In my last blog post, I attempted to convince you of the value of speech prep, especially if you are a retourist and you use speech preparation as an exercise to develop your retour.
I outlined the process I use to create well-structured speeches, and listed 3 simple structures: linear, pros/cons, and ‘logical argument’.
In this post, I want to get down to the nitty gritty and talk about some of the shortcuts you can use to make speech prep a painless and rapid process.
Use an interview, panel debate, TV report or podcast for inspiration
The great thing about interviews or podcasts is that they often present contrasting points of view.
In the UK, for instance, if I were to watch Question Time on TV, listen to Any Questions on Radio 4, or tune in to the Today programme for some of the interviews, I would be able to pick out several viewpoints, which I could then incorporate into a speech.
This is particularly useful when you yourself have a strong opinion on a subject, and you need inspiration for the opposing viewpoint.
Let’s say you listen to a programme an EU proposal relating to Member States’ obligations to report on the gender pay gap.
Right off the bat, I can think of two ways you could structure your speech:
Explain the EU proposal and why it’s being introduced (i.e. the European Commission’s point of view)
Explain other parties’ point of view or reaction (for example, some of the Member States, if they have concerns; and/or women’s groups; or the European Parliament position)
Come to a conclusion, and perhaps give your own opinion. Of course, you also need an introduction to lead into the subject.
Here’s a second option:
Briefly outline the proposal
Explain the benefits of such legislation.
Outline the pitfalls. Here, you could explain who is opposed: NGOs, certain countries?
Draw your conclusion. Again, you will also need an introduction.
It’s clear, I think, that both speeches would cover much the same material, but with a slightly different slant. The first version focuses more on different points of view; the second is more of a ‘pros and cons’ speech.
A third possibility would be for you to play the role of a particular individual or organisation (for example, an employers’ organisation, an anti-discrimination NGO, a representative of the European Commission, a Minister for Equality from a Member State, etc.) and speak in favour or against the proposal. Your speech might look something like this:
Background to the proposal
Your organisation’s view – list of reasons why you support or oppose the proposal
Call to action
Example (in English)
Let’s prepare a speech about asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. The UK government is proposing that anyone entering the UK illegally via this route should be barred from receiving asylum.
DON’T START YET! Read through the next couple of paragraphs.
[If you’re reading this before 8th April 2023 and you have plenty of time to get more background, you can listen to quite a lengthy interview with the Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Radio 4’s Today programme, followed by some analysis by the political editor. The interview begins at 2:10:00.]
Alternatively, here’s a clip from Al-Jazeera which we’ll use for this exercise, looking at the issue from several different angles (the UK government position, the charities’ position, the asylum seeker position).
Now set a timer.
As you listen to the Al-Jazeera clip, note down the arguments on either side.
Add any of your own thoughts or background knowledge.
If your English is a B language, and you’re preparing your speech in English (see my previous posts for the many benefits of doing this to improve your retour), now is the time to list a few useful terms or phrases to include in your speech (just one example: ‘a totemic issue’).
Now think about your conclusion. Here are a few starting points; you can pick the one that speaks to you the most, or something else:
Do you think the proposal is shocking? Sensible?
Can you draw parallels with the approach taken in another country?
Do you want to say something about the potential consequences?
Do you think the proposal is unlawful and in violation of international law?
This is your chance to send out an unequivocal message to wrap up your speech, and to give your personal opinion.
Finally, now that you know the ‘destination’ of your speech, think about the starting point, which will form your introduction. Here are some possibilities:
you could simply mention hearing this interview on the radio or seeing images on tV, and finding it fascinating/shocking/revealing/depressing
you could do a quick bit of extra research to start your speech with a figure, for example the number of people making this dangerous crossing in 2022 compared to previous years
you could mention refugee crises elsewhere, to put this one into context (Ukraine, Syria)
you could use a different context, and talk about people trying to reach Lampedusa and drowning
you could begin with a reference to human rights, e.g. the right to safety and security, and international law on asylum
you could start with a personal anecdote, for instance if your parents or grandparents were refugees or immigrants
I’m sure you can think of many more.
OK, you’ve got your intro, conclusion, and the middle bit. 🙂
Now write out your speech outline in a more organised form, whether that be a mind map or a bullet point outline. As I said in my last post, some people write the whole thing out in longhand, but I think the result is generally much better if your speech is based on bullet points, which you (semi-)improvise around.
That’s it! Stop the timer. How long did it take you?
If you have time and you want to practise your speech (for example, if it’s in a B language), rehearse it now. Why not record it and listen back to your performance?
Here are my outline and my speech. Normally, I would just write keywords in bullet point form, but I fear that would be totally illegible, so I’ve written something a little longer to make sure you can follow my reasoning.
Intro: In 2022, 46,000 people attempted the dangerous Channel crossing in a small boat. Hundreds of people have drowned. This is an illegal route into the UK; the question is, is this a criminal issue that the government needs to crack down on, or a humanitarian crisis that needs solving?
Government point of view: this is a right wing government (i.e. generally anti-immigration), and the issue has become totemic. It’s costly (hotels cost £6 million per day); there is an illegal trade in people-smuggling that must be stopped. Drawing inspiration from Australia, the latest proposal is that if people enter the UK via an illegal route, they will NEVER be able to receive asylum, and will be detained and removed (to Rwanda). This is a necessary and proportional deterrent, and if people’s route into a country is blocked, the numbers attempted entry fall (Australian example).
Local charities: asylum seekers are treated like criminals. They are fleeing conflict and persecution. There should be a humanitarian route into the UK, e.g. with a visa scheme like the one in place for Ukrainians.
For the asylum seekers in Calais, the situation is dire. French police break up the camps every two days, there are no welcome centres to host them, and no legal way to enter the UK. They feel like they have no other choice. But this new legislation won’t stop them trying to cross the Channel.
Conclusion: intractable problem. In an astonishing piece of spin, the government is trying to present a crackdown as a humanitarian act, by suggesting that this is humanitarian deterrence (and if anyone manages to cross, they will be sent to a safe place, i.e. deported to Rwanda!). Will they succeed in presenting the issue in this way? Or in stopping the boats and deporting asylum seekers (no-one has gone to Rwanda so far; the proposal is mired in legal controversy). The problem for the government is their very clear slogan: “stop the boats”. There will be no fudge, as it will be very easy to judge whether this has been achieved or not.
This is a speech lasting nearly six minutes; it contains several points of vie, one or two figures, some important background knowledge (e.g. the names of the Home Secretary, the whole situation of asylum seekers in Calais), and a bit of logic in the conclusion.
In sum, I would class this as an exam-style speech, which took me less than 30 minutes to research, outline, and record.
In my next blog post, I’ll be talking about other shortcuts to help you prepare speeches quickly and easily.
I ran a webinar recently about improving your retour (i.e. interpreting into a B language – a language other than your mother tongue), and I asked participants to send me any questions in advance, so I could tailor the content to their needs.
This is a useful exercise, as it often provides inspiration or discussion points for the webinar, but it can also be a double edged sword, because it’s not unusual to receive questions that you really don’t want to address, for whatever reason – they’re too controversial, they would take up too much time, they’re too specific, they don’t match your knowledge, expertise, or niche, and the list goes on.
On this occasion, one of the participants said this:
I’ve been on retour courses before, and the trainer nearly always suggests preparing speeches in your B language as a good exercise for improving your retour. Who has time for that?!
I confess this stung a little, as I do indeed often suggest speech preparation as a great exercise, and I was going to do so on this occasion as well! So I had to give extra thought to alternative exercises I could suggest; but my first instinct was to defend speech prep, and above all, to stress the fact that it doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and it can be fun and creative as well as beneficial! You can prepare a consecutive speech from start to finish in less than 20 minutes.
In this post, I’d like to explain why I think speech prep is such a great exercise for retourists, and give you some time-saving tips to make it less of a chore (if that’s how you think of it), whether you’re preparing a speech in your mother tongue or in your B language.
How speech prep can boost your retour
The bottom line for a good retour, as I see it, is this: if you can’t speak spontaneously on a given subject in your B language, using appropriate terminology and correct grammar, how can you hope to interpret someone else’s thoughts convincingly?
Doing a decent job of interpreting is a corollary of speaking well on a given subject; hence the importance of language enhancement work when you’re trying to develop your retour, as opposed to focusing exclusively on interpreting practice.
[On a side note: this principle, which appears self-evident to me, is generally unpopular with interpreting students, who tend to feel that anything other than practising interpreting from A>B is a waste of time.]
Speech preparation is therefore an excellent way of expanding the range of subjects on which you’re able to speak with authority.
I think it’s probably fair to say that the weaker your retour is, the more beneficial speech prep will be. If you already have a very strong retour or near-native competence in your B language, you can pick up important vocab in other ways.
Benefits of speech prep
Here’s a breakdown of some of the benefits of preparing speeches in your B language:
it improves your general and subject knowledge because of the research you have to do.
it’s an opportunity to practise and improve your public speaking skills (eye contact, pace, intonation).
it’s a great way to ‘activate’ vocabulary, i.e. make it part of your active vocabulary, rather than vocabulary you understand passively but never use.
if you prepare your speech in the form of interpreters’ notes, rather than bullet points, it’s a good way to improve your ability to decipher your own notes, i.e. it can help improve your consecutive skills.
similarly, if you’re working on consecutive, it’s a great way to introduce or consolidate symbols.
it’s a good way to prepare for an assignment on a specific topic.
learning to prepare well-structured speeches is a good way of improving your analytical skills and recognising structure in other people’s speeches.
By the way, all of these points are true of preparing speech in your A language as well, although in this case there will be less emphasis on vocabulary acquisition or consolidation.
So far, I’ve covered benefits that are related to your language or interpreting skills, but there are others:
speech prep can be important if you’re a member of a practice group, or you work with a practice partner. You can give speeches to each other!
if you’re an interpreter trainer, there’s a good chance you will give speeches to your students at some point, either because you can’t find suitable source material, or because you want to be in control of the type of challenge or level of difficulty of the speech.
Preparing speeches is an excellent way of ‘giving back’ to the interpreting community, by contributing to practice groups or repositories such as Speechpool.
A method for rapid speech prep
There are many ways to prepare speeches. I can’t possibly cover all of them, nor produce a framework that suits everyone.
Here’s an important caveat, for starters: I’m giving your advice for preparing the type of speech that you would have to interpret at an EU accreditation or retour test, or at a final exam in interpreting school. You would need to follow a different method if you were preparing practice material for certain types of public service interpreting, say.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at a simple method for preparing practice speeches.
Often, the hardest thing is finding a good topic! Once something catches your interest (on a news programme or podcast, for instance), you’re off and running.
if you’re preparing a speech for as a ‘swap’ for a practice partner, or for an interpreting practice group, why not choose a topic that will help you improve your subject knowledge (e.g. if you’re weak on finance, pick a financial topic)?
if you’re preparing a speech in your B language, think about areas where your vocabulary is lacking.
Another option would be to prepare a speech in your B language to prepare for an assignment where you already know the topic.
If you regularly prepare speeches, it’s a good idea to keep a note of topics that inspire you. You could have a document on your computer (or use a Notes app) to keep track of links to interesting blog posts or newspaper articles. (Back in the day, interpreter trainers sometimes kept a file with newspaper clippings to turn to when they needed inspiration.)
Once you’ve found a topic or looked for one by browsing the news headlines, you can get to work designing your speech. I’ll give you a 4-step process for doing this,
Step 1: Researching your speech
The amount of research you do will depend on the purpose of your speech, and your existing background knowledge.
You may not need to do much (or indeed, any!) research if:
the speech is for interpreting students who are beginners. If they are just starting to pick up consecutive without notes, in particular, you may be able to give a speech based on your existing knowledge of a topic, or your opinions, since you won’t want to include many names, dates, or figures.
the speech is rather philosophical or based on your opinions or reactions to a film or book. You already have all the knowledge you need to outline this speech!
You will want to do more research if:
the speech is designed as a simultaneous (for an EU accreditation test, this would be 10-12 minutes long, instead of 5-6 minutes for a consecutive). That amount of material usually requires an outside source of information!
you’re preparing a speech in a B language, and you want to make sure you’re using appropriate vocabulary.
you’re preparing a speech on a technical subject or one that is unfamiliar to you.
In my next blog post, I’ll give you three shortcuts for researching a topic quickly and efficiently.
An exam-style speech typically contains a range of challenges, e.g. contrasting opinions (to check the interpreter is conveying them accurately), some facts and figures, a personal comment or opinion, and perhaps a reference to current affairs, to check the interpreter’s background knowledge.
So when you’re doing your research, you might want to look for:
a few facts and figures about your topic – you’ll only need a few for a consecutive, more for a simultaneous
a ‘hook’ from the newspapers, i.e. some event in the news that make this topic relevant and interesting
how different people or organisations feel about this topic
your own opinion!
You can find relevant information in all sorts of places: the news, an article you’ve read in a magazine, a podcast episode, a blog post, a conversation with a friend or colleague. Or you could build a speech based on your reflections about a film you’ve just seen, for example, or a book you’ve read.
When you’ve done the research, jot down your ideas, arguments, figures, dates, etc. on a piece of paper. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if the material isn’t organised.
Step 2: Structuring your speech
Speakers organise their material in all sorts of ways. I’ll stick to three simple speeches structures:
linear. Typically, this would be a chronology, or a story that starts at point A and finishes at point B.
pros and cons. You can either list all the pros, then all the cons; or you could give one ‘pro’, then a matching ‘con’, and so on. This ‘opposites’ structure is particularly suited to consecutive without notes, because it’s very easy to remember.
an logical argument that leads the audience from a premise or hypothesis to a conclusion, using logical connectors like ‘and, ‘but’, ‘so’.
Realistically, most speeches contain a mixture of several structures: perhaps a more narrative introduction (linear), then the argument.
Think about your research: does your material lend itself to a pros and cons structure? Or is it a story (linear structure)? Do you want to make an argument that will persuade the audience or win them over to your opinion, in which case you’ll need to be very clear about cause and effect or other logical connections between your ideas, and have a strong conclusion?
Step 3: Create a detailed outline of your speech
People do this in different ways. Some people like to produce a spider diagram or mind map; others visualise their speerch as a tree with a trunk and branches; and still others write a bullet point outline. This is the most common way of organising material, I think, although something like a mind map can give a speaker more freedom when giving a simultaneous speech.
Now’s the time to organise your facts, figures, explanations, details, etc. into a legible outline. Make sure your bullet points are connected clearly with links.
Once you’ve organised your material, you can write a conclusion. This often follows on logically from the body of your speech.
Personally, I often add the introduction at the end of this process, because by that stage, I know where I’m going and what I want to say, and it’s easier to find a good ‘entry point’ into the speech. The introduction is a good place to say something personal to ease the audience into the speech quite gently, and to engage them and make your speech more relatable. Or you can use the introduction to mention an event in the news which makes your speech topic relevant.
Step 4: Rehearse your speech
How much you rehearse your speech will depend on its purpose.
If you’re an interpreter trainer giving a speech for an interpreting exam, you’ll obviously want to go through it several times to make sure the timing is right.
Be careful not to overrehearse: this removes all the spontaneity from a speech and makes it very dense, and often rather too fast.
And on that subject: I do know some colleagues who write out their entire speech in longhand, or type it out, rather than having a bullet point outline. While I understand that this makes them more confident, particularly when they’re giving an exam speech, personally I much prefer to speak (semi-)spontaneously from an outline. This produces something more conversational and closer to normal speech, rather than read-out material; it’s usually much more engaging, and means the speaker makes more eye contact with the audience.
Speech prep in a B language
If you’ve read this far, you’ll have realised that almost everything I’ve said applies to preparing speeches in your mother tongue or in a B language.
So what’s different or special about preparing speeches in your B language?
The process is exactly the same, but the emphasis is different.
If you’re preparing a speech in your B language, your primary aim is likely to be vocabulary acquisition or consolidation.
To this end, when you’re researching the topic (reading a couple of articles, or listening to a podcast), make sure you note down a few key words, phrases, or idioms that strike you as useful in other contexts.
Incorporate them into your speech. The more you say them out loud and hear yourself saying them, the more likely they are to become part of your active vocabulary.
I find when I’m preparing a speech in my B language that
I research it more (i.e. I read several articles, or listen to more material, rather than just working with the ideas that are already in my head).
I write down whole chunks, or sometimes whole sentences, to reuse in my speech.
I rehearse it more.
The risk, in your B language, is that you will end up reading out a speech that you’ve basically rehashed from a newspaper article, rather than ‘digesting’ the material and reformulating it.
Have I made it sound long and complicated? Probably! 🤣
In fact, it’s probably taken you longer to read this blog post than it would be outline a consecutive speech.
I’ll leave my examples and shortcuts to a second blog post, so that my word count doesn’t explode!
I’m sure you’ve been told at some point in your career as an interpreter (or when you were a student) that you should be more concise.
Working into English, being more concise than the original is often desirable because wordy, flowery, or convoluted structures sound very strange when converted into English more or less verbatim. For example, abstract French or verbose Italian both sound very unnatural if you don’t rework the original and turn it into something more English-sounding.
So being concise can be helpful for your audience and relay takers: it sounds more natural in English, it helps prevent linguistic interference, and it’s cognitively easier to cope with. Instead of masses of words that your listeners have to retain in their working memory, they are spoon fed something shorter, clearer, and more structured, which relieves the load on their cognitive processes.
Not only is a concise version easier for the audience and relay takers, it can help the interpreter do a better job.
Why? Because if you’re uttering fewer words, you have more time to listen, and therefore more time to analyse the message. In turn, this gives you more opportunity to take decisions about what and how to edit the material. Better analysis = more faithful rendition of the message, as well as a clearer output.
Another advantage of freeing up some of your processing capacity by speaking less is that you have a little more time to reformulate, so your output (linguistically) may benefit.
A final advantage is that if you’re more concise, you’re less likely to be sitting right on your speaker’s shoulder, following very closely – in décalage* terms – because you’re trying to say everything. You’re likely to find that your décalage varies a bit more if you’re deliberately being concise, giving you more breathing space in places, and helping to avoid the kamikaze technique of interpreting, where your EVS* is so short that you hit a brick wall if you misunderstand something in the original or encounter an unknown word (i.e. you may be left with no other option than to leave a sentence unfinished, which is less than ideal!).
I’ve already said a lot about being concise, but what does it mean? Is it simply a matter of using fewer words?
The Oxford Language Dictionary defines concise thusly:
“giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive”
This is interesting because it suggests that a) being concise isn’t just about editing out information (i.e. dropping it), but about conveying the same the information using fewer words, and b) clarity and concision go hand in hand (more on that in a separate blog post, perhaps).
Remember this scene from the film Amadeus? Mozart wrote too many notes (according to the Emperor); sometimes interpreters are tempted to use too many words in simultaneous.
How can you prune the dead wood?
Well, there are some fairly uncontroversial approaches to reducing your word count [please bear in mind that this is written from the perspective of a conference interpreter, not a court interpreter, for example]:
leave out hesitations (‘um’, ‘er’)
eliminate fillers (e.g. if the speaker says ‘you know’, ‘I mean’, ‘basically’, etc.)
cut out repetition or redundancy
choose your words wisely; for instance, avoid unnecessarily long versions of words (like utilise instead of use, or transportation instead of transport)
avoid redundant pairs (a terrible tragedy)
use the active voice where possible
don’t ‘hedge’ if the speaker isn’t doing so (e.g. with phrases like ‘it seems that’, ‘if you like’, ‘it may be the case that’. This is something that interpreters often do when they are afraid to commit, especially if the speaker has said something that sounds controversial or implausible. If you make your output more concise, you’ll have more time to listen and analyse – and be clearer about the speaker’s message! 🙂
One caveat: it’s important to distinguish between source language features that are typical of a particular language (e.g. long-winded syntax in Italian), as opposed to features that are deliberate on the speaker’s part, because he or she is aiming for a particular effect. If the verbosity is a question of style or tone, you will have to decide whether it’s important to retain those features and potentially sacrifice some other information, or vice versa.
Now, you may think I’ve reached the end of this blog post. After all, I’ve gone over a list of ways to reduce your word count.
However, in my opinion, it’s not that simple.
If you have a few spare minutes, I invite you to listen to these two clips, in which I interpret a French speech about hydrogen from the SCIC Speech Repository in simultaneous. [Please note I did zero preparation for this, so I can’t claim to have been firing on all cylinders when it came to technical vocabulary.]
If you have French in your combination, please have a go at interpreting the first 2 or 3 minutes yourself, before listening to my version.
Can you hear the difference between these two versions? Does one of them sound clearer and more concise to you? Does one of them sound more rushed, and less natural in English?
In one of these clips, I tried to stick as closely to the speaker as possible, and to say everything, more or less in the same way that she had.
The other version is closer to my natural style. I devoted more effort to analysis and editing.
You may of course disagree with my opinion, but for me, the more concise version sounds calmer, more in control, and clearer.
I typed out a transcript of these two versions, and discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that the ‘short’ version was only 62 words shorter than the ‘long’ version, which didn’t seem like a lot over a period of 2 1/2 minutes.
Perception is important
I’m going to use this example to argue that being concise isn’t just a matter of using fewer words.
It’s also a matter of the ‘digestibility’ of your output for the audience and relay takers, i.e. it’s about their perception of whether you are being concise. 😉
Here are some of the tricks I used in the audio clip to sound more concise:
Use ‘salami technique’, also known as ‘chunking’, to chop the source material into shorter pieces.
If the target language allows, use SVO word order (subject-verb-object).
Start the sentence with the subject, rather than with long adverbial phrases, so the audience immediately knows what you’re talking about.
Keep the subject close to the verb, thus avoiding conjugation errors, and reducing the load on everyone’s working memory (this includes yours!).
Make sure the links between ideas are clear, using logical connectors such as and, but, so, if.
Use active voice where possible.
Use intonation as a fantastic shortcut. Intonation is great for conveying meaning. For example, you can use your voice to show whether something is an important point, a digression, a question, a humorous interjection, etc. (show rather than telling!).
A similar caveat to the one I made earlier: if the speaker is using long and complicated sentences, passive voice, etc., you need to give some thought to why they are doing this. Is it just their normal way of speaking? Or are they doing this to try to sound intelligent or knowledgeable, or to sound more scientific and therefore more credible? Remember that as an interpreter, part of your job is to have the same effect on the audience as the speaker was aiming for. If the speaker is using long-winded platitudes for a reason, you’ll need to decide whether to do the same, or whether you can achieve the same effect in the target language while still remaining concise.
Being concise isn’t always desirable, I suppose. Alongside some of the reasons I’ve mentioned above (style, tone, the effect the speaker is aiming for), there’s also the fact that your target language may be one that values flowery and lengthy sentences as a sign of intelligence and erudition.
In English, though, I would argue that being concise and using salami technique won’t, as some interpreters fear, make them sound childish. The trick is to use simple syntax, but appropriate vocabulary – which may mean sophisticated, high register, or technical vocabulary.
I hope to have persuaded you in this blog post that being concise isn’t as simple as using fewer words.
Instead, it’s a lot to do with making shorter chunks, joining them up withclear links, inserting pauses in the right place, and shaping the chunks with intonation so the meaning is clear.
*décalage = Ear/Voice Span = the time lag between the original speaker’s words and the interpreters’ rendition.
For anyone who’s interested, here are the transcripts of my two attempts at the hydrogen speech.
Version 1 (366 words):
Ladies and Gentlemen, now that the end of the pandemic is almost here, we can go back to taking an interest in those subjects that were fascinating for us before the beginning of the pandemic, namely climate change and the environment, and that was the challenge that we needed to take up before the beginning of this crisis, and it is therefore essential that we return to taking an interest in this subject. There is some good news connected to our interest in the environment, and I know we’re all keen on hearing good news. For 2020, the share of renewables in energy production in Europe has now exceeded fossil fuels, and that is the case for the second year running, because it was already that way in 2019. Now solar power is cheaper than anywhere else in the world, and its production has increased by 20 % in Europe. And finally, the price of carbon has increased exponentially. So much for the good news, but I know that you’re not naïve, and I know that you are aware that we are a long way from having achieved any significant change or reached our environmental objectives. Today, I’m going to talk about an element which is a sign of hope for some, an element that will allow us to reach our objectives, and that is hydrogen. Now before going into any more interesting details, let me just recap on a bit of chemistry. Hydrogen is a basic chemical element, H, which is present in the universe and on Earth. On Earth, it is present principally in the form of water. Hydrogen is associated to the molecule O, oxygen, and together they form H2O, water. In order to produce hydrogen, you need to break the bond between hydrogen and oxygen. In order to do that, we use a process called electrolysis, where we use an electrical current in order to break the bond between the two molecules and obtain hydrogen. Now, you might ask me why we would want to produce hydrogen, and the answer is because it has a number of applications. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel, it can also be stored and transported.
Version 2 (302 words):
Ladies and Gentlemen, the end of the pandemic is in sight, soo we can go back to those topics that gripped us before coronavirus: climate change and the environment. Those were the real challenges that we were facing before the crisis, and it’s crucial that we return to taking an interest in these subjects. There is some good news when it comes to the environment, and I know that at the moment we’re all keen to hear good news. In 2020, the share of renewable energies in electricity production in Europe was greater than the share of fossil fuels, for the second year running. Solar power is cheaper in Europe than anywhere else in the world, and its production increased by 20% in Europe. And the price of carbon has increased exponentially. That’s the good news. But you’re not naïve, and I’m sure you’re very aware that we are a long way from reaching our environmental goals and making any significant changes. Today, I’m talking about an element which could help us to reach these objectives. It could be very promising. And that is hydrogen. Before I go into details, let me recap some chemistry. Hydrogen is a basic chemical element, represented by the letter H. It’s present in the universe and on Earth. On Earth, it generally takes the form of water. It is associated with the molecule O, oxygen, and that makes water, H2O. In order to produce hydrogen, you have to break the chemical bond between the two molecules. You do that through electrolysis, which is where you use an electrical current to separarate the two molecules, and obtain hydrogen. Now you might say: why produce hydrogen? Because it has a number of applications. You can use hydrogen as a fuel. You can store it, you can transport it.
Last Friday, I experimented with something new. I set up an online co-working session on Zoom, emailed my subscribers to let them know about it, and waited to see who would turn up and what they would get out of it.
It was clear from some of the questions at the start of the session that some participants were expecting a class or guided session (‘How will you organise us, by language combination, or by technique?’, or ‘Could you put me in a breakout room?’ – well, yes, but who with, and what for?).
Perhaps the co-working concept isn’t that familiar to interpreters, so I thought it would be worth exploring briefly in this post. Above all, I’d like to address another question which a colleague asked me (and, I confess, I asked myself!): what’s the point?
What is co-working?
[For the sake of avoiding ambiguity, I should perhaps explain that I’m not talking about ‘coworking’ in the sense of ‘team interpreting’, where two or more interpreters provide communication to and from the participants in a meeting.]
Co-working spaces are places where freelancers can get their work done, without feeling isolated because they’re working alone at home and without breaking the bank by renting an office full-time.
There are co-working spaces to rent by the hour or day, or you can get together with fellow professionals in a location of your choice, and work alongside each other.
Here are some of the benefits to co-working:
feeling less isolated. If you work from home, you can end up feeling as if you never talk to another human being.
better focus & fewer distractions. If you’re sitting next to someone who’s engrossed in their work, it’s harder to justify spending ages on Facebook.
synergies. Sometimes another freelancer can offer you a helping hand (for example, with a technical problem that’s causing you difficulty, or a recommendation).
extra services. Some co-working spaces offer facilities such as a cafe, a relaxation area, conference rooms, and even happy hour, ‘lunch & learn’ events, and more.
So far, so reasonable. I think it’s relatively easy to understand the advantages of a physical co-working space for freelancers: cheaper than a full time rented office, possibly more conducive to focused work than the home environment (no chores, no noise, no other distractions), more convivial, etc.
However, there are two important questions here:
isn’t this much more relevant for, say, translators, who have written projects to complete, rather than interpreters? After all, when you’re busy with an assignment and interpreting at a meeting (whether in person or remotely), that obviously doesn’t fit the co-working model at all.
how does online co-working compare to co-working in a physical space?
Online co-working attempts to replicate the ethos of a physical co-working space.
There are many ways to organise an online co-working session: via Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc.
Clearly it isn’t always possible to provide the same services and facilities as in a physical workspace, but the motivation, positive energy, and conviviality are all there. Synergies and networking are also possible, depending on how the co-working is organised.
What happens during an online co-working session
Well, that depends on the organiser and the participants.
There are several co-working platforms and apps for freelancers to choose from, and they all have their own way of doing things.
For example, https://grooveapp.io lets you join a 1 hour session, with a ‘check-in’ at the start to state what you want to work on, and a brief wrap-up at the end. On the other hand, it’s a phone app, which means you might easily be distracted by social media…
https://www.flow.club is another option that allows you to join a session with up to 8 participants. These sessions are hosted, and the host chooses a playlist of music, which you may find motivational or…distracting.
For the co-working session I ran on Friday, I chose a format with a brief ‘check-in’ in the chat box for participants to tell each other what they wanted to work on. Then I set a 50 minute timer, and everyone got on with their own work. Two people chose to go to a breakout room together. At the end, we had a quick chat and shared progress and impressions.
Does it work for interpreters?
The most interesting part of the exercise for me was finding out what each participant was working on.
One person wrote the ‘about’ section for their website, and completed the ‘simultaneous interpreting’ section.
Another participant listened back to a recording of their performance during a recent interpreting assignment – something they dislike doing, and had been putting off.
Some people were preparing meeting documents. One did some shadowing to improve French pronunciation.
I designed an exercise for members of my English retour membership site.
In short: when you’re an interpreter, there are plenty of tasks to be getting on with, other than interpreting itself: meeting prep, working on one of your languages, invoices, posting on social media, translation or other work, preparing classes if you also teach, etc. etc. Or perhaps even some of your ‘home’ admin: making appointments, filing your tax return. The list is endless!
To answer my original question, ‘does it work for interpreters?’, I would say yes, definitely. Although co-working may seem more suited to professionals like translators, copy writers, graphic designers, etc., there are plenty of tasks an interpreter can do during a co-working session.
In fact, these are often the tasks that get pushed to the bottom of the pile after finding clients, preparing for meetings, and actually interpreting. Yet some of them are critical to running your business efficiently (e.g. invoicing), and others are important for keeping your skills up to date (e.g. maintaining your languages, going to CPD events, analysing your interpreting performance). So it’s useful to have an extra motivational boost!
But is it for everyone?
Now that’s a whole other question.
Some people wouldn’t dream of going to an exercise class or the gym without a gym buddy. They’re just not motivated to go alone, and they don’t find it enjoyable.
For these people, a co-working session may be just the ticket. Some of the participants last Friday, for example, said they found it motivating seeing the faces of their colleagues hard at work (camera on). The accountability of the co-working session helped them get much more done, and gave them a sense of satisfaction.
For others, this is a completely pointless exercise. If you’re self-motivated and not prone to distraction or procrastination, you could get just as much (or perhaps more) done by yourself!
Funnily enough, I would have classed myself in this latter category, because I prefer ploughing my own furrow. However, on Friday, when I got halfway through my task and it was becoming rather boring and difficult, instead of stopping and flicking over to emails or LinkedIn, I looked around at the others working so assiduously on their projects, and decided if they could do it, so could I. So I knuckled down and finished my task, which was very satisfying.
Perhaps co-working works for me, too!
What are the options for online co-working?
Set up your own session. All you need is a like-minded group of people and a communication channel.
Co-working isn’t for everyone: it may not suit your personality.
If you do decide to join a co-working session or platform, think about how it matches your needs and the way you do things.
One of the great things about the session I set up on Friday is that we’re free, as a group, to make or change the ‘rules’. We decided that we’d check at the beginning of each session, and if anyone wanted to do some interpreting practice with a partner, I would open a breakout room for them. I’m also open to other ideas, for example if participants want to spend some of their time networking.
These free sessions are for you, and you can help shape them!
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. Have you tried online co-working? Did you find it useful, or was it not your cup of tea?
English: an essential part of many interpreters’ language combinations.
And English is all around us, so it should be easy to maintain….right?
Well…maybe you’re so used to hearing Globish at work that you struggle when Irish, British, American, Indian, or Kenyan speakers take the floor.
Or maybe the multitude of different accents and variants of English you hear is stressful when you’re interpreting.
Or perhaps you can access plenty of suitable practice material, but you’re short of time and you’d like a shortcut.
A few months ago, I launched a new series of modules focusing on English, along with my colleagues Catriona Howard and Kirsten Coope.
We’ve had some great feedback about the materials (called E4T: English for Interpreters), which are intended to give you a helping hand with improving your English C (or B!); but we’ve also had questions about how to make the most of the materials, and what the content of the modules actually consists of.
I thought it might be nice to give you an E4T taster, with a peek behind the scenes of several modules, along with some tips on how you can make the most of the content.
What’s in each module?
Each module typically contains:
3 tailor-made practice speeches, prepared by yours truly, Catriona, and Kirsten, on the topic of the month. Each video is captioned and comes with a full transcript. You’ll also find a short introduction and some terminology that you can choose to research before tackling the speech, or to ignore if you’d rather tackle it without preparation.
3 carefully selected ‘real life’ speeches representing a variety of accents and viewpoints. These could be panel debates, TED talks, interviews, lectures, etc. Again, we give a brief introduction, some terminology, and often some guidance on how to tackle the speech – or a suggested focus.
a reading exercise (often, this is a reading comprehension), based on a relevant article or paper.
a listening exercise; this could be based on one of the practice speeches, or a podcast or lecture. The exercise might be a listening comprehension or some other exercise to practise analysis, for instance.
a note-taking exercise to practise note-taking technique or symbols.
a ‘resources’ section with more suggestions for audio or video practice material and further background reading.
an Excel glossary template containing key terminology, vocabulary that comes up in the speeches, and any relevant idioms.
We’ve tried hard to reflect a variety of viewpoints and accents in each module, and to cover the key terminology that you need to know in order to interpret successfully.
Oh, a very important point: if you decide to purchase one of the modules, you will have indefinite, on demand access.
This is not the kind of material that you can only access for 6 months or a year; you can dip in an out of the modules whenever you like – your access is permanent (as long as my website continues to exist!).
Now, what can you do with all of this? The answer will partly depend on whether your English is a C or a B language.
If your English is a C
Here are some ideas:
fill in the glossary templates with your A language equivalents and learn the vocabulary.
Use the caption function to check your understanding of a tricky speech.
If you struggled with sections of a speech, read the transcript afterwards.
Use all the consecutive speeches for note-taking practice.
Improve your background knowledge by going through the additional resources.
Prepare for an exam by going through all the materials, in the order they are given (roughly in order of difficulty).
Prepare for a mock conference, volunteer gig or assignment by practising with the simultaneous speeches.
“Read through the speech transcript provided and find different ways of expressing the words/ phrases listed below in the text. If you would like to take it a step further, or are working on an English B, why not come up with a third (or fourth!) option. I have provided some suggestions in the answer table below. As it is quite a long list, I have split the exercise in two. The first section takes you up to: “Through an ambitious new biodiversity framework, under which commitments are made and actions taken by the whole of government, economy and society.”.
You may also like to spend some time producing a version of the speech in your mother tongue. Approach the task as if it were an interpretation (i.e. don’t produce a translation) but take the time to come up with idiomatic solutions in your mother tongue that really reflect the nuance of the original.
There is plenty of useful climate-related vocab in the text too, especially in the second half. Oh and finally, in case you spot it, the correct word is “disproportionately” not “disproportionally”!”
The source material for this exercise is a podcast called ‘Science vs’. The episode I’ve chosen is called ‘Vaccines – are they safe?’, and I’ve chosen it for two reasons: the presenter has an Australian accent, and her presenting style is quite informal (click on the image to access the podcast).
Vocabulary and comprehension exercise
Listen to the podcast between -23.35 and -8.21. This section begins with ‘There’s another idea about how vaccines could be causing autism: Mercury. Mercury… is sometimesused as a preservative in vaccines… in a form called thimerosal.’
Listen out for unknown or interesting words or phrases.
Read the following list. For each word or phrase, consider a) if you could give a definition, b) how you would render this in your A language, c) whether you know any synonyms in English. Do they have the same register or connotations?
The presenter’s style in this podcast is very conversational. In places, she uses informal register.
Try using the podcast as a reformulation exercise. Start in the same place, and go all the way to the end of the podcast. See if you can raise the register so it is more formal.
When you’ve finished, think about what phrases you changed.
You may have changed scary, a big deal, kooky, freaking out, whack-a-mole game, and ‘do they stack up?’. You may also have changed ‘a bunch of’ and ‘WAY more than’.
In British English, ‘kids’ is fairly informal as well, although it is much more common in American English. As a British English speaker, if I wanted to be more neutral or formal, I would have changed ‘kids’ into ‘children’.
Where to find E4T
Here are the modules we’ve published so far. Just click on the links to find out more or to purchase.
We publish a new module on the 1st of each month. Our next module, on taxation, is due for publication on 1st October.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief E4T taster. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions, or if you’d like to suggest a topic for a forthcoming module!
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