Improving as an Interpreter: Research

This is the second post in our attempt to pull together ways that we can improve as translators and interpreters. This time, it would be good to concentrate on one specific area that interpreters have to deal with for each job: research.

If anything, modern interpreters suffer from having too much information at their fingertips. Within seconds, Google and Wikipedia can give us introductions to just about any field imaginable, complete with all the required vocabulary.

But is that good enough?

It is an open secret that clients vary in the speed and reliability with which they make materials available to interpreters. In some cases, such as medical and legal interpreting, there are good reasons why no paperwork can be passed on. How do you cope in those situations?

Still, even for those who receive material before they work, it takes time and effort to make sure that they are on top of all the information they will need. One question new interpreters will want to know is just how do you do that?

So, in the comments below, let’s have a discussion of how we do our research. Do you rely on paper dictionaries or prefer online sources? Do you read up on a field more generally before you work or just look at the speeches? Do you attend conferences on areas you regularly interpret in? Have you taken any other courses to help?

Over to you!

5 thoughts on “Improving as an Interpreter: Research

  1. Information can sometimes arrive late – I’ve found myself getting the first real piece of information (the agenda !) 30min before the conference started, while I’d been booked for the job a number of weeks before.
    But sometimes, there is also too much information: pages and pages of reports on the organisation’s website, lengthy studies, etc … It can be a bit nerve-racking, as you don’t know what to start with. Good reading skills certainly come in handy at that stage, and all these hours spent reading books on various topics for university come in handy – I know how fast I can read, and I can usually analyse the key elements fairly fast. It’s probably the time spent on the topics that interested me the least which have trained me the best, ironically !
    On a “normal” job, what I tend to do is start from the name of the client/organisation and the title of the conference early on (you get that when you sign your contract). Reading up on the company and on the field usually helps me to get a good feel for the general climate in this area, and it also helps spot the evil acronyms. Then, with a bit of luck, the agenda and minutes of the previous minutes are sent – it helps to focus the research, in my mind, especially if you’re short of time.
    Personally, I also think that a key element is to work with your colleagues. Their names will be on the contract, along with the language combinations, and the documents tend to be sent to all the interpreters working on the job by the agency – so you can find their emails this way. What I’ve often done is send a friendly little email with my research and glossary so far, and asking my partner if he/she’s worked on this type of job before (or, if I have, explaining what was brought up the last time). It can be a nice way to make contact, and to start the cooperation which continues in the booth.

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