E4T taster: time-saving materials to polish your English

E4T taster

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.

Here’s a taster of a reading exercise, from the circular economy module.

Sample reading exercise – circular economy

“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 speech transcript is here.

EXPRESSION USED IN TEXTYOUR SUGGESTIONS (in your mother tongue and/or in English)
Section 1
Moments which test us
Most people can’t help thinking of
shrunk
is just one manifestation of
deteriorating state
completely reconfigure
main cause of
our only choice is to
are being implemented
speeding towards
the crux of the matter is
predominantly
ambitious targers
crucial for
production
domestic
throw away
limited resources
modify our behaviour
Section 2
further developing
extract
strained
results effects
are ongoing
amounted to
is developing
a significant barrier
encourage
gradually eliminating
transferring
open up
be successful in the longer term
phase out their activities
incorporating

EXPRESSION USED IN TEXTYOUR SUGGESTIONS (in your mother tongue and/or in English)
Section 1
Moments which test ustrying timesdifficult/tough periods
Most people can’t help thinking ofminds turn tomost people’s first thought is
shrunkcontractedgot smaller
is just one manifestation ofis but one symptom ofis only one sign of
deteriorating stateailing healthworsening condition
completely reconfigureradically altercompletely transform/drastically reshape/improve significantly
main cause ofcore driver
No good here here but I couldn’t help stick in “engine of change” as an expression/ collocation.)
our only choice is towe have no option but towe must
are being implemented are coming online (I particularly dislike this expression, though it’s very common!)are coming into force
speeding towardshurtling towardsheading at full speed/advancing or moving rapidly
the crux of the matter isthe bottom line isultimately/the upshot is
predominantlyprimarilymainly/fundamentally
ambitious targerslofty ambitionsambitious/bold (?) goals
crucial forcritical toessential for/required by
productionoutputyield (?)
domesticintrastateinternal
throw awaydiscardthrow out/reject?
limited resourcesfinite capacitylimited means
modify our behaviourchange our waysadapt our behaviour/operate or do things differently
Section 2
further developingscaling upincreasing/stepping up/intensifying/expanding
extractgougescoop out/violently remove
strainedstressedput pressure on
resulting effectsattendant impactsresultant/accompanying effects
are ongoingare underwaythere are currently efforts
amounted tostood ataccounted for
is developingis unfoldingis appearing
a significant barriermajor impedimentsubstantial obstacle
encouragedrivepush
gradually eliminatingphasing outprogressively removing
transferringshiftingmoving
open upunlockprovide
be successful in the longer termstickbe permanent/long-lasting
phase out their activitieswind downreduce their activities/gradually shut up shop
incorporatingintegratingincluding

If your English is a B

Here are some ideas:

  • look out for the exercises that are specifically designed for English Bs in the module.
  • If your intonation and pronunciation need work, why not do a little bit of shadowing with one of the tailor-made speeches?
  • Use the reading exercises as an opportunity to pick up new idiomatic phrases in English.
  • Use the glossary as a shortcut to make sure you know the key terminology in a particular subject.
  • Use the tailor-made speeches as material for a reformulation exercise (EN>EN simultaneous). See how versatile your English B is by looking for alternatives and synonyms.
  • Take EN>EN notes and check that you have good symbols and abbreviations.

Here’s a taster of a simultaneous speech, from the module on taxation (available 1st October).

Sample tailor-made speech – tax module

If you’re a trainer

You are welcome to use E4T materials in the classroom as a teaching aid.

Please credit us, and don’t share your login details as this compromises the security of the site.

If you’d like a whole cohort of students or trainers to be able to access the materials in their own time, please contact us for pricing.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • If you have a topic of the week at your institution, your students could listen to some of the material in the Resources section to prepare.
  • Pick one of the exercises (reading or listening) for your students to do before class as preparation
  • Use one of the tailor-made consecutive speeches in class when you’re teaching consecutive.
  • Give your students one of the exercises or speeches to do as homework.
  • Use the speech transcript to help you when listening to students work in simultaneous.

Here’s a sample listening exercise, from our module on vaccination.

Sample listening exercise – vaccination module

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

  1. 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 sometimes used as a preservative in vaccines… in a form called thimerosal.’
  2. Listen out for unknown or interesting words or phrases.
  3. 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?

  • kooky
  • to comb through
  • a raft of studies
  • freaking out
  • a debate that won’t die
  • a whack-a-mole game
  • cut and dry
  • their assessments lined up

You can find a transcript of the podcast here.

An exercise for English Bs

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.

Vaccination

Fake news

The gig economy

The circular economy

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!

CPD webinar

CPD blog post cover

For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, I’ve recorded a 30 minute webinar about CPD.

I talk through a step-by-step approach to defining and prioritising your CPD needs. I also discuss various CPD opportunities, including volunteering, internships, dummy booth, webinars, and the like.

All of this is, of course, informed by my background as a conference interpreter operating on the EU market.

The principles I outline hold true for all interpreters, but my specific suggestions won’t always be relevant to everyone (e.g. public service interpreters).

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?

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