Yesterday I received a phone call from Interpreter Program Support of the Washington Courts to inform me that I passed the oral portion of the court interpreter certification exam. This was a significant shock to my system for a couple reasons: 1) I was expecting to receive a letter in the mail, not a phone call, and 2) we had been told that results would take 2.5-3 months to arrive and we were already at the 3.5 month mark, so you can imagine the agony I was in from not having heard back! In this post I'd like to share my experiences and thoughts on this final portion of the court certification process. I covered my preparation for this exam and my experience with the written portion in a previous entry. Here I'll present the structure of the oral portion, my experience taking it, and hindsight perspective as to what I believe I did well and what I might have done differently.

Those who passed the written portion were invited to take the oral in Seattle or Spokane. Luckily, that meant I didn't have to travel. I understand that Spokane is not traditionally offered as a testing site. The exam was held at Gonzaga University in October 2017 and the set-up was simple. I was scheduled for an hour block in a mid-sized room with two desks pushed together, one for the proctor and one for me, facing each other. I believe it considerably aided my peace of mind that the proctor was the same gentleman who had organized both orientations and had also administered the written exam. This meant by the time the moment for oral exam arrived, I knew the proctor by name and felt a small amount of professional confidence/familiarity, which was reassuring.

If I remember correctly, the breakdown was as follows: 2 sight translations (English to Spanish and Spanish to English), for which 6 minutes each were permitted; a consecutive portion that was approximately 20-25 minutes with pauses built in (so the interpretable dialogue itself was 10-12 minutes); and a simultaneous portion, which I believe lasted less than 10 minutes. Each of the 3 portions of the the exam needed to be passed with a score of 70% or higher. A high score on one portion will not raise a low score on another.

The sight translation was the area in which I had the least preparation, due to the fact that I only completed half of the SCSI preparation course (see previous entry). The first sight translation into Spanish was unexpectedly smooth and easy; I had no trouble sight translating it within the allotted time. There may have been 1 or 2 vocabulary trouble spots: one where I substituted a synonym and another where I chose to leave the word in English because it was not coming to me quickly enough.

The second sight translation from Spanish into English was of some rather surprising material and I struggled significantly. The little material I used to practice sight translation reflected the reality of US courts where the Spanish used is often a low register and from individuals with less education. The Spanish for this sight translation into English was of a savagely high register, with spectacularly long sentences and flowery language. I'm sure I had more pauses during this rendition and some occasional false starts. It knocked my confidence somewhat, but I powered ahead to the next section that I knew would be the greater challenge for me: consecutive.

This is really where the adrenaline took over and I have a hard time recalling the details of this portion, other than that it seemed never-ending and I used up my 2 repetitions way too quickly! There was a good amount of slang thrown in, with at least a couple instances of colorful language that I rendered loud and proud. The material and vocabulary in the portion were, as usual with consecutive, not particularly difficult. Also as usual, I struggled with memory and note-taking in the longer portions. 

The simultaneous portion is where I felt best prepared, and it went by without much of a hitch. There was some minimal vocabulary relating to equipment that I think may have eluded me, but the speed was reasonable and I knew at the time that, if nothing else, I rendered a decent simultaneous.

So what are my general thoughts after the fact? Well, first of all, I took the 2 weeks before the exam off work to study full-time. The exam was on a Monday and I stopped studying Friday evening to give myself 2 days of relaxation, minus a 5-minute warm-up exercise Monday morning before the exam. The night before the exam I made sure to get 8 hours of sleep; I woke up at a reasonable hour, spent some time with Jesus, had a hearty breakfast, a green tea, and went to the gym for about an hour-long workout. My exam was scheduled for about 10:30, and I arrived 15-20 minutes early. I think the choice to put aside studying for 2 days prior, and to have a relaxed morning with some light physical activity really put me in a good frame of mind for the exam. I was definitely nervous, but all things considered I was able to manage the nerves fairly well.

Secondly, after the exam itself, I really was in a state of 0% certainty as to how I performed. I felt neither that it went very well, nor that it went very poorly. I kept thinking of the legendary abysmal pass rate (which is not a myth, by the way! See the 2016 Interpreter Commission Annual Report; in 2016, 9 interpreters passed the oral portion out of 173 who first took the written portion—that's 5%)  and all the interpreters I've met who took the oral exam 2 or 3 times before passing, and assuring myself that it was okay if I found myself in the same boat as them. At the same time, I wanted to give myself credit for the significant time and energy I put into preparation. When I got the call yesterday telling me I passed, I could hardly believe it! And what's even better, 2 of my colleagues in Spokane (Russian and Japanese) also passed this year, so we're experiencing the joy of celebrating each others' success as well. 

So what did I do well? I enrolled in the SCSI preparation course and really took the studying and practice seriously. I worked hard on my simultaneous skills, and probably learned 1500+ of new vocabulary. I observed in court, shadowed other interpreters, read legal novels in Spanish, and watched Reina del Sur.

Where could I have done better? Firstly, a year to complete the entire SCSI course would have been nice. I managed without it, but I believe completing the course really would have allowed me to pass by a wider margin and feel more confident on my sight translation and consecutive skills. Secondly, I really did need more consecutive practice. I knew it was a weak spot for me, and the SCSI course did not provide adequate practice material by the half-way mark. Memory and active listening are skills that need to be developed over a long period of time, and I was really pushing it with the 4 months I took to prepare.

All that to say, I'm definitely experiencing elation and bewilderment at my passing score. I'm looking forward to the ethics training and swearing-in next month, also to be held in Spokane. As time goes on, I'll enjoy continuing to share my experiences as a newbie in the legal interpreting field. Thank you for your interest in my blog and please don't hesitate to leave any questions or comments below!

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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