This page contains a number of tips for those of you taking final exams in conference interpreting. They will of course also apply to the accreditation tests at international institutions. They have been kindly volunteered by a number of colleagues, including several who regularly sit on the juries of these exams and compiled here into a three (and a half)sections, before the exam, consecutive and simultaneous (and after the exam).
There are a lot of ideas here. Don’t get to hung up on trying to remember them all.
A big thank you to, amongst others, Guy Laycock and Anna Grzybowska from the European Commission and Parliament respectively.
The illustration is kindly provided by Benoit Cliquet from his book of cartoons, Interpreters.
Before the exam
- On the day of your exam do a little practice interpreting before you go in. If your test is early in the morning get up a bit earlier and, using a cassette or a colleague as source material, interpret one five minute speech each in consecutive and simultaneous. The idea is just to wake you up and warm you up. Don’t get up at 5 am and practise for two hours! If your test is in the afternoon you could do two speeches each in consecutive and simultaneous, but DON’T practise all morning. You will wear yourself out. Your peak for interpreting performance will be in that period when you have warmed up sufficiently but not yet got tired.
- Bring several pens. Probably biros – pencils are known to break under duress; ink pens and messy and run out; rollerballs smudge.
- Dress smartly AND comfortably if at all possible. Urm… How shall I put this? Ladies, don’t overdo it…
- Introduction… If you have to talk about yourself as a warm up to the actual interpreting tests then be modest and truthful.
- Don’t wait to be asked to start your consec, and don’t keep the jury (the examiners) waiting while you pore over your notes. Start straightaway.
- Take a deep breath just before you start speaking.
- This may sound funny, but make sure you start the consec in the right language! Many candidates (usually those who work into a foreign language) will start off in the wrong language. Even if it only gets a smile from the jury rather than outright disapproval it will throw you off balance.
- Make sure you are clearly audible to all. That means speaking clearly and loudly (without deafening anyone).
- Look at the examiners, eye contact is crucial.
- Keep an even pace through out. Don’t rush when the end is in sight.
- Put on a good show.
- Get a move on, don’t bore the jury, aim to make your consec shorter than the original. As a rule of thumb your version should be about 20% shorter in terms of time than the original.
- Keep it concise and tidy.
- Avoid any unnecessary rephrasing and/or repetition.
- Be businesslike and professional. Think of a swan on a lake. Above the water it looks majestic, in total control, underneath the feet are paddling away furiously.
- Even if you are not enjoying a difficult technical speech DON’T sigh, and don’t look like you are not enjoying it. You will only get sympathy for your professionalism, not for your suffering! The jury will know that the text is difficult and you will be rewarded for your attempts to deal with it in a professional manner.
- Remember it is the message that is important.
- Register. Is the speech a dry technical on, or a jokey story? Get the right register but don’t over do it. If in doubt keep it formal, avoid slipping into the colloquial.
- If at the end you ask a question, make sure you understand the answer and don’t ignore it or forget it. Don’t ask more than two questions, and make them clear and specific. (ie. “Could you please repeat the name of the Mayor of X ” and NOT “What was that bit about the factory, I didn’t catch that”. )
- Take care to note down the ending if you can! The last words of a speech will often contain some important message that the speech has been working towards. Don’t miss it! You may even want to note it in longhand.
- When you’ve said you bit, get up and leave. Don’t hang around, you will be asked to leave anyway so the jury can consult. Leave with a polite smile.
Water… have some ready poured, don’t pour on mike.
Make sure the conditions are as they should be… can you hear the speaker, can you see the speaker. Ask the jury, “can you hear me” before you start.
Make sure you have several pens or pencils and some paper in the booth.
Only turn the mike on for the actual interpreting, not for the intro to the speech if the speaker gives one.
Keep some distance from the microphone so your breathing cannot be heard.
Sound relaxed but interested. You want to know what is coming next.
Don’t umm and err.
Don’t swear! (Sounds obvious but it happens).
Your smile should be audible to the jury, not your struggling with the speech.
Look up at the jury and the speaker. You are engaged in a communicative activity and eye contact will help you and your listeners.
Avoid monotonous intonation but don’t be theatrical either. Beware of sounding patronizing.
You are like an actor who has been given his lines at the last minute but still has to put on a good show.
Beware the purity of your mother tongue. Do a bit of warming up, read some good mother tongue prose on your way into the exam or while you are waiting – it will get you into the right language frame.
Be businesslike…and professional… Don’t stop! You will say things that are less than ideal, you may miss something out. Don’t dwell on it, move on and keep going…
…as a very last resort… it is clearly too fast for you rather than stuff it up say “the interpreter would ask the speaker to slow down”.
Microphones are very sensitive these days. Use your pencil to take down info, not for scribbling. If you are prone to scribbling while you work, you should definitely use something that does not make a noise.
Take down notes on loose sheets of paper that can be moved without too much rustling. If you can, note everything on one single sheet.
Use the cough button if you need to clear your throat, it is what the ..
Switch off the microphone at the end.
Behave professionally at all times. If you pass you can of course smile and look relieved, but punching the air and shouting hooray are definitely out.
Likewise if you are unlucky enough fail be graceful… you may wish to come back and be tested again soon so bitter, impolite or caustic remarks, withering looks and expressions of disbelief should be avoided.