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).

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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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The best way to develop your retour (and it’s not what you think)

develop your retour

‘What do you do to develop your retour?’

I sometimes ask my interpreting students this question. I’m curious to know what they do with their limited time outside of class. The calls on their time are so great (writing essays, researching the topic of the week, preparing speeches, practising interpreting into their A language, attending theory modules and other lectures, and having a life!) that I’m quite sure they want all their self-training to be productive.

In their shoes, I would want to wring every bit of juice from the exercises or activities I did to try to improve my retour. I certainly wouldn’t want to waste time on activities with a limited value.

Yet all too often, this is what they say in response to my question:

  • I listen to the radio in the background.
  • I watch the news on TV.
  • I read the Economist/the papers.
  • I’m flat-sharing with a native speaker, so I get some practice in.
  • I practise interpreting from A into B (but I don’t have anyone to listen to me).

Can you see what the problem is with these suggestions?

Practising interpreting from A into B is the end goal of a retourist. 

If your B language isn’t strong enough, you will produce unidiomatic English (or substitute whatever your B language is). If you don’t have a native speaker or someone with a strong English B to listen to you and make suggestions, you are unlikely to improve your performance next time (although there are ways to get around this – see my blog post for ideas).

In short, although there is definitely a place for practising your interpreting from A into B, it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. If you do nothing else, you will get very tired and you may limit your progress. Before you can interpret effectively into your B language, you must have sufficient mastery and flexibility in that language to produce it spontaneously and idiomatically when speaking on a variety of subjects.

Let’s turn to the other typical ‘homework’ activities mentioned by aspiring retourists: listening to the radio, reading widely, watching the news. All these activities are very passive (just think of the implications of ‘in the background’!). They may well improve your knowledge of current affairs and your comprehension of your B language, but you need to go a step further than that. To improve your retour, you need to activate your B language.

Develop your retour by activating your B language

Let’s take another look at those activities and see if we can tweak them so as to make them more active.

Listening to the radio/podcasts or watching TV

  • Try repeating key vocabulary out loud.
  • Take note of useful phrases (whole phrases, not just words, so you get the collocations right).
  • Prepare a short glossary based on the vocabulary used in the programme or podcast you have just heard.
  • After the programme, give a short summary out loud in your B language.
  • Jot down a few arguments (e.g. pros and cons) and prepare a short speech in your B language based on what you’ve heard.

Reading the Economist/the papers/classical literature

The good news about reading in this way is that it can improve your background knowledge and your understanding of cultural aspects of your B language. If you choose your reading matter carefully to address your weaknesses (for instance, if you know you tend to be too colloquial in your B language), you can also work on register while acquiring useful vocabulary. It’s always good to kill several birds with one stone!

  • Take note of useful phrases (whole phrases, not just words, so you get the collocations right).
  • Think carefully about register. What elements of the language make it more formal? Can you incorporate any of these phrases into your interpreting?

Chatting to housemates or friends

Speaking is certainly more active than reading or listening to the radio, and is a good opportunity to expand your vocabulary and speak your B language with greater fluency. It won’t, however, improve your retour significantly if a) the person you’re speaking to doesn’t correct you when you make mistakes, b) you are not aware of nuances of register when speaking to your friends, and you pick up bad habits or phrases that are inappropriate in the workplace, and c) you only ever talk about the same things.

Make sure you are alert to colloquialisms or vulgarity in everyday conversation, to avoid, for example, telling your tutor that you are ‘pissed off’ (as a student once said to me, not realising how rude it was, as her flatmates said it all the time). Be disciplined in everyday conversations; habits such as saying ‘I mean’, ‘you know’, or ‘like’ all the time are very hard to get rid of.

Consider opportunities to speak your B language in a different context, more relevant to your future career. You could join a debating society, for instance.

‘Pre-interpreting’ exercises to help develop your retour skills

I’m calling these pre-interpreting because they are not interpreting exercises per se, but activities you can do instead of, or before, practising interpreting a speech on a given topic. As I said earlier, production takes precedence over interpretation, and these are exercises that will force you to work on reformulation and expressing yourself naturally in your B

  • Preparing a speech on a subject of your choice. This is a great pre-interpreting exercise. Pick a topic, read a couple of articles, take note of a few phrases, and articulate your thoughts in a structured speech in your B language. Afterwards, you might like to try interpreting a speech from A into B on the same subject. You’ll be primed and ready to go!
  • Shadowing. To clarify: I don’t think shadowing in the literal sense of repeating everything you hear is necessarily useful, especially in an A language. However, if your B language is quite weak, shadowing a good speaker is an opportunity to get a feel for intonation patterns and to hear yourself say certain phrases out loud. If your B is stronger, you can use shadowing as a reformulation exercise (listen to the ideas, edit them, and reformulate them); this is a very advanced exercise, but excellent for working on versatility, concision and paraphrasing. Look out for a future blog post about shadowing.
  • Sight translation. Again, this is a challenging exercise, but a great opportunity to think about reformulation. Howe many ways can you think of to express the same idea? Sight translation is also good done in a group, because other members may come up with good ideas.

Develop your retour skills while having fun

It doesn’t all have to be hard work. There are plenty of opportunities for having fun with language and improving your retour skills almost without noticing

  • Don’t forget that basic grammar and vocabulary often need work. There are plenty of useful websites and apps for this. How about Memrise for learning vocab? And why not look for quizzes to help consolidate your understanding of aspects of grammar such as prepositions?
  • Play games. Articulate and Taboo are a lot of fun, and a great way to practise reformulation. A few glasses of wine will help things along! Or why not play your favourite video game, but in your B language?
  • Sneak your B language into your life in other ways. Change the settings on your browser or Facebook so they’re in your B language. If the Economist seems too heavy, read a cookery/cycling/photography magazine in your B language. Find a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks your B language (as well as the language of lurve).

Conclusion

It’s worth repeating: you can’t interpret well into your B language until you can speak your B language confidently and idiomatically in a variety of situations.

The way I see it, to develop a strong retour, you need to focus first on improving your active language skills in your B, then move on to interpreting. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t attempt interpreting for ten years, until your mastery of your B language is perfect (as if such a thing were possible!), but my feeling is that when you start trying to develop your retour, you need to focus more on expanding your repertoire (vocabulary, register), consolidating the language and producing it spontaneously or semi-spontaneously. When you do practise interpreting, make sure you have done plenty of preparatory work to smooth the way for a productive practice session and to boost your confidence, which is absolutely critical to working succesfully into a B language.

As your B language improves and you can use your B with greater flexibility and versatility, the balance can shift and you can spend more time on interpreting.

I hope this post has given you plenty of ideas for developing your retour in ways that are productive and sometimes even fun! What works best for you? Leave me a comment – and if you have friends or colleagues who might be interested, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter!

To your success,

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Interpreting Coach logoSophie 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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No native speaker? No problem! Go solo to improve your retour.

Self-training to improve your retour

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of having a native speaker of your B language listen to you when you’re practising your retour. Today, I want to focus on self-training to improve your retour.

Native speakers can pinpoint systematic errors of grammar and usage, point out where you’re not making enough sense (perhaps because the links between ideas aren’t clear enough in your interpretation), and offer alternative solutions in passages where you have struggled to express yourself idiomatically in your B.

However, it isn’t always possible – or, dare I say it, necessary – to work with a native speaker. Self-training (and please forgive me if I cringe every time I write that hateful word!) can get you a long way… on one condition.

Effective self-training to improve your retour

I want to dwell for a moment on why we assume native speaker feedback is a sine qua non for retour training. Our assumption is that native speakers know more than we do.

This assumption is based, in turn, on the fact that when we interpret into our B language, we ‘fail’. We make mistakes. We get genders and tenses wrong, we use the wrong word order, we don’t put the right verb with the right noun, we mispronounce words. Our helpful native speaker can identify those mistakes, point them out to us, and then we write them down, or research them further, and try to avoid making them in future.

When we practise by ourselves, by definition, we can’t do the same things a native speaker does. We might interpret a speech and record ourselves, then listen back to the interpretation and try to be alert to mistakes or clumsy use of language. We might go over tricky passages and see if we can think of better ways to express them. But trying to emulate a native speaker in this way, while worthwhile and a good intellectual exercise, is a lot more effort, and often less productive, than working with an actual native speaker.

Forgive me for a brief digression, but just as the Pavlovian sound of ‘self-training’ gets my hackles up (what can I say instead? Self-study? Homework? Follow-up? Practising by yourself?), after writing ‘native speaker’ ten times, I end up seeing this in my mind.

native speaker

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But back to the point. The reason self-training in retour is often less productive than working with a native speaker is because by looking for mistakes and attempting to correct them, you’re setting yourself up to fail. It’s an ex post sort of approach: you’re deliberately focusing on what you can’t do, rather than on what you can do.

For self-training to be an effective tool to improve your retour (and believe me, it can be incredibly effective), you need to flip this approach. You need to set yourself up to succeed.

Set yourself up for success when working on your retour

What does this mean in practice? It means that rather than picking up on one-off errors in an interpretation into B (which are errors you may never make again, relating to phrases you may never encounter again), you lay the groundwork before attempting to interpret a speech, so that you have activated the right vocabulary, understood the arguments, and built confidence in advance – rather than trying to do all that under pressure.

Are you still with me? I hope so. If you’re getting a little impatient for the ‘how?’, bear with me. I’m going to lay it out for you step by step.

A step by step session for improving your retour

    1. Step 1. Set aside an hour, switch off the phone, park the children in front of the TV make sure the children are engaged in a suitable educational activity.
    2. Step 2. Pick a topic you would like to work on in this particular session. For the sake of argument, I’m going to choose the environment; specifically, Earth Overshoot Day.
    3. Step 3. Select 3 or 4 sources in your B language, either short podcasts, videos, TEDtalks, or press articles, that cover the main points you need to know about Earth Overshoot Day. Don’t spend too long on searching for them; you want something that will cover the basics without being in-depth. Here’s what I’ve chosen on this topic, for someone working on an English retour. If your B language is something else, you will need pick a similar selection.
      • Good old Wikipedia. Yes, I know it’s not always reliable or authorative, but you can skim read it and get a good overview of a topic. The focus will be on facts and figures, so you can pick out any useful terminology.
      • The Earth Overshoot Day website. Always good to get information straight from the horse’s mouth.
      • An article from The Guardian. Press coverage will give you opinion as well as facts, which is useful a) for building up a repertoire of suitable stock phrases and idioms, and b) for getting a feel for the arguments that might come up in a speech on this topic.
      • A short video from Euronews.  It’s good to hear, not just to read, and Euronews is an authoritative source.
      • A short video from Aljazeera, covering the basics.
    4. Step 4. Read the articles, listen to the videos or podcasts, and note down any useful phrases and vocabulary. This is your ’emergency kit’, which you can pull out whenever you next have an assignment on this topic. Don’t make it too long! Below, you’ll find a link to the one I have just spent ten minutes producing. You can fill in the adjacent column with the vocab in your mother tongue, or in your B (if English is your A). You may find that you need or want to write down quite different things, for example words such as ‘grazing land’ or ‘cropland’; it depends on your existing knowledge. Note also that I have included a few individual words, but many whole phrases, and quite a few idioms. This is because collocations are a real challenge when working into a B, and so are idioms. It helps to have a stock of set phrases to use as a toolkit; refresh your memory by reading through them just before your next meeting or practice session on this topic. Earth Overshoot Day micro-glossary
    5. Step 5. Now it’s time to fine-tune your note-taking, so any symbols or abbreviations are rock solid, and to start activating the right terminology and register – with a little bit of help. Find a short speech or presentation in your B language about Earth Overshoot Day. Take notes. Deliver your interpretation. You’re doing a B>B exercise, so you’ll have plenty of inspiration from the speaker, plus from your preparatory work, to allow you to produce a fluent, idiomatic version. I’ve picked this from Sustainability Illustrated.
    6. Step 6. At last, you’re ready for the main event. Grab a suitable speech in your mother tongue. Remind yourself that you are now knowledgeable on the topic, confident, and armed with a plethora of appropriate and elegant phrases. Switch on your recording device and give the interpretation your best shot. In case you’re following along and actually want to try this, here are suitable speeches:
    7. Step 7. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far. Listen back to your interpretation, and see where there is room for improvement.
    8. Step 8. Have one more try, incorporating any corrections and improvements.
    9. Step 9. Heave a sigh of relief, and eat several squares of chocolate (optional).

Now, I’m the first to admit I have obsessive completer-finisher tendencies. The good news is: some of these steps are optional! Here’s how you can play around with the sequence:

  • if you are not working on consecutive, skip step 5.
  • if you’re pretty confident with the topic and your knowledge of it, shorten step 3 to just one or two sources.
  • if you’re satisfied with your interpretation, or you’re short of time, skip steps 7, 8 and 9.
  • and honestly: steps 1 and 9 take no time at all. And why would you miss out on the chocolate?

Of course, you can also spin it out a bit:

  • if you’re unfamiliar with the topic in general, read around it in your mother tongue as well as your B.
  • to activate your knowledge and vocabulary further, insert a step 4.5, where you prepare a short speech about Earth Overshoot Day in your B language.
  • do something that’ll give you a warm glow: share your own speech about Earth Overshoot Day on Speechpool.
  • postpone the chocolate step until you’ve interpreted another speech.
  • send your recording to a friend who is willing to give you some feedback.

Self-training to improve your retour: the benefits

I hope I have clearly outlined a sequence of steps that will allow you to have a very productive practice session. As you can see, there is some flexibility built in. Your Return on Investment will be huge, I promise. Here are just some of the advantages of working like this:

  • The time you invest in doing just a little research will pay off in the future: you’ll know a little more about the topic, which will help with anticipation when you’re interpreting, and improve your confidence.
  • Your ’emergency kit’ can be taken with you whenever you need it. You can add to it as you go along.
  • This type of exercise allows you to revise and consolidate your notes on this particular topic.
  • By the time you’ve finished this session, you will have expanded and activated your vocabulary. I use the word activate deliberately: many people seem to think that reading widely in your B or listening a lot (e.g. to the news on TV, or the radio) will help your retour. But never forget that what you’re trying to do is improve your active knowledge of the language, not your comprehension.
  • You’ll feel so virtuous after doing this. Trust me. And it definitely took me longer to write it out than it will take you to do it. The whole session will take you between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on how many elements you include.

I would hate you to get to the end of this post and leave with the mistaken impression  that I believe working with native speakers to be unproductive or unnecessary. On the contrary, I think feedback from a native speaker is essential for developing a strong retour – if it’s the right native speaker (see my previous post for reasons why). 

However, not everyone has the luxury of working with a native speaker all the time, for reasons to do with time, money, or availability of the same. If that’s the position you’re in, never fear! Working through my step by step sequence will allow you to build up your skills from the bottom up, with a rock solid foundation.

To your success,

p.s. if you try out the approach I’ve just shared with you, do let me know how you get on. How did you feel afterwards? Leave a comment after this post.

p.p.s perhaps you have classmates or colleagues who are working on a retour. Why not share this post with them? You can use the Facebook button below.


Interpreting Coach logoSophie 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.

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