Preparation tips

The following text is taken from by Valerie Taylor-Bouladon‘s extremely useful book, Conference Interpreting – Principles and Practice, and was kindly sent in by the author herself.

Preparing for a meeting 

It is a good idea to work out your own system to keep track of documents, past and current, on a particular subject or for a particular organisation. You should also work out your own method for indexing key words, including titles of officials and committees with their translation into each of your working languages. The better your mastery of the organisation’s structure and jargon, the better your chances of being recruited again. It is also important that freelance interpreters identify with the “corporate image” of the organisation. 

At least two weeks before the conference you should receive a complete set of documents in each of the working languages containing, for example, a full programme, agenda, list of participants, minutes or previous meetings, reports, invitations and all the documents which will be available to the other participants or which might be helpful in the preparation for the conference. Minutes of past meetings and proceedings of earlier congresses are very useful too. 

Make sure you keep time free before the meeting to study all of these papers in depth. If this is the first time you have worked on the particular subject, you should also read up as much as you can in whatever library is available to give you some background understanding that will help you cope with fast or difficult speakers and give you the feeling you are on top of the subject. Some people think interpreters simply transliterate words without understanding the idea conveyed by the message, but interpreters know that it is quite impossible to reproduce messages without a full comprehension of what the speaker wants to say and this, in turn, is impossible without some knowledge of the subject matter. The various search engines on the internet are of course invaluable for this purpose. The first time you work for an International Organization it is advisable to ask them for a set of the Basic Texts governing that organization: Charter or Constitution, Statutes, Standing Orders and so on, which you will keep with the glossary you have prepared during the meeting for future reference. 

When sorting out the conference documents you are about to study, you will need a system to index them so you can find any document you need in the booth in a hurry (for example, Committee documents, Plenary documents, working documents, conference room documents). Pay particular attention to key words and also the titles of officials (which vary according to the organization, for example in some there may be a Deputy Secretary-General, in another a similar post may be called Assistant Secretary-General or Vice-Secretary-General). Prepare your own multi-lingual glossary, noting carefully the “in-jargon” of the technical or professional organization concerned. You will find that “Commissions” are generally bigger than “Committees” and “Committees” more permanent than “Working Groups.” 

You will also need to list the official names of the various Committees (Standing Committees, and so on) in your languages for each Organization to keep on file. It would seem that “Executive Committee” is obviously “Comité ejecutivo” and “Comité exécutif” but it may not be in some organizations. In the International Telecommunications Union where telephony is concerned a “Recommendation” is not “une recommandation” but rather “un Avis” and an “Opinion” is “un Voeu” in French . “Steering Committee” or “Management Committee” has various translations depending on the organization, as well as “Council”, “Board”, “Governing Body”, “Junta”, “working group”,” ad hoc group” and “task force”. Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason, but that’s how it is and you just have to memorize these idiosyncracies. (Also, “le Comité exécutif a renvoyé la question pour examen au Comité X” , “referred” in English and “remitió este asunto a la consideración del Comité” ). 

“Trimestriel” is nothing to do with “three” in English (“Quarterly”) and in budgetary matters “imprévus” is mostly “contingency” or “unforeseen”. 

Preparation was much easier in the old days of “parallel pagination” in all languages even though the English pages were much shorter than the French and Spanish. To save paper, parallel pagination has now been done away with so it will take longer to find the same place in all texts. When you do, highlight the words you want to remember. The next step is to write your glossary. If I am working in the English booth, on one page I write down recurring English expressions, names of people with their titles, etc. If you have one active and two passive languages, the rest of your glossary will be in three languages so you would divide each page into three columns with the active language in the last. I generally organize mine into groups such as names of committees and official groupings on one page, acronyms and abbreviations on another, technical words on another, general vocabulary on another, etc. to make them as easy as possible to find in a hurry. Some colleagues prefer to organize their glossaries alphabetically. In any case, it is worth while taking the time to write very clearly and print difficult words because you will not have time to puzzle out what you have scribbled. If some kind colleagues lets you share his handwritten vocabulary, I would copy it out in my own writing first to help me remember it and secondly to be sure I can read it in an emergency. Once you have finished this task and learnt it all, I suggest you get up early on the first morning of the meeting and go through your vocabulary again in a concentrated fashion to set it in your mind for the day. I have always found it useful, too, on a difficult technical conference, to get together with colleagues from the other booths just before the meeting starts to compare the translations of unusual words and expressions – sometimes they have found different equivalents, based on one of the other languages. You will find Day l of most conferences very tiring – it is better not to have organized any strenuous social events for that evening – but as from Day 2 the vocabulary seems to come naturally. I prefer to devote all my time to the conference while it lasts, and not make any private social commitments. You do not know in advance whether you will be required to work late, or at a night meeting and trying to change plans at the last minute is an unnecessary hassle when you are in the booth trying to concentrate perhaps on a new subject.