Five Essential Coping Tactics

The mechanisms listed under don’t even scratch the surface, but they are a good starting point. To grow as an interpreter one has to expand this repertoire of coping tactics while working hard to question any nonsensical myths.

1. Simplifying discourse through acronyms and generalizations.

This common strategy, which soon becomes second nature, is a safe way to deal with speed, as it saves time while preserving content. For example, United Nations becomes UN; International Monetary Fund becomes IMF;and pyruvate dehydrogenase might be rendered simply as “the enzyme in question.” The downside is that acronyms do at times get translated, and the effort required in realigning the letters may take longer than simply repeating a mouthful.

2. Keeping a word or term in the original language.

This is somewhat counterintuitive. Aren’t interpreters supposed to translate every word? Well, not quite. Rather, their job is to convey ideas, which occasionally means recognizing which concepts are better left unchanged. But this tactic can also be used as a temporary crutch in a fix until a linguistic equivalent can be recalled for use a second time around. If relevant, a term will certainly occur innumerable times and will eventually be rendered satisfactorily. If not, keeping it in the original language won’t have been all that unforgivable.

3. Changing the order of elements in an enumeration.

Here’s a rather elaborate yet very useful strategy. Say the interpreter is lagging behind in a sentence as the speaker suddenly rushes through a long list of countries. Anticipating an imminent clogging of his short-term memory, the interpreter stores in his mind the first two or three names on the list and jumps straight to the ones being spoken next, which he renders immediately as heard. Once the list comes to an end, only the first few names he skipped need to be recovered from memory. The result is usually 100% retrieval and zero over load.

4.Reconstructing meaning from context.

This is a dangerous yet useful tactic, where the loss of a word or idea is compensated for by the introduction of the most probable corollary to a preceding argument or semantic construct. At such times, besides their linguistic skills and their ability to improvise, interpreters rely heavily on extra-linguistic information (i.e., previous knowledge about the subject matter being discussed or the content they have gained in the course of the conference itself). This is time-consuming and requires a good sense of timing to be done properly.

Given the possible loss of content and the reputational risk, this tactic ought to be avoided to the extent possible. There will be situations, though, when nothing else works.

5. Knowing when to acknowledge mistakes.

As much as we hate to admit it, interpreters do make mistakes, and handling them properly is an important survival skill. It is also tricky. Saying “sorry” or “rather” may solve the problem of context, but it leaves the impression that the mistake was the speaker’s and that she is the one apologizing. This tactic doesn’t go unnoticed to more experienced interpreters, most of whom have occasionally passed blame in cases of immaterial omissions. Yet, when dealing with a serious misnomer or inaccuracy, ethics dictate that the interpreter rectify a potential misunderstanding, making sure to speak in the third person to avoid confusion. This momentary admission of guilt is important specifically to protect the speaker, and while it could potentially undermine the interpreter’s credibility, it may also enhance it. Admitting a mistake denotes self-assurance. Working to fix it denotes conscientiousness.

Source: ATA Chronicle.

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