Your first ever interpreting job: some preparation tips

Getting your first interpreting job is exciting, but it can be difficult to know what to expect. You'll know exactly what suits you after a few months of interpreting because you'll learn a lot about yourself and the way that you work. However, I thought it might be a good idea to share some tips about what works for me. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to prepare, but I want to offer some basic guidance to new interpreters.

Simultaneous interpreting

• If you’re lucky, you’ll get a copy of the speeches you’ll be interpreting. However, not all simultaneous interpreting involves speeches and sometimes speakers stray from the original speech. Either way, always read through anything that your client has provided you with.

• Do as much background reading as you can. Go through any available past speeches that you can get your hands on. Compile a glossary if necessary, but make sure it consists of words that you actually struggle with or words that are new to you.

• During breaks I often spend a few moments looking through my glossary, but I once found myself unable to do so because it was saved online and the internet at the venue wasn’t great. Always download the day’s glossary for offline use (I’m a spreadsheet girl, so this is straightforward. If you're thinking of investing in a terminology management system designed specifically for interpreters, use the trial period wisely to make sure that it can be used offline).

• Produce a ‘cheat sheet’ and make sure it really is just a sheet. You won’t have time to go through a large bundle of papers once the speaker gets going. On your cheat sheet you might want to include those words and phrases that just don’t stick, or you might want to jot down specialist terminology that’s still new to you.

Consecutive interpreting

• Sight translation may be involved and you’re not always informed about this beforehand. Being as concise as possible is key here, so it’s okay to take a moment to scan the text and think about what information is relevant, especially if the text is lengthy. The types of text used in sight translation will depend on the field (forms and leaflets are common in healthcare settings, for example), so familiarise yourself with these text types in all working languages.

• It won’t take you long to understand what sort of note-taking methods work for you. The abbreviations that I use don’t make sense to anybody else and they don’t need to. It’s important to watch videos and listen to different audio materials as part of your preparation, and I recommend treating these materials as an actual interpreting assignment so that you can get a feel for how to take notes and come up with abbreviations that you understand.

• Limit yourself to basic stationery. I use a simple pen and A4 pad because I don’t see the point in using a fancy notebook for my messy interpreting notes.

• From my experience, there’s definitely a bit more time to look through a small glossary during a consecutive interpreting job. When you’re going through terminology as part of your initial preparation, keep a small list of the tricky words and phrases. You can then refer to this small list whilst you interpret.