences you hear may be completely meaningless without their context. So if the speaker is shooting off in all directions, focus heavily on understanding the his or her intentions, and sacrifice some of the other fluff if necessary. Summarise where you can. Use intonation to convey the speaker’s tone if you don’t have time to do it in words.

I hope this post has given you some ideas for tackling difficult material successfully. If it sounds a little abstract, that’s because it’s difficult to talk about this sort of thing without illustrating your approach using an actual speech + interpreting performance. And that’s precisely what I propose to do in my next blog post.

For those with French, I’ll be talking about Jean Quatremer’s contribution as moderator of a debate about the Brexit referendum. Here’s the clip, in case you’d like to have a go at interpreting Quatremer’s introduction (or indeed, Emmanuel Macron’s contribution).

What are your best tips for dealing with speakers who go like the clappers?

Better time management with 3 great free tools

3 top time management tools blog post

Time management in the modern world

Nowadays, everybody’s busy busy busy! We’re all juggling multiple assignments, jobs, devices, apps, websites, passwords…It’s exhausting sometimes. And I’ll admit it: in the past few months, I’ve dropped a couple of balls, generally because I’ve lost track of what I was supposed to be doing. I often have panicky thoughts about whether or not I’ve actually booked the children into daycare after school, or whether they will be standing at the school gate at 3.15, looking pathetic and wondering if their mother has abandoned them.

However…it hasn’t happened yet. Because most of the time, I’m actually pretty organised. Note that I didn’t say tidy, but organised (an important distinction, in my husband’s mind anyway).

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Today I’d like to share with you my top three tools for staying on top of my to-do list, appointments, and web logins. Best of all, they are all free and very simple to use, and they will definitely improve your time management!

A password manager

How many websites are you registered with? Do you reuse the same password all the time (a very real security risk)? Do you write your passwords down somewhere ‘safe’? Do you forget important passwords all the time?

This was me, a year ago. I would reuse the same login credentials, with a memorable (but weak) password, for all the websites where I do my online shopping. This is definitely a bad idea when many of these sites store your credit card details.

I was also running several websites, one of which had been hacked. It became obvious that I needed a more reliable and more secure way of generating and storing passwords than simply writing them down, even in coded form in a password-protected document on my computer. Apart from anything else, it was inconvenient only having access to my passwords when I was using my laptop.

Enter…the password manager.

The premise of a password manager is that it is yet another website, for which you need to remember yet another strong password, but…it’s the only one. Once you’ve created a memorable login for the password manager, it will do all the work for you when logging into websites. Now, you might already store passwords in your browser (such as Firefox), but you won’t be able to access them on another device, and if your laptop or phone is stolen, your passwords aren’t secure. The password manager avoids these problems.

I use LastPass to manage my passwords. It stores all my encrypted passwords online, and I just need one master password to access them. Here’s how it describes itself:

‘LastPass remembers all your passwords, so you don’t have to.’

Clearly, you can only use a password manager if you trust the company’s security measures, so do your research before signing up. We’ve all heard of plenty of breaches of security all over the Internet, so it’s worth being cautious. On the other hand, what are the odds that their security measures are weaker than yours?

LastPass screenshot
LastPass screenshot

Here are the main benefits, as I see them:

  • it’s free.
  • you can access your passwords from any device, once you have signed into LastPass.
  • it auto-fills login panels when you visit websites where you have previous registered.
  • when you visit a new website, a pop-up comes up asking if you want to store the password.
  • you can share passwords securely with a friend.
  • the site can also serve as a vault to store information such as passport numbers, driver’s licence numbers, or WiFi passwords.

The paid version of LastPass will, of course, offer you more functionality. For example, in case of emergency or in a crisis, your trusted friends and family can access your vault (sorry to be morbid, but I imagine that would come in useful if I suddenly popped my clogs, if nothing else because so many of our financial transactions are conducted online these days). You can also share your passwords with several people at once (‘one to many sharing’), which would be useful if you were running a team, for example.

However, I find the free version quite sufficient for my needs, and I don’t even use all the functions; for instance, there are plenty of free strong random password generators on the web, so I don’t use LastPass’s.

A few words of caution:

  • it’s important to logout in the evening, otherwise anyone using your device could access all the websites you’re registered on.
  • don’t store very sensitive credentials in your vault. In particular, you should avoid storing online banking details on a password manager, because your bank won’t cover you if there’s a security breach.

There are other options out there, such as Dashlane and RoboForm; they have different features, but since their core business is the same, they’re much of a muchness.

A better to-do list

You may be ruled by lists, as I am, or you may not; but EVERYBODY, surely, writes down what needs doing in some form or other, at some point – maybe using the Notes function on your phone, or on the back of an envelope, or on a notepad stuck to the fridge.

I use Trello to organise my life and my coaching sessions, and I love it (full disclosure: you may have noticed I’ve given you a special link, but I’m not an affiliate and I won’t receive any money for doing so!).

Imagine writing a to-do list in the form of bullet points. Then imagine having several of these lists alongside one another, on a single screen (or ‘board’).

For example, you could have a list for each day of the week, thus creating a weekly planner. Here’s a sample board for someone who wants to improve their English retour:

English retour action plan, created with Trello

You will see from this image that you can label your items (known as ‘cards’) in a particular colour; here, I’ve put terminology work in yellow, background knowledge in red, and interpreting practice in blue. That way, you can see at a glance what the balance of activities is.

Some of the other features I find very useful on Trello:

  • it’s free!
  • you can create multiple boards and share them with friends or colleagues.
  • you can drag and drop cards, which means you can move an item across to another day if you haven’t completed it.
  • you can attach virtually anything to a card: an audio file, a document, basically anything that’s on your computer. You can also attach a file from Dropbox or Google Drive, or attach a link.
  • you can add due dates, checklists, comments and descriptions to a card, and share it with someone.
  • you can view the cards with due dates in a calendar view.

You really don’t need the paid version of Trello, unless you’re desperate to have more exciting backgrounds on your boards.

Your imagination and creativity are the only limits to what you can do with Trello. For example, instead of having a weekly planner, you could create a board with categories of things that need doing. Here’s a board listing useful exercises for an interpreting student:

Trello board example
Possible exercises for interpreting students – by category

And here’s the home page, where you can see all your boards:

Trello home page
Trello home page, where you can find all your boards

You can have ‘starred’ boards, which gives them a higher priority, and it’s also possible to see recently-viewed boards separately from the ones that you use more rarely.

All in all, I find it an invaluable tool for keeping information, ideas, and tasks in one place. I use it to list all the DIY that needs doing in the house, my ideas for blog content, and my personal admin tasks (e.g. the dreaded tax return!), among many other things.

A powerful way to schedule appointments

My third suggestion is less likely to be useful to students, but it’s great for freelancers who do a bit of this and a bit of that, or who work on an hourly basis. I couldn’t run my coaching business without it, but it would work equally well for personal tutors, language coaches, and anyone else who works on an hourly basis (or at least, in slots of time).

The scheduling tool I use is Acuity.

On-screen, it looks like a calendar, with daily, weekly or monthly views.

Here’s why I love it:

  • it’s free!
  • your clients can schedule, reschedule and cancel their own appointments.
  • you can easily control your availability, by blocking off time (see the grey zones in the picture), and by setting your business hours.
  • it takes into account your clients’ time zone.
  • you can save notes on each client.
  • you can create a different link for each type of appointment (e.g. personal training, massage, nutrition consultation), and choose which link to send to each client. The appointments will appear in different colours on your calendar.

In short, the free version of Acuity is very powerful and allows you to interact with clients in a very flexible way (but without having to go through your entire diary with them to find a mutually agreeable appointment – ‘oh no, I can’t do Tuesday because I’ll be in Brussels. No, I can’t do Wednesday because I’m teaching. Can you do Friday at 10 o’clock? No? How about next week?’). The paid version has all sorts of bells and whistles, as you would expect, such as integrating with platforms like Zoom, and enabling you to embed the scheduler into your own website.

The reason I have switched to the paid version is simply that it allows me to sync Acuity with iCal. This means my Acuity appointments appear on my laptop calendar and vice versa. It’s a life-saver and allows me to avoid double- and triple-booking myself (well, most of the time!). The paid version of Acuity also allows you to take payments, e.g. with Paypal, and generate coupons for your clients.

Voilà! I hope you found this review of my top three tools useful! What’s your secret to productivity and good time management? Let me know in the comments section.

Interpreting Coach logo

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills, and check out the website for digital material to complement your face-to-face learning and empower you to take control of your learning. If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

Damage control in first year interpreting exams

Damage control in first year interpreting exams

Disclaimer

Like many website owners, I have a set of terms and conditions that insist that my content is for information purposes only, and exhort readers not to rely on this information.

In case you’re wondering why I should go to such lengths to cover my back, let me just mention a student some years back, who told me (and I quote): ‘Sophie, if I don’t get an interpreting job straight after this course, I will hold you personally responsible.’ Personally responsible, seriously?

And that’s why I have a disclaimer. I’ll put it even more bluntly: the following article is based on many years’ experience as an interpreter trainer and examiner, but it is just my opinion. I make no representations, and certainly offer zero guarantees, that if you put these tips into practice, your exam marks will improve. Like with any other advice, it’s up to you to take it – or leave it.

Common problems in first year interpreting exams

I’ve been a trainer for fifteen years, and I’ve seen a lot of interpreting exams. Every year, quite a few students underperform in their first set of exams. In the UK, these typically take place in January, at the end of semester one, and they focus on consecutive. Elsewhere, they might take place at the end of the first year, but the principles are the same.

When I try to analyse what goes wrong during these performances, the first thing that springs to mind is nerves. This tallies with one of the main causes of failure at EU accreditation tests. Nerves and anxiety are the trigger, and they affect performance by interfering with one or more of the processes or skills that candidates need to demonstrate in order to interpret successfully.

Read more

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