I was reflecting this week on how I've just finished my fifth month working as a court-certified interpreter in my city. There's a lot to reflect on, but I'd like to commit this entry to something that has been more of a recurring challenge for me: my interpretation being affected by nerves. I'd love to share my experiences and thoughts on this topic, first of all so that new interpreters like me or interpreters-in-training know that they are not alone, and second of all to maybe send the bat-signal out to more experienced colleagues to gather any tips and tricks for combatting nerves.

I've been doing medical interpretation in my city for about two years now, and have become quite familiar with the facilities, the terminology, patient language, and professional expectations in these settings. Generally speaking, I feel confident when showing up to medical appointments that I will be able to reasonably anticipate the content, vocabulary, what the provider will say, what the patient will say etc. If the doctor asks "How do you break your leg?", with a fair amount of assurance I can expect a roughly 1-2 minute story from the patient on all sorts of details regarding the events that led up to him/her breaking his/her leg.

So here's the thing. In these sorts of medical settings I am describing, rendering a 1-2 minute story consecutively and recalling all details with little trouble is somehow not a problem for me. At this point I've done it hundreds of times, and if the doctor starts rattling off a long list of symptoms without pausing to breathe, I have my trusty notebook and usually don't break a sweat. Voilà!

Now fast forward to a legal setting.

I'm interpreting for a deposition for a high-profile lawsuit and sitting at the table wth the court report, lawyers, deponent, and deponent's Spanish-speaking family. Suddenly, there is sweat rolling down my side, my heart is beating out of my chest, and the worst part is, the deponent says one sentence, and somehow I fail to retain and have to ask him to repeat. Never mind when a family member interrupts me to attempt to correct one of my consecutive renditions later on. After that, everything felt completely shot. I was sure that my thudding heartbeats were registering on the camera's microphone, and because I was so thrown off my the family member's correction, I struggled to recover my nerves and focus for the rest of the deposition. I asked several times for repetition and clarification for simple utterances, something I feel I would never have to do during a medical appointment. Why. Why?

The bad news is that appointments like this one have happened more than once. The good news is that the law office that hired me for the deposition I described called back and asked if I could cover two days' worth of depositions out of town this month, in a location where they could have easily found local interpreters to work with.

One of my take-aways from that example is that I am likely much harder on myself than anyone else witnessing my work is. After that deposition, I had to keep my brain from spiraling and concluding that my entire career as an interpreter in the city was out the window, and the law office would likely spread the word about this imposter of an interpreter! Silly, I know. But sometimes it helps to say it out loud to realize how silly it sounds.

Despite my realization that I can be overly hard on myself, I am interested in the fact that nerves can seem to significantly affect my performance/interpretation. And I am interested in learning to combat it.

One strategy is doubtlessly preparation. I've become rather aggressive in requesting as much advance material as possible regarding the case. I was scheduled through an agency a few weeks ago for a sworn interview regarding suspected foul play in an asbestos contamination case. I requested advance material, but neither the agency nor the client seemed interested in providing anything. So on the day of the appointment, I arrived 30 minutes early and told the interviewers that I need access to any and all written material they would be using for the sworn interview. Low and behold, there was plenty of paperwork, and I requested 30 minutes to sit down and jot down some notes before the interview began. I don't apologize for needing to do this. 

Another strategy I'm learning to execute is communication with those present during your interpretation. I'm realizing it's commonplace for individuals (attorneys, social workers, cops etc.) or family members to be present who have some level of competency in Spanish—whether foreign, native, or heritage— and will want to give input on the interpretation. I've started implementing this and highly recommend it: before I begin interpreting (especially if it's for the record), I request that the interpretation not be interrupted or corrected, unless it's during a break. When watching an interpreter, it's all too easy to be an armchair quarterback. I've formulated a polite, professional, and concise blurb to let people know in advance that armchair quarterbacking is not okay unless it's a matter of life and death. This helps my nerves because I have some assurance that my focus won't be thrown off by someone's interruption.

I'd be interested in other stories of nerves affecting interpretation performance, and also tips you've found to overcome. Thank you for stopping by my blog and please let me know if there are any topics of interest for new or aspiring interpreters you'd be interested in reading about!

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

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