From Keyboard to Mouth: How Translation Practice Facilitates Interpreting Performance

鮑開立, Interpretation Track

  Interpreting training is an intense and stressful process. Even in the second year of the training, the stress never goes away; sometimes, it even increases. “Your heart rate rose above 120 BPM while you seemed to be inactive.” After I bought an Apple Watch, this is the notification I often receive in interpreting classes. This is how stressful interpreting is for me.

  Several reasons explain why interpreting is such a stressful job to do. In my case, limited time for thinking and lack of words that I have immediate access to play the most significant roles. Interpreting is like playing baseball. A batter has only less than a second to analyze the incoming pitch, predict where the ball will go, and use the best batting strategy to hit the ball. Interpreters, like batters, are given very little time to do all the comprehension, analysis, sentence construction, and language reformulation; therefore, the faster they can be in this process, the better, and the less stressful they get. If I could expedite my thinking process and have more words ready for use in my mind, my heart rate could probably decrease 20 BPM when interpreting, and my performance could be improved.

  To have my wish realized, translation practice is one good way. It is easy to imagine how translation practice can facilitate interpretation learning, yet I learned this not by imagination but by real experience. I am currently an intern at a policy think tank. I have a lot of opportunities to translate policy-related documents and subtitles of policy-related videos. I have done this job for more than six months, and there has been strong evidence showing my improvement in interpreting skills because of the job; improvements are especially seen in sentence segmentation, meaning synthesis, and language reformulation.

  Translating documents allows me to practice synthesis and reformulation skills. While sitting in front of my computer, I am given enough time to really read through the source texts, make sense of each meaning unit, form logical connections between meaning units, look up unfamiliar words or expressions, and construct structured translation. All these steps happen almost simultaneously in interpreting, but in translation, I am able to complete each step one at a time at a rather slow pace. Hence, translation can be seen as deliberate practice of interpreting. Apart from having the job done, I usually spend extra time deliberately going through each step and thinking about how I can expedite the process. I would pick several complex sentences and figure out sentence patterns that can be used for translating them. I would train myself to immediately have translation ready when it comes to proper nouns. I would also remind myself to always keep the structures of source texts in mind to develop contextual awareness. With all these practices, I have found myself quicker and smoother in interpreting.

  Translating documents has helped me develop better interpreting skills already, but translating subtitles has added more benefits to my interpreting learning journey. Translating subtitles is quite different from translating other kinds of text. Translators have less freedom to change the structures of source texts; i.e. the order of meaning units should be almost the same as that in the source text. The rules of omission are also very strict. Translators cannot omit everything they deem as redundant; they need to consider how the subtitles would look on screen, especially subtitles in two languages that are displayed together. It would look very weird if only a couple of English words are displayed while there obviously are twenty Chinese characters displayed. In addition, translators have to segment source texts because only a limited number of words can be shown on screen at the same time. 

  Therefore, through subtitle translation, I have practiced segmentation and patching a lot; these are both important skills for simultaneous interpreting (SI). Segmenting source texts has trained me to form a complete sentence with only a few meaning units, and follow the order of source texts while producing a structured rendition. This allows me to be more efficient in processing source speeches and sound more coherent in SI tasks. Patching, in subtitle translation, is for making up for unclear information or redundancies. In SI, it is used to deal with repetition of information or redundancies. Through translating subtitles, I have learned the strategies to patch where speakers are redundant or speeches are not making sense. I can hence be fluent in SI tasks with these strategies.

  After more than six months of translating documents and subtitles, I found myself having more resources and strategies ready for use when interpreting. I get stuck in certain sentence patterns less often and more words can be accessed within a short period of time. Also, I know better about what to do when speakers start to talk about meaningless things. I attribute these improvements to translation tasks I have done. Because of the tasks, I am able to perform much better in interpreting. There is still room for me to improve in interpreting skills, but I believe if I keep combining interpreting practice with translation practice, more improvements will surely occur. It takes time and effort to have a good interpreting performance, and methods also matter. Translation is one of the good ways to sharpen interpreting skills. I have personally tested it, and it pays off.