Failsafe mode – Guichot de Fortis

In this article Chris Guichot de Fortis explains how to offer a “minimum service” when – for one reason or another – the circumstances make the ideal impossible. This text offers suggestions on how to save effort and time when interpreting at the limits of one’s cognitive capacity.


Managing your brain

Strategies for saving time and effort

Examples of 3 modes – normal mode; failsafe mode; bullet-point mode

Advice for conference interpreters who are struggling in the booth: how to switch into ‘degraded mode’ to ensure ‘basic minimum’ performance.

The definition of ‘degraded mode’ (also termed ‘fail-safe mode’)

The expression ‘degraded mode’ refers to situations where all or part of a specific entity has to or should function without its usual human or material resources…

In order to react in the best way possible and return to normal, those playing vital roles are generally asked to prepare to go into ‘degraded mode’

Going into ‘degraded mode’ means attempting to provide a service which is deemed indispensable, notwithstanding the unavailability of the full and customary range of reliable and appropriate resources

….This requires the kind of preparation which characterises the fields of learning and crisis management.

‘Fail-Safe’ mode is an automatic process to be found in the field of technology. In situations where a system breaks down, the Fail-Safe mode kicks in and is tasked with preventing any disastrous consequences… which may stem from single or repeated breakdowns. This does not mean that the system will no longer function – rather it simply means that the breakdowns or malfunctions will not worsen, thanks to this mechanism. It is, therefore, a safety mechanism. If a system within which a Fail-Safe mechanism has been triggered suffers failure, its state will not worsen beyond that which existed when the initial failure occurred and the Fail-Safe mechanism was triggered. (translation of Wikipedia’s article in French: ‘Mode dégradé’


Dear new and prospective colleagues, I have decided to sit down at my computer once again to try and suggest a few techniques which will help you to survive when you’re struggling, in the booth, to enable you to follow and do justice to the speaker…

In the first few years of your career, to a greater or lesser extent, you will not always be able to avoid some measure of failure. However, what is expected of you is that you will never fail to provide the ‘basic minimum’. If you do not ensure this, you will not be honouring your contract (in both the literal and figurative sense of the word), and your continuity in the profession will actually be jeopardized.

Here my aim is to provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary so that, in the worst case scenario, you will not simply allow yourself to be carried away or overcome by the situation, but will rather make strategic and sensible choices. The aim is to help you to persevere and salvage the most from these difficult situations.

I was inspired by the term ‘degraded mode’, which means that cars (which I am pretty passionate about, as those who know me are well aware!), computers and engines of any kind can continue functioning to a lesser extent rather than completely breaking down. 

To begin, I would like to look at three specific cases in simultaneous interpreting:

  1. The less experienced interpreter: perhaps you’re struggling to follow everything the speaker is saying, because your professional, cognitive and intellectual background (including technique, languages, experience or resilience) is such that you cannot -yet – constantly guarantee the ‘basic minimum’ performance. Essentially your overall performance level is not yet up to scratch when faced with the multiplicity of speakers and topics day in, day out…
  2. Imperfect working conditions: when the stars align perfectly and when there are ideal conditions (including just the right sound, equipment, speed, density, level of technical difficulty, stress, language quality, etc), your professional development is such that as a conference interpreter you have everything that is needed to ensure you do a good job. However, on a particular day (or part thereof) some of these variables may not be present at a reasonable level, and you might have to make strategic decisions in real time.
  3. A particularly dense and complex speech/speaker: perhaps you are faced with a speaker who is reading, or whose speech is very fast, dense, technical, literary or full of cultural and linguistic nuances….in short, a speech which is very difficult to interpret at an appropriate level. In this scenario, however, the interpreter IS capable of rendering the entire message precisely, skillfully and quickly. Nevertheless, for the average client the resulting interpretation would simply sound like an avalanche or tsunami of random words and ideas which would be well-nigh impossible to digest.

This happens more frequently when working from a concise language with a flexible structure (English, for example), into a language which features less flexible syntax and grammar, and whose speakers are more rigid in their modes of expression (an obvious example being my second language, French). 

To take a simple mathematical example, we could count the number of words which need to be uttered by the interpreter to render the same ideas as in the original speech. You could, for example, have to move from a speed of 180 words a minute to 240 words a minute, simply to convey the same message. 

This means that, even if the interpreter is actually technically and intellectually capable of working at such a speed, what was already a difficult speech to follow becomes impossible to digest for the clients. A conscientious interpreter who is committed to communicating well must here make the sensible and conscious decision to apply the ‘degraded mode’ technique, and the decision must be made rapidly.


In the above three scenarios, interpreters in the booth are forced to make a difficult choice between (1) immediately finding a survival strategy, and (2) giving up, failing, and seriously jeopardizing their freshly-embarked-upon careers, as well as undermining the speaker’s message. Therefore, interpreters need to enable ‘degraded mode’, having of course learned it thoroughly and tested it extensively in advance.

Before going any further, I would like to add that, to a certain extent, all simultaneous interpretation is somewhere on the ‘degraded mode’ spectrum. Logically, apart from the occasional moment where there is nothing to improve on or add to the interpreted version, interpreters are always, at least partially, in ‘degraded mode’. But the more competent and experienced you become, the more you are able to remain in control, the better prepared you are, the better you understand the topic in question, and the more often things go according to plan (psychologically, physically and technically speaking), and therefore the less you have to resort to ‘degraded mode’. 

In addition, as your skills grow, switching into ‘degraded mode’ will increasingly be the result of a careful and professional decision based on clear thought processes, as opposed to a knee-jerk course of action that you are forced to use in the heat of the moment.

Disclaimer : nowhere in this text do I wish to give the impression that it is acceptable, technically or ethically, to interpret badly or to only do half a job. The goal must always be to render ALL of the substance and ALL of the form of the speaker’s argument. I would like to reiterate the fact that here I am talking about cases where, for a whole host of reasons, it is temporarily impossible or inadvisable to ensure the quality interpretation expected from the profession and where a rational and conscious strategy is needed to avoid total breakdown, which is NEVER acceptable.

Managing, training and developing your brain to be an ‘interpreting machine’

In an ideal world, every interpreter would always be able to interpret every last idea and every last nuance in every speech, without forgetting to: respect the substance and form of the original, dodge the numerous traps, and deal dexterously with all the intricacies of the languages in question. Here I am reminded of the famous biblical quote ‘one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law’… In any case, humour, irony, technical terms, reasoning, emphasis, abbreviations, quotes, ambiguities and the like would all be expertly conveyed and you would leave the booth satisfied and with your head held high. 

However, this will not always be the case, even for the best interpreters in the world. The younger you are and the more of a beginner you are in your career, the more often you will find it impossible to deliver a hundred percent on the legitimate demands of the delegates. This is when you will have to apply some of the techniques that I will now attempt to describe.

“[Practice and exercises] are a preparation, both physical and for your whole self, which will enable you to respond instinctively to any situation. It is only if…you are in a state of total readiness that you are free to be part of the action, which is new every moment. In other words, you do not have to come out of the situation to reflect and think ‘How can I do this?’: you do it at the moment the action arises, because your voice and brain are so free. Exercises should not make you more technical, but more free.” (Cicely Berry – ‘Voice and the Actor’ – John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1991

I would like you to start thinking of your brain and the partnership between your brain and your body (mens sana in corpore sano!) as if it were a sophisticated and impressive sportscar, or a thoroughbred racehorse. Both demand careful pre-emptive and routine maintenance in order to prevent breakdown or injury, and to continuously guarantee that they realise their performance potential – which is far higher than that of a humdrum diesel family saloon or of a plodding drayhorse. 

Then, if there is a defect (wherever the fault may lie) and the engine or the muscles begin to lose power, it is essential to go into ‘degraded mode’ in order to reach the nearest garage or veterinary clinic (which symbolizes the end of the day in the booth!). 

To continue the automotive analogy (rather than flogging a dead horse!), the engine management system (i.e. your brain) will detect a temporary mechanical defect or sensor error affecting one part of the vehicle (for interpreters this may be the brain, the body or the psyche), and, in order to preserve the vehicle, the ‘backup mode’ will be switched on. A few of the car’s features will be shut down (depending on the nature of the failure), but the car will continue moving at the same or similar pace, and all should be well as long as too much is not demanded of it…

Taking this idea further, I would encourage you to start putting in place a plan and adopting habits and techniques that will allow you to manage your brain and your body, and that will also take into account how intense and unique are the efforts that you are asking of your brain and voice. In your everyday life and practices, put in place a systematic plan which trains, feeds, and indeed maintains your neurological, cognitive and vocal skills. You must understand that this cannot be improvised on the fly, and that your performance and your continuity in the profession depend upon it..

Think of your ‘inner interpreting machine’ as being capable of an overall performance level of X. In most cases, so long as you keep calm, you have the choice of dividing your cognitive efforts in the booth among several factors or variables. To illustrate this, I am going to liken your brain to the tyre on a rally car (yes, I know!). When you are behind the wheel of your rally car, you can ask this tyre to brake, accelerate or turn. You can also ask it to combine two or even all three of these things, depending on your ability and on the circumstances. However, regardless of what you do to share out the tasks demanded of the tyre, you cannot exceed the overall sum (fixed at X) of braking, accelerating and turning that the inflation pressure, rubber compound, width, aspect ratio, carcass, composition, age and temperature allow at a given time in specific circumstances. 

In fact, it’s actually even more complicated than this. If your skills and experience behind the wheel allow, you can go slightly beyond the performance level which we have termed X. You can reach, say, (X + 10%) by managing and controlling the slip angles engendered by going beyond the tyre’s current limits. But if you ask your tyre to reach, say, (X + 30%), either the tyre will be left damaged, or you will end up going off the road and your rally (and perhaps your life as well!) will be over. Additionally, if your tyre has worn down or overheated (or if the rubber is not resistant enough for the conditions), it will also lose grip and begin to slide. 

An able driver will take this into account, pace himself/herself, lower his/her expectations, and change trajectory so that the rubber holds out until the end of the event. The idea is to go at a speed which is slightly below the ideal speed…

This is exactly the same with your brain. You can ask it to listen, speak, understand a line of reasoning/an idea/a word, analyse ideas, render them and handle the console (these days, whether real or virtual), but you must always bear in mind the limits imposed upon you by your current stage of development as an interpreter, as well as the size and capacity of your cognitive ‘muscle’. 

Depending on the nature of the speech (the content, form, level of factual density, speed of delivery, accent, errors of syntax or grammar), you will fluidly mete out the tasks and cognitive demands according to the situation. The same applies whether you’re working into your A or your B language, and also when you’re working from a C language, depending on your level of mastery of all the language categories being employed for that particular interpretation event.

But, just as in the example of the rally car tyre, you cannot and must not go beyond the set psychological and cognitive performance level (the famous level X) you require of your brain. The only main difference between a tyre and a brain (and here is some good news for young and growing interpreters) is that the brain adapts, develops, and learns to raise the bar when it comes to the set performance level. This is what happens with other muscles in the body when you follow a rigorous and reasoned training programme put together by a recognised expert coach or trainer. Evolving the brain and voice, creating appropriate neuronal pathways, synapses, muscle memories and reflexes is indeed the goal of all training sessions for conference interpreters. But you will not learn to adapt if a professional and experienced coach/trainer/mentor (which might even have to be yourself in a worst case scenario!) is not there to help you to create a gradual, logical and sensible programme: one which takes into account all the factors linked to cognitive development…

“Desire without discipline dies… but desire with discipline deepens into passion… a discipline is an activity, within our power, that enables us to achieve indirectly what we cannot otherwise achieve by direct immediate effort. This is the difference between training and trying.” (Atul Gawande, surgeon and author)

In fact, you can (and must!) develop your brain so as to ensure that it performs better cognitively speaking. It might be a question of increasing your cognitive ‘bandwidth’ and being able to process more information in a given time, of increasing your mental resilience and concentration, of performing at the same level for longer, or of reaching a greater level of consistency. Your ‘default’ level will improve with practise and experience, and you will therefore become a better and happier interpreter. But be careful, because if you ask too much of your brain throughout your practise sessions and work assignments, it will start to wane, you will end up destroying your brain cells, and you will go backwards.

Continuing interpreting straight after something very demanding is another example of a situation where you will perhaps have to temporarily go into ‘degraded mode’ while you wait for your cognitive skills to get back on track. Here just a reminder: you won’t be able to stop interpreting simply because your brain is hurting!

So, let’s say that, after all the effort you have put in to learn more things and increase your mental ‘bandwidth’, your brain is able to work at performance level X. Your brain is excellent at adapting and evolving, but you need to treat it like a ‘standard muscle’, and ask it to work a little harder each day so that your abilities will grow consistently. This means that you will be able to improve on your standard performance level (level X), so, rather than just being level X, it will be X + Y%….

Thus, as you progress you can ask your brain to interpret at X + 5%, then a little later at X + 10%, then at X + 15%, which will mean that the standard level (X) will evolve over time. But if you ask your brain to immediately work at X + 50% in the booth, not only will it be unable to do so (just as if it was a horse refusing to attempt to jump a specific obstacle), but you will also be damaging it measurably and destroying neurones, to such an extent that it will then actually perform less well and your achievable level will for a while fall to a maximum of X – 5% or X – 10%. 

What is even worse is that if you demand so much of your brain as an interpreter (in terms of duration or intensity of effort), the damage to the neurones might last for several hours or even several days. However, the nature of our work is such that while your struggling grey matter is attempting to build back up its stock of neurones to the level preceding this traumatic (and here I’m talking about density, speed, fatigue, level of technicality, accent, sound quality etc), experience you are still expected to continue interpreting and ensure the ‘strict minimum’!

To come back to the analogy of the tyre, once the tyre’s grip has been overcome by by speed, the angle of a specific bend, and/or the acceleration or braking required, the car will start to slide. However, crashing is not inevitable, especially if the driver is highly skilled and can manage the skid so as to stay on the road and reach the end of the stage. 

Going into ‘degraded mode’ will very often be a life-saver, and this is all the more likely to be the case at the start of your career, because inexperienced interpreters who are on a learning curve will logically struggle more often in the booth than their more experienced colleagues.

Switching to ‘degraded mode’

how to save your energy and cognitive and mental resources

Before going any further into the nuts and bolts and introducing you to these tools, I would like to add that the actions that follow will be much easier to implement if you have in front of you the text of the speech you are interpreting, provided, of course, that you can handle the technique of ‘simultaneous with text’ (something which can really not be taken for granted at the start of your career). 

If you haven’t yet added this string to your bow, I would strongly advise you to do so. This essential technical exercise is quite complex when carried out at a high level, and can be and more of an obstacle than an asset if it has not been practised at length, fine-tuned and embedded as a cognitive reflex (which is of course the case for so many of the conference interpreter’s skills). 

Is your brain struggling to cope with events? Just like a computer which is slowed because the installed processor cannot cope with a high bit rate, you might be suffering from a case of cognitive ‘buffering’. What, then, can you do to provide the service expected by your contract, your employer, your listeners and your colleagues (not to mention yourself!)? How can you both preserve your brain and save your career?

  1. Anticipation

First of all, it is important to move into ‘degraded mode’ before you are actually forced to do so – if not, it will already be too late for your brain! Imagine only topping up your engine with oil when the ‘low pressure’ warning light comes on. In this case, your engine will already be (possibly irretrievably) damaged by a lack of maintenance and forethought. The same applies when you’re thirsty – you feel thirsty when your body is already dehydrated, and even if you drink a litre of water, it will take some time to metabolise and rehydrate your neurones and muscles. Clearly when you are engaged in intense physical or mental activity, you need to drink beforehand, pre-emptively as it were… All this means that an important part of practising the use of ‘degraded mode’ is anticipation. Here are just some examples of this anticipation in practice:

  • You might know in advance that a certain speaker is difficult to interpret
  • You discover that sound is poor and cannot be improved for the remainder of the event – this is especially likely in a ‘bidule’ or RSI setting
  • You discover that many delegates, who were slated to attend in person, will be joining by videoconference
  • You might find out that your booth partner will arrive later or need to leave earlier than expected
  • The agenda has unexpectedly been rejigged, and you will be called upon to interpret a topic or speaker that the team had agreed your colleague would prepare
  • The meeting may go on longer than expected, and your team leader agrees to work an extra hour
  • You are perhaps tired, ill, or feeling a bit low
  • You have, or develop, a headache
  • A topic arises that you personally find difficult or unpleasant
  • On arrival, you realise that the physical working conditions are far fom ideal, and will remain so
  • The team had been promised certain equipment (such as a ‘bidule’ with an incoming sound channel for interpreters) which does not materialise

These are all reasons for listening to your cognitive and psychological alarm bell, and making the decision to go into ‘degraded mode’ before your brain actually begins to shut down in an uncontrolled fashion!

NB: The above in no way means that you or your team should not do all in your power to improve sub-optimal  environments, team arrangements or sound equipment – to do so is a professional obligation – but on very many occasions much will unfortunately remain beyond the interpreters’ control.

2. Practical actions and techniques

More concretely, what are the techniques and tools that you can resort to in order to activate this ‘degraded mode’? Here is a non-exhaustive list of ideas, techniques and tips (more or less in order of usefulness):

a) Lower the volume of your input, and therefore of your output

This is the most useful strategy when it comes to economising physical and mental effort. Start by lowering the volume of the input, so you will be forced to lower your own volume (and, by extension, your timbre of voice). This is a virtuous cycle which relieves some of the strain and stress at ‘both ends’, thereby leading to a calmer and more convincing rendition, which as a bonus will sound more professional and more controlled. 

Stress almost inevitably makes the voice louder and higher-pitched, and so you will need to fight hard to apply this method. Do persist with it, though, because it’s your default tool! Do not forget that, just as a stressed driver has to continually loosen up his/her shoulders and hands, you have to do the same with the volume of your voice, because the volume and pitch will inevitably rise again under the effect of stress!

A little reminder: speaking more quietly means that you have to make sure you don’t sacrifice the different emotions, intonation, emphasis, etc that you are expected to use to convey the nuances in each speech. When we speak more quietly, we tend to limit the extent to which we use these vocal faculties, which in turn harms the quality and value of our interpretation. Practice reconciling vocal expression with lower volume. You should by the way already be doing this on a regular basis, to improve the quality of your whispered interpreting, for very similar reasons!

b) Use short words as much as possible 

This will probably seem obvious, but experience has taught me that often young interpreters don’t tend automatically to use shorter words in the booth – you must develop this reflex, to be employed when necessary – which will be often in today’s meetings! It is, however, a technique which will help you to save a great deal of energy, and you can use it at any point in the booth. Here are just a few of many thousands of possible examples:

  • ‘talks’ instead of ‘negotiations’ 
  • ‘aim’ instead of ‘objective’
  • ‘joy’ instead of ‘happiness’
  • ‘body’ instead of ‘organisation’
  • ‘project’ instead of ‘initiative’
  • ‘asset’ instead of ‘advantage’
  • ‘challenge’ instead of ‘difficulty’
  • ‘show’ instead of ‘demonstrate’
  • ‘goal’ instead of ‘objective’
  • ‘tool’ instead of ‘instrument’

As is the case for so many aspects of simultaneous interpreting, making this technique automatic is what truly counts – until this is the case, like most learned techniques it simply creates an added cognitive burden! 

Systematically gaining a few extra syllables here and there will have an amazingly significant effect on your brain’s ability to resist, recover, relax and function. I guarantee that you will be astonished at how much of a difference a bit of added time makes to your struggling neurones once you start using this technique systematically!

c) Use your tone rather than words to convey nuance and emphasis

This technique is essential, because you can use your voice and vocal resources to add emphasis, emotion (sarcasm, irony, anger, doubt, disappointment, authority, sadness, euphoria, etc.) or intensity. You can use this technique in lieu of adding additional words – which are often employed, after all, to clarify a point, support an argument, inject emphasis, convince or show/solicit empathy etc.

This technique is even more useful when you are working into a B language, as you will not always find, or even know, the right word. We often tend to use more words in an effort to convey the full meaning of the original, but this technique will help avoid this trap. You can, and should, use this method even when you’re not in ‘degraded mode’ to compensate for gaps in your second active language.

d) Use acronyms and abbreviations

Depending on your awareness of your listeners’ knowledge of the field (especially if all listeners are present from the beginning of the meeting), it can be very helpful to use abbreviations and acronyms – once you have, of course, first spelt out their full meaning, usually the first time they arise. To be clear: on the first occasion someone mentions the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, you would say ‘the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE’. Thereafter, you would simply use the acronym ‘OSCE’. Saying a few letters will consume far less time and energy than saying a whole title!

As an aside, if you are working into a language that features genders, do not forget that you need to know whether the abbreviation takes the masculine or the feminine, the singular or the plural. One must also take into account the fact that while most acronyms and abbreviations can change between languages (for example ‘NATO’ becomes ‘OTAN’ in French and Spanish) some do not, and still others (like ‘ETA’ or ‘IRA’) retain the same letters but may be expressed as an acronym (pronounced as a word) in one language and an abbreviation (pronounced as single separate letters) in the other – quite a minefield! 

e) Use ‘bullet point interpretation’

This is the most extreme version of degraded mode.

This technique will take some of the pressure off your brain, because it will enable you to find shortcuts when faced with heavy syntactical and grammatical structures. You will also be able to directly catch the attention of your listeners. 

Imagine, then, that the delegate’s speech is being shown on a PowerPoint slide, complete with bullet points, using simplified grammar and syntax. All you now need to do is interpret these bullet points as they would appear on a screen, which will save you words, effort and time. This will, in turn, allow your brain to take more micro-breaks and your body to breathe – your interpreting performance will improve and both your own brain and those of your listeners will thank you for it!

See the ‘Bullet point’ versions of the speech extracts below.

f) Cut through the verbosity and repetitions – prune and prioritise

(see written examples below)

“…use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do,

for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”

(Matthew 6:6, KJV)

This is one of the most efficient and useful strategies, but is also the most difficult both to describe and develop. This is what you need to do:

  • First, choose the minimum number of words (this obviously entails knowing a great many words – then you can choose wisely and well!)
  • Leave out little quips, quotes, ironic sayings, asides, formulaic expressions of politeness and linguistic flourishes, on the understanding that if these were to disappear it would not harm the rendition of the main ideas
  • Then, depending on the conditions and your own skills (both in general and at that specific moment), prioritise ideas and concepts on the fly (under pressure) and overlook ideas that are of secondary importance or that are repeated

A word of warning: I am aware that in reality you will perhaps be forced to pare back a given speech because you’re not able to capture and understand each nuance, reference or instance of humour and/or sarcasm. But there is a world of difference between this situation and a situation where you understand these aspects of the speech, but strategically choose not to render them to enhance communication and aid your clients.

As is the case with any technique, you must practise as much as possible so that it becomes automatic. This tool must be wielded in such a way that it does not damage your concentration or the cognitive abilities that you need to perform the actual ‘core task’ for which you have been hired: i.e. conveying the nuances and complexities of a speech delivered by a demanding and intelligent speaker.

To make sure this technique becomes truly ingrained, you could even try combining ‘business and pleasure’! Practise this in a group setting. Each person could give a pruned version of an original text, getting rid of the superfluous elements and keeping the main message. Then you could compare versions, and the person who has preserved the meaning while using the fewest words wins (the prize being up to you!)…

I would like to reiterate the fact that these techniques are much easier to apply correctly when performingsimultaneous interpretation with text. Once you have learnt to make use of texts, you can much more easily anticipate, prioritise and prune speeches in a logical and reasoned way, since you should be able to see what is coming.

I must again point out that, for a conference interpreter, it is essential to learn this technique thoroughly and be able to employ it instinctively – until this stage of professional familiarity is achieved, having the speech text in the booth is in fact more of a hindrance than a help, as it loads yet one more task onto your tired brain! But, be persistent, work and practice lots, and this skill will begin to become second nature….

Here is yet another word of warning: the aim is not to be satisfied with doing an incomplete job. It goes without saying that our contract (whether implicit or explicit) means that we should be able to convey every detail, every nuance, every quote and every repetition that the speaker chooses to put in his/her speech. Here we are talking more about doing your best in a difficult situation by switching into ‘degraded mode’. 

We choose to use this mode – and it must be a conscious choice, not the fruit of panic – in conditions where the alternative would be either a complete breakdown or a random, hesitant and patchy output. In the latter case, the main and essential ideas could get lost just as easily as the superfluous and secondary ideas, because the brain is no longer at the helm!

g) Use clichés, images and figures of speech as much as you can

Generally speaking, idiomatic expressions, clichés, aphorisms, figures of speech, sayings, images, quotes and other set expressions are VERY useful in interpreting, because they will help you to render complex ideas relatively easily. They will also add an element of ease and facility to what you are saying, and this will reassure both yourself and your listeners. When you’re in ‘degraded mode’, doing this will enable you to momentarily relax your concentration (because you know these expressions by heart and will render them automatically, and your clients will register them equally automatically). 

But be careful – when you use such expressions in your B language, make very sure that you learn them perfectly and properly, and that you understand their meaning and know when to use them appropriately. You must also ensure that your register is consistent, and a cliché or image rendered with even 95% linguistic and grammatical accuracy serves only to draw attention to your weaknesses and to make you appear pretentious!

h) Keep hydrated and ventilate your booth

I sincerely hope that, in normal circumstances, you drink regularly and pre-emptively while interpreting. Well, when you go into ‘degraded mode’, you should drink even more! Take frequent sips to hydrate your brain (which is already struggling due to the circumstances that have made going into ‘degraded mode’ necessary), and lubricate your vocal folds/cords and your throat. 

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of hydration to the interpreter’s brain – like a conscientious and intelligent sportsperson, you should be taking on, say, at least a couple of litres of water per full day in the booth, and more still if your booth is hot and stuffy.

The stagnant and overheated air, which is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception, which you will find in most booths (especially mobile ones), is another problem to contend with. Do everything you can to create a flow of fresh air through your booth, even if this means talking more quietly (in itself not an evil – see a) above!) to avoid disturbing your delegates or colleagues, if your booth is in the meeting room itself or adjacent to another, and if you decide to keep the door open or ajar – which is always advantageous but not always possible…

i) Learn (how) to breathe!

As an interpreter, your voice is a massively important tool, both for expression and for stress-relief. It is essential to consult experts and learn the techniques that enable your body to produce sound convincingly, effortlessly and consistently over a lengthy period. There are many techniques to improve voice and sound production – I can help with tips and tools for this, so by all means contact me if required.

Other techniques enable you to learn to breathe in ways that either calm or energise, depending upon what is needed at the relevant moment!

j) Avoid overheating by changing posture and by modifying your clothing

For the same reasons, do everything you can to put yourself at ease physically, so that you can interpret for longer. Of course you should follow this recommendation only when and where it is possible to do so, particularly with regards to protocol, visibility, set-up in the booth, the status of your partner etc. If so, loosen your tie or even take it off, take your shoes off, get rid of your jacket, adjust the angle of the backrest, etc. 

If you can use a headset that has a microphone attached, this will help you to feel more comfortable, because the microphone will follow your mouth. It will allow you to speak more quietly and to sit in a much more relaxed way, which will in turn make your flow more relaxed and fluid and put less pressure on your muscles. This a win-win situation whether you are in ‘degraded mode’ or not!



  • Normal mode
  • Degraded mode
  • ‘Bullet-point’ mode 

Transcript of a speech by the French president at the Ambassadors’ Conferencethe 27thof August 2018.

Extract (1) from the original speech

Je suis très heureux de vous retrouver aujourd’hui pour ouvrir cette conférence des Ambassadeurs et des Ambassadrices. Heureux parce que c’est toujours l’occasion unique de partager quelques convictions et une lecture du monde tel qu’il va, dans lequel chaque jour la France agit, est attendue, porte sa voix. Dans quelques jours, vous rejoindrez vos équipes sur le terrain et vous porterez avec exigence, détermination, une très grande responsabilité.

Version in normal mode

I am delighted to be here today to open this ambassadors’ conference, as for me this is always an unparalleled opportunity to share my convictions, and my reading of the way in which France can act, speak out and meet expectations in today’s changing world. In a few days’ time, you will be joining your respective teams on the ground, and I am confident that you will carry what is a heavy responsibility with rigour and resolve.

(116 syllables)

Version in ‘medium degraded’ mode

I am delighted to open this ambassadors’ conference, as it is a chance to share my thoughts on the way in which France should act and speak today as a major world player. You will soon join your various teams, and I know you will act with rigour and resolve. (65 syllables)

Version in ‘maximum degraded’ (bullet-point) mode

– I am happy to be here

 – We will discuss France’s major role worldwide

 – Out on the ground, I know you act as true professionals

 (33 syllables)

Extract (2) from the original speech

Votre première responsabilité, ce sera de représenter notre pays, notre histoire, nos idéaux républicains, nos géographies de métropole et d’outre-mer, nos intérêts. Et en représentant la France vous représentez l’histoire, la force, le rôle de notre peuple dans le concert des nations et avez à y conduire une diplomatie que je veux fiable et innovante. Votre deuxième responsabilité, avec votre équipe, avec l’appui de tous les relais dont vous disposez sur place, sera de mettre en œuvre une politique ambitieuse pour notre pays. Cette ambition, soyez assurés qu’elle se traduira par un rythme de réformes en France qui ne changera pas d’allure, bien au contraire. Le Premier ministre vous en précisera les orientations. Plusieurs ministres auront aussi à s’exprimer sur ce point. Sous la conduite de votre Ministre Jean-Yves Le DRIAN, que je tiens à remercier pour son implication constante, vous nous aiderez à soutenir ces réformes à l’international.

Version in normal mode

Your prime responsibility will be to represent our country, with her interests, her history and republican ideals and the geographical diversity of her various territories. In so doing, you will stand for France’s historical strength, and the role of the French people in the concert of nations – I am asking you to conduct our nation’s diplomacy in a reliable and innovative fashion. Your second responsibility, hand-in-hand with your teams and contact points on the ground, will consist of in implementing an ambitious policy for France. Rest assured that such ambitions will continue to be backed up by an increasing pace of reform on the domestic front. The Prime Minister will provide you with further details, and a number of ministers will be addressing this matter. Under the guiding hand of your minister Jean-Yves Le DRIAN, whom I wish to thank for his unstinting commitment, you will assist us in supporting these reforms on the international stage. (262 syllables)

Version in ‘medium degraded’ mode

You must first represent France in all her historical, geographical and moral diversity. You will help our people play their role on the world stage, and I ask you to work reliably and innovatively. Next, with all other stakeholders, you are called to implement an ambitious national policy, which I will back up by intense reform at home. The Prime Minister and his colleagues will provide further details here. Allow me to thank Minister Le DRIAN, under whom you will help France support these reforms the world over. (136 syllables)

Version in ‘maximum degraded’ (bullet-point) mode

– You represent France, in all her diversity, to the outside world

 – I ask you to be both reliable and innovative

– With others, you are called to be true ambassadors for our ambitious reforms 

– I thank Minister Le DRIAN and his colleagues, who will lead you and provide all relevant details (76 syllables)

Extract (3) from the original speech

En effet, vous êtes à mes yeux parties prenantes de la stratégie que j’ai demandé au gouvernement de mettre en œuvre pour le pays. D’abord, en associant pleinement nos communautés françaises à l’étranger. Elles sont une richesse, une force. Nos réformes doivent leur être expliquées et elles doivent aussi être portées par elles. Les Françaises et les Français de l’étranger sont un atout pour notre pays. Ils doivent participer pleinement de ce nouveau rayonnement de la France. C’est pour cela que j’ai souhaité une réflexion en profondeur sur l’enseignement français à l’étranger qui, sur la base du rapport que j’ai demandé au gouvernement, donnera lieu à l’annonce d’une réforme cet automne. C’est aussi pour cela que je veux aller au bout des simplifications attendues par nos concitoyens, en termes de démarches administratives et de vote en ligne.

Version in normal mode

You are indeed an active and integral part of the national strategy that I have requested the government to put in place. The first step is fully to involve our French communities abroad, as they are our wealth and our strength. Our reforms need to be explained to them to secure their buy-in. French men and women overseas are a huge asset, and they have an essential part to play in projecting our country’s soft power. It is for this reason that I commissioned an in-depth review of French education overseas – on the basis of the report which the government will submit to me, a reform will be announced this Autumn. For the self-same reason, I am determined to complete the streamlining of our administrative and on-line voting procedures. (194 syllables)

Version in ‘medium degraded’ mode

You have a role to play in France’s new national strategy. We need to explain this to the French diaspora, who need to be brought fully on board. Our citizens abroad are also our ambassadors. The government will report back to me in the Autumn on our overseas education, and we will continue to streamline administrative procedures generally. (96 syllables)

Version in ‘maximum degraded’ (bullet-point) mode

– Our nation’s strategy needs your help

 – France’s diaspora must be brought onboard

 – This Autumn will see a report on French education abroad

 – Administrative procedures are being streamlined (48 syllables)

Extract (4) from the original speech

Ensuite, vous contribuez à la compétitivité de la France. Vous devez expliquer aux gouvernements, aux acteurs économiques dans les pays où vous êtes en poste, la cohérence et l’ampleur de notre agenda de transformation. Notre attractivité s’améliore, mais il nous faut nous mobiliser bien davantage pour nos exportations. Votre mobilisation en faveur d’une diplomatie économique est un élément important de cette stratégie. Nous devons notamment axer notre action collective sur une stratégie export pour les entreprises de taille intermédiaire comme les petites et moyennes entreprises qui seule réduira notre déficit commercial. Mais j’attends de vous encore davantage. De Ouagadougou à Xi’an, de Sydney à New York ou la Sorbonne, j’ai durant l’année qui s’achève pu, à travers plusieurs discours, renouveler nos approches géographiques ou stratégiques. Il faut que celles-ci soient désormais déclinées avec précision. Cela suppose de choisir des objectifs clairs et donc limités, et de prendre de nouvelles mesures afin d’en assurer le suivi. Nous avons encore trop tendance à considérer que tout est prioritaire et ne pas suffisamment avoir une culture du résultat. Même en diplomatie, le succès se mesure – certes pas en un jour et même sans doute jamais en un jour – à la capacité néanmoins d’infléchir des attitudes, de construire des amitiés et des alliances, de remporter des marchés. En un mot, de faire avancer les intérêts de la France et des Français et de faire partager un peu de notre vision et conception du monde.

Version in normal mode

You also contribute to our nation’s competitiveness. It will be up to you, in your various postings, to explain the logic and the extent of our transformation agenda. France is becoming increasingly attractive, but we must work proactively to promote our exports. Your efforts to further economic diplomacy will be key building blocks in this strategy. Priority must be given to working together on reducing our trade deficit by forging an export strategy for both small and medium-sized enterprises. But I expect still more of you! From Ouagadougou to Xi’an, from Sydney to New York and the Sorbonne, in the course of several speeches over the last year I have outlined our new geographical and strategic approaches. It is now important to put flesh on the bones of these initiatives, which entails choosing clear and realistic goals, and to put in place new measures to ensure an appropriate follow-up. We still tend to consider that everything is a priority, and we are not sufficiently results-oriented. Even in diplomacy, success can be measured – certainly not overnight and in fact definitely never overnight – by the ability to change hearts and minds, to build friendships and alliances, and to win contracts. In a nutshell, our task is to further the interests of France and the French people, and to share a little of our vision and reading of the world. (413 syllables)

Version in ‘medium degraded’ mode

We trust you to promote and explain France’s economic growth and new agenda, through economic diplomacy. You must work on promoting exports for our SMEs, so reducing our trade deficits. I have spoken widely of our new approach, and now you must help by providing details to your interlocutors and ensuring follow-up. We must all assign clear priorities and be results-oriented, working on mindsets and winning contracts. It is our job to work for the good of France, and share our vision with the world. (141 syllables)

Version in ‘maximum degraded’ (bullet-point) mode

– Speak on behalf of France’s new economic agenda

 – Help our SMEs by aiding exports and cutting trade deficits

 – You must now give details on the agenda I have presented

 – We need clear priorities and aims to win contracts

 – You are France’s ambassadors, sharing our vision worldwide

 (76 syllables)


Here are two links to recordings of my own simultaneous interpretation of a speech by the American Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who was speaking at the ‘American Enterprise Institute’ in 2017. First, here are the links to the transcript and the video: %20America%20in%20the%20World%20%2802.30-%29%20%28T%29.mp4?dl=0 

The first example below is of a full interpretation in ‘normal mode’, while the second is an example of ‘degraded mode’:

‘Normal mode’:

‘Degraded mode’:

Chris Guichot de Fortis

19th June 2020

Parallel texts PL-EN

On the pages Parallel texts EN-FR we looked at how reading newspaper articles about the same events/subjects in two languages offers to see see how similar ideas are expressed independently in two languages WITHOUT interference from the other language. 

Sometimes looking at a translation can also offer useful solutions to language problems, particularly for international treaties and since May 2004 for EU legislation. 

In the example below the Polish text of Council Directive 92/32/EEC is in the left hand column, the English text of the same Directive in the right hand column. Note how some constructions, which occur very frequently in such texts, and debates about such texts, are dealt with differently in the two languages. 

Thanks to David Walker for much of the hard work behind this page.


Dyrektywa Rady 92/32/EWG z dnia 30 kwietnia 1992 r. zmieniająca po raz siódmy dyrektywę 67/548/EWG w sprawie1 zbliżenia przepisów ustawowych, wykonawczych i administracyjnych odnoszących się do klasyfikacji, pakowania i etykietowania substancji niebezpiecznych RADA WSPÓLNOT EUROPEJSKICH, uwzględniając2 Traktat ustanawiający Europejską Wspólnotę Gospodarczą, w szczególności jego art. 100a, uwzględniając wniosek Komisji [1], we współpracy z Parlamentem Europejskim [2],   uwzględniając opinię Komitetu Ekonomiczno-Społecznego [3], a także mając na uwadze3, co następuje: rozbieżności między przepisami ustawowymi, wykonawczymi i administracyjnymi dotyczącymi klasyfikacji, pakowania i etykietowania substancji niebezpiecznych oraz dotyczącymi zgłoszenia nowych substancji w Państwach Członkowskich mogą stanowić przeszkodę w handlu między Państwami Członkowskimi i stwarzać nierówne warunki konkurencji; rozbieżności te mają4 bezpośredni wpływ na funkcjonowanie rynku wewnętrznego i nie gwarantują takiego samego poziomu ochrony zdrowia publicznego i środowiska; środki dla zbliżania przepisów Państw Członkowskich, mające na celu ustanowienie i funkcjonowanie rynku wewnętrznego, mają za podstawę wysoki poziom ochrony, o tyle o ile dotyczą zdrowia, bezpieczeństwa i ochrony zdrowia człowieka i środowiska.    COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/32/EEC of 30 April 1992 amending for the seventh time Directive 67/548/EEC on1 the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES,   having regard to2 the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, and in particular Article 100a thereof, having regard to the proposal from the Commission (1), In cooperation with the European Parliament (2),  having regard to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee (3),  whereas3 disparity between the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances and to the notification of new substances in the Member States may lead to barriers to trade between Member States and create unequal conditions of competition;  whereas the disparity between these measures in the Member States has a direct impact on the functioning of the internal market and does not guarantee the same level of protection of public health and the environment; whereas measures for the approximation of the provisions of the Member States which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market shall4, inasmuch as they concern health, safety and the protection of man and the environment, take as their basis a high level of protection;  

Comments on example

zmieniająca po raz siódmy dyrektywę 67/548/EWG w sprawieamending for the seventh time Directive 67/548/EEC on theThere are lots on awkward and wrong ways of rendering “w sprawie” in English!
uwzględniającHaving regard toNote that this expression is repeated in both languages but… 
a także mając na uwadze, co następuje:whereas …. this one is NOT repeated in Polish. This is going to difficult to spot for interpreters working out of Polish from speakers quoting these recitals…but forewarned is forearmed! 
mająshall,typical in legal texts, “shall” is rendered by a present tense verb and vice versa.

Parallel text FR-EN

Reading newspaper articles about the same events/subjects in newspapers of both your A and C languages offers you the chance to see how similar ideas are expressed independently in two languages without interference from the other language. This will be very useful in helping to avoid language interference (calque) when you interpret.

This activity and its usefulness in translation was first described in Vinay & Darbelnet’s seminal Comparative Stylistics of French and English (1.4.2 p44 )


1. Find newspaper articles on the same subject in two or more different languages (one of which should be your mother tongue)
2. Highlight passages where the same information is conveyed in the different articles
3. Make a note of the equivalent versions for future reference
Gilets jaunes : le maintien de l’ordre à l’épreuve des blessés graves
Le nombre des blessés graves depuis le début du mouvement le 17 novembre dernier ouvre le débat sur la stratégie de maintien de l’ordre, et notamment l’usage du lanceur de balles (LBD) et des grenades GLI-F41 par les forces de l’ordre2.   Chaque samedi depuis l’ Acte I des Gilets jaunes8 le 17 novembre, qui a engendré une fronde inédite et de grandes violences, le nombre de blessés ne cesse de s’amplifier. Deux mille chez les manifestants, 1 000 parmi les forces de l’ordre selon le ministère de l’Intérieur. A l’IGPN, la « police des polices »3 saisie des enquêtes les plus graves, on dénombrait 81 procédures judiciaires au 15 janvier, dont 31 concernant des blessures graves. Parmi elles, 13 à la suite de tirs de lanceurs de balles de défense (LBD)4, 18 provoquées par des grenades GLI ou GMD ou par la force physique. Cette réalité judiciaire pourrait être en dessous de la réalité. La recension sur le réseau social Twitter par David Dufresne, un journaliste spécialiste du maintien de l’ordre, compte 308 signalements documentés par images, dont une centaine de blessés atteints à la tête. Parmi eux, une quinzaine de personnes ont perdu un œil. Il a également comptabilisé quatre mains arrachées5. Les blessures mutilantes6, quelle que soit l’issue judiciaire des enquêtes en cours, sont essentiellement causées par deux armes : d’une part le lanceur de balles de défense (LBD), qui tire des projectiles de caoutchouc de 40 mm7 de diamètre d’une portée de 10 à 40 mètres à la puissance de 160 joules, soit 10 fois la puissance d’un paintball, et d’autre part la grenade GLI-F4, qui contient 25 g de TNT.   Ces deux armes sont aujourd’hui en ligne de mire. Jeudi, Jacques Toubon, le Défenseur des Droits, a réitéré sa demande au gouvernement d’interdiction du LBD, un an après avoir remis un rapport à l’Assemblée nationale la préconisant déjà. Un rapport resté sans effet. « Le LBD est susceptible de blesser grièvement un manifestant, d’engager la responsabilité du tireur », écrivait-il. Quant à la grenade GLI-F4, un collectif d’avocats – dont Mes Raphaël Kempf, Aïnoha Pascual et Arié Alimi – tous défenseurs de blessés par cette grenade dite « assourdissante », a écrit en novembre au ministre de l’Intérieur pour exiger son retrait à cause des blessures irréversibles qu’elle peut engendrer.   …. « Quand le ministre de l’Intérieur Castaner parle, on a l’impression d’entendre le ministre des policiers, et non celui des citoyens. Il y a un défaut d’équilibre. Nous parlons de « maintien de l’ordre », alors que les Anglo-Saxons emploient le terme de « gestion de foule », ce qui n’engendre pas le même type de doctrine », poursuit Sébastian Roché.  
French police weapons under scrutiny after gilets jaunes injuries – 30th Jan 2019  
The French government is under growing pressure to review police2 use of explosive weapons1 against civilians after serious injuries were reported during gilets jaunes street demonstrations, including people alleged to have lost eyes and to have had their hands and feet mutilated.   France’s legal advisory body, the council of state, will on Wednesday examine an urgent request by the French Human Rights League and the CGT trade union to ban police from using a form of rubber-bullet launcher4 in which ball-shaped projectiles are shot out of specialised handheld launchers. France’s rights ombudsman has long warned they are dangerous and carry “disproportionate risk”. Lawyers have also petitioned the government to ban so-called “sting-ball” grenades4, which contain 25g of TNT high-explosive. France is the only European country where crowd-control police2 use such powerful grenades, which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls7 that creates a stinging effect as well as launching an additional load of teargas. The grenades create a deafening effect that has been likened to the sound of an aircraft taking off. France’s centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing renewed calls to ban such weapons after Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests)8 demonstrators was hit in the eye on Saturday in Paris. He is said by his lawyer to have been disabled for life. Rights groups say Rodrigues’s case is the tip of the iceberg. Lawyers estimate that as many as 17 people have lost an eye because of the police’s use of such weapons since the start of the street demonstrations, while at least three have lost their hands5 and others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated6. Injuries have happened at demonstrations in Paris and other cities, including Bordeaux and Nantes. Aïnoha Pascual, a Paris lawyer representing several of the injured people, including one person who had part of his hand ripped off, and another left partially deaf and with facial injuries, said never in recent history had so many serious injuries been seen during protests. She said using the sting-ball grenades was akin to using military weapons against a civilian population. “These weapons are a very real problem. In the 1980s, if one person was hit in the eye at a demonstration there would be a huge reaction, yet now there is no reaction from government.” Dominique, 54, a childcare worker from rural Normandy, described how she saw her sons seriously wounded. One of them had his hand ripped off by, she believes, a sting-ball grenade4 on the Champs Élysées in Paris in November during a family day out to support the gilets jaunes demonstrations…. The government has not commented on specific allegations or given any breakdown of injuries. The interior minister, Christophe Castaner, on Tuesday said only that 1,900 people had been injured in all circumstances since the start of the gilets jaunes demonstrations in November. Lawyers and journalists attempting to compile lists of police weapon injuries estimate at least 100 people have been wounded. A total of 101 investigations have been opened by France’s police watchdog3

Comments on the examples

lanceur de balles (LBD) et des grenades GLI-F41explosive weapons1These acronyms are familiar to French readers, not to English readers so the author takes a generic description
forces de l’ordre2police
crowd control police2
The terms are so different here the difference is mentioned in the article!
l’IGPN, la « police des polices3France’s police watchdog3The French explains an acronym familiar in France. The English drops it as irrelevant and leaves only the explanation.
lanceurs de balles de défense (LBD)4rubber-bullet launcher4
so-called “sting-ball” grenade4
The first EN is a paraphrase, the second a translation but requires inverted commas for English readers who will never have heard of it.
quatre mains arrachées5have lost their hands5This is more common in EN that « ripped off« which you see elsewhere in this article. 
blessures mutilantes6others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated6verb in English replaces the noun in French
qui tire des projectiles de caoutchouc de 40 mm7which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls7same thing described differently
Gilets jaunes8gilets jaunes (yellow vests)8transcoding + explanation

Coping tactics

This extract is taken from pages 191-201 of Daniel Gile’s excellent Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training, 1995 & 2009, Benjamins of Amsterdam.

Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training 1995 & 2009

Coping Tactics in Interpretation


In spite of interpreters’ preparation strategies, problems do arise in interpreting situations (see Gile 1989) because of processing capacity limitations (as ex­plained in chapter 7), errors in processing capacity management, and gaps in the interpreters’ Knowledge Base. Many of these problems can be said to be unavoidable, as shown by the fact that they are encountered regularly even by interpreters with a solid reputation and long professional experience. Interpre­tation has been referred to by some professionals as “crisis management,” and in the light of interpreters’ daily experience, these are apt words to describe an aspect of interpreting which is virtually unknown to the public at large.
Difficulties affect both comprehension and production, often through failure sequences as explained in chapter 7. When interpreters are aware of such problems, they tend to use a rather small set of tactics to limit their impact.
Coping tactics are a very fundamental practical skill in interpreting. Basically, they are taught within the framework of practical exercises. In most training programs, this is done by trial and correction, with trial on the student’s part and corrections from the instructor. Such corrections are gener­ally normative; instructors sometimes refer to the communication impact of the tactics in order to explain their preferences, but are not necessarily aware of other factors which influence them.
This chapter attempts to provide instructors with a list of basic coping tactics for a general view of the issue. It also presents a conceptual framework which spells out the advantages and drawbacks of each tactic, and discusses a few rules which may help explain what makes interpreters prefer one tactic over the other beyond their individual merits.

Tactics in simultaneous interpretation

2.1 Comprehension tactics

The following are the main tactics used when comprehension problems arise, and when they threaten to arise under time-related or processing capacity­related pressure.

a. Delaying the response
When a comprehension difficulty arises, interpreters may respond immedi­ately with one of the other tactics presented below. However, they may also delay their response for a while (a fraction of a second to a few seconds), so as to have some time for thought while they receive more information from the source-language speech. After a while, they may have solved the problem entirely, or else they may decide to resort to another tactic.
Because of its very nature, the Delay tactic involves an accumulation of information in short-term memory, and is associated with the risk of losing speech segments in a failure sequence as outlined in chapter 7.

b. Reconstructing the segment with the help of the context
When interpreters have not properly heard or understood a technical term, name, number, or other type of speech segment, they can try to reconstruct it in their mind using their knowledge of the language, the subject, and, the situation (their extralinguistic knowledge).
The reconstruction process is an integral part of speech comprehension in everyday situations as well. It is defined as a tactic in the present context when it becomes a conscious endeavor, as opposed to an ordinary, subconscious process.
If successful, reconstruction can result in full recovery of the information. However, it may entail some waiting until more information is available and require considerable time and processing capacity. Like the Delay tactic presented above, it is associated with a high risk of saturation and individual deficits. Reconstruction from the context can therefore not be considered a high-priority tactic.

c. Using the boothmate’s help
In simultaneous interpretation, there are theoretically at least two interpreters in the booth at all times. One is active (producing a target-language speech), while the other is passive (listening, but not speaking). The passive colleague, who can devote full attention to listening, has a better chance of understanding difficult speech segments than the active interpreter, whose processing capac­ity is being shared by the three Efforts. Moreover, on the production side, the passive interpreter can consult a glossary or another document, which takes up much time and processing capacity, and then give the information to the active colleague, generally in writing. The presence of a passive interpreter in the booth is therefore a major asset to the active interpreter.
The active interpreter can ask for the passive colleague’s help with a glance or a movement of the head. In teams that work well, the passive interpreter will sense a hesitation in the active colleague’s speech and under­stand there is a problem. He or she can also anticipate problems and write down names, numbers, technical terms, etc., without even being asked for help. When the problem is terminological, the boothmate will generally indi­cate to the active interpreter the target-language term if possible, so that it can be used for reformulation. When the problem lies with a single word, name, or number, the passive boothmate can also write it down in the source language for the benefit of the active interpreter who did not hear it correctly. It is much more difficult, however, to explain an idea efficiently, because the active interpreter does not have time to read a long explanation.
This tactic is a very good one because it does not cost much in time and processing capacity, and pooling the knowledge and intelligence of two per­sons, one of whom does not have to divide attention between listening and other tasks, provides a better chance of finding the information than using the resources of only one person.

However, in order for the tactic to work, the passive interpreter must be not only physically present in the booth, but also available and willing to make the effort and help the active colleague. This situation does not always occur:
• Because of the intense effort involved in interpreting, interpreters strongly feel the need for rest. In teams composed of two members per target language, when conditions are difficult, interpreters tend to leave the booth as soon as they have finished their active duty and only return when they are on again, or else they may stay in the booth but shut themselves out and rest.
• In conferences in which papers are to be read, documents are often given to the interpreters at the very last moment, and presentations are allocated individually to each member of the team. In such a case, all interpreters are busy reading their paper or interpreting, and no help is available to the active interpreter from other team members.
• For psychological and sociological reasons, including the awareness of one’s weaknesses and some associated frustration, interpreters may feel vulnerable and not want other colleagues to sit with them and listen while they are working.
It is important for teachers to point out the practical value of cooperation between interpreters, as well as its importance in the framework of profes­sional ethics aiming at offering clients better service. The practical aspects of such cooperation, involving in particular large and legible handwriting, should also be stressed.

d. Consulting documents in the booth When there is no passive colleague in the booth, interpreters can look for solutions in documents they have before them.
The efficiency of this tactic varies greatly: looking for a term in a com­mercial dictionary may require much time and processing capacity, but finding an important word in a document that was read and marked before the confer­ence can be very fast. This is why it is important to pay attention to both the preparation of documents and their management in the booth. Instructors should show students how to make important names and terms stand out for quick reference, using highlighters or other means. Writing important techni­cal terms and names on a sheet of paper in front of the interpreter (beside the glossary prepared for the conference) is another way of making them readily available. In particular, documents should be laid out in the booth, sorted, and marked in such a way as to minimize the time needed to access them and to recognize their identification numbers or titles, possibly with different stacks for each language, sorted by numerical sequence, type of document, etc.

2.2 Preventive tactics

The following tactics are used when time or processing capacity pressure is such that the interpreter believes a problem may arise or is about to occur. The idea is to limit the risks of failure.

a. Taking notes When the speech contains figures and names that interpreters feel they may forget and that they cannot reformulate right away for syntactic reasons, they may take them down in notes. While affording greater security as regards the items which are taken down, this tactic entails a high cost in time and process­ing capacity, which increases the risk of losing other items of information that come before or after those written down (this is an interference phenomenon, as explained in section 3). The risk is reduced significantly when it is the passive colleague who writes the information for the active colleague.

It is interesting to note that when translating in simultaneous from and into Japanese, some Japanese interpreters take down not only numbers and names, but also other information which Westerners generally do not write (in this case, it is often the passive interpreter who takes down the information for the active colleague). The reason given by them is that syntactic structures differ greatly between Japanese and other (mostly Western) languages, which leads to much waiting before the reformulation of any specific part of a sentence, hence a possible overload of short-term memory and an increased risk of losing information (see chapter 9).

b. Changing the Ear-Voice Span
By changing the Ear-Voice Span (EVS), that is the time lag between compre­hension and reformulation, interpreters can control to a certain extent the processing capacity requirements for individual Efforts. By shortening the lag, they decrease short-term memory requirements, but deprive themselves of anticipation potential and run the risk of misunderstanding a sentence and driving themselves into target-language sentences which will be difficult to complete. By lagging further behind, interpreters increase comprehension potential, but may overload short-term memory.
Teachers sometimes advise students to try to lengthen or shorten their EVS in specific cases, but there does not exist a clear-cut, consistent theory or set of operational rules on the subject. It seems that EVS regulation is learned with experience; I believe that this is the single largest benefit derived from practice in simultaneous interpretation during initial training.

c. Segmentation
When faced with potential overload of memory, as with a source language and a target language that are syntactically very different, with embedded structures in the source language, or with unclear sentence structures, interpreters may choose to reformulate speech segments earlier than they would normally do, sometimes before they have a full picture of what the speaker wants to say. In such cases, they may resort to neutral sentence beginnings or segments in the target language that do not commit them one way or another. For instance, in a source-language sentence expressing a causal relationship such as:

Because of the complex character of equation (2) as shown above, com­pounded by the difficulty of finding a unique solution to equations (3) and (4) which correspond to a steady state system

the interpreter can say in the target-language something like:

Equation (2) as shown above is complex. Equations (3) and (4) describe a steady system. It is difficult to find a unique solution to them.

While interpreting these segments, he or she will keep in mind the causal nature of the relationship, which will eventually be expressed by “Therefore ….” Segmentation can save short-term memory capacity requirements by unloading information from memory faster. On the other hand, the very formulation of several grammatically complete short sentences instead of one may involve higher processing capacity requirements in the Production Effort. Recommendations should be given on a case-by-case basis.

d. Changing the order of elements in an enumeration
Enumerations are high-density speech segments that impose a high load on short-term memory. One tactic often observed consists of reformulating the last elements first so as to free memory from the information, and then to move on to other elements. To my knowledge, no analysis has yet been performed as to why this should reduce Memory Effort load. One possible explanation is that by reformulating the last elements first, it is possible to pick them up before they have been processed in depth and integrated fully into the semantic network, thus saving processing capacity. This tactic may work best with names, which can be reproduced from echoic memory (memory of the sound), or with terms which are easily transcoded; it may not be very effective if such elements cannot be transcoded or reproduced phonetically and require more processing capacity anyway.

2.3 Reformulation tactics

Gile includes reformulation tactics as part of coping tactics. They are detailed here

Reformulation tactics

This extract is taken from pages 197-199 of Daniel Gile‘s excellent “Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training”, 1995, and is reproduced here without the kind permission of Benjamins of Amsterdam.

Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training

2.3 Reformulation tactics

The following are tactics used in reformulation in order to eliminate the potential consequences of production problems or short-term memory problems. The first three are the same as presented in section 2.1 on comprehension tactics. 

a. Delaying the response

This is the same tactic as used in comprehension, the idea being that the waiting period is used for a subconscious (or conscious) search for the missing term or sentence structure. As with the case of comprehension, the waiting entails a risk of short-term memory overload, as well as a possible increase in processing capacity requirements in the Production Effort when the informa­tion is eventually reformulated-because of the backlog that has accumulated in the meantime. 

b. Using the boothmate’s help 

As can be inferred from the descriptions in section 2.1, the boothmate’s help is more often given in the form of indications for reformulation than as explana­tions of what was said, which is reasonable in view of the strict time constraints involved. 

c. Consulting documents in the booth

Whenever possible, documents are used in the booth for reformulation, in particular where glossaries and dictionaries are concerned. 

d. Replacing a segment with a superordinate term or a more general speech segment 

When interpreters find themselves incapable of understanding a speech seg­ment or reformulating it in the target language, one possible solution is to reformulate the message in a less accurate manner by using a superordinate in the case of a single word, or by constructing a more general segment in the case of a whole clause or sentence: “la streptokinase” may be reformulated as “the enzyme,” “Monsieur Stephen Wedgeworth” as “the speaker,” “deux cent trente trois millions” as “about two hundred and thirty million,” “DEC, IBM, Hewlett Packard et Texas Instruments” as “a number of computer vendors,” etc. 

This tactic, which requires little time, implies loss of information in the target-language speech. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the information is lost for the delegates; it may be repeated in another sentence in the speech, or be already known to the delegates. 

e. Explaining or paraphrasing

Interpreters may understand a term but not know the appropriate equivalent in the target language, in which case they can explain it. For instance, in one conference, the data processing term “tableur” (spreadsheet) was interpreted as “the program which defines rows and columns and allows calculations to be made.” 

This tactic can be efficient informationally but has two drawbacks: one is the large amount of time and processing capacity it requires, and the other is the fact that it may draw the delegates’ attention to the fact that the interpreter does not know the proper term in the target language, possibly lowering his or her credibility and reducing the impact of the speech accordingly. 

f. Reproducing the sound heard in the source-language speech 

When encountering a name or technical term which is not known or recog­nized, the interpreter may try to reproduce the sound as heard. This is not an “intelligent” tactic insofar as it does not call for complex cognitive operations, but it can be efficient: if they know the name or term, delegates may hear it as it should have been pronounced, without even noticing that the interpreter has a problem. On the other hand, the approximation may also be heard and perceived as a distortion of the information, which may not only generate loss of information, but also discredit the interpreter. 

g. Instant naturalization 

When interpreters do not know the appropriate term in the target language, they may naturalize the source-language term, adapting it to the morphologi­cal or phonological rules of the target language. For instance, in a conference, the term “télédétection” (remote sensing) was rendered in English as “telede­tection.” Similarly, the English computer term “driver,” as applied to a soft­ware program that helps operate a device such as a printer from a computer, or as applied to the physical unit that runs floppy diskettes, was translated into French as “driver” (pronounced “dreevair”), and into Japanese as “doraibâ.”

This tactic may prove very effective in three cases: 

1. When the source-language and target-language lexicons are mor­phologically similar, as for example is the case in English and French medical terminology.2. When there is much borrowing of terms in the particular field from the source language to the target language. This is the case in particular of data processing, where English is a loan language for most other languages. In these first two cases, the tactic often results in terms that actually exist in the target language, as such naturalization may have been conducted previously by experts who needed the terms for their daily activity (as in the case of the naturalized French version of “driver” cited above), and may have produced the same target-language creation. 3. When delegates read much material in the source language. In such a case, they often recognize the naturalized terms, which are likely to sound similar to the way they pronounce the words in the source language when reading. 

h. Transcoding

Transcoding consists of translating a source-language term or speech segment into the target language word for word. For example, in the field of accounting, the English term “maturity date,” the equivalent of which is “date d’échéance “, was interpreted as “date de maturité”. 

This tactic can be very efficient in the same cases as naturalization. Like naturalization, it can also lead to existing target-language terms; in various fields, many terms have been created by such transcoding by experts, just as many terms have been created by phonetic naturalization. Even when trans­coding does not lead to an existing target-language term, it may facilitate comprehension for the delegates because of the semantic indications the newly created term carries. For instance, in the field of dentistry, the English term “mandibular block” (a type of anesthesia) was interpreted as “bloc mandi­bulaire”, whereas the appropriate term was “tronculaire”. Delegates said afterward they had no trouble understanding “bloc mandibulaire”, even though it bore no similarity at all with the appropriate French term.

Reformulation exercises

Here are two great exercises to get the brain in gear for simultaneous or consecutive. 

These are exercises to activate linguistic reflexes (synonyms, antonyms, lexical structures). This type of exercise is intended to enlarge the student’s linguistic resources as well as to provide him with useful strategies for interpreting.

This extract is taken from pages 243 of… Approaches to the teaching of interpreting mnemonic and analytic strategies by Jiminez and Ballester in Teaching Translation and Interpreting, Eds Dollerup and Loddegarde, 1991.

4. Exercises

Our knowledge of how memory works and the guidelines for analysis have made us develop some exercises for interpreters training. They are the following: 

4.a. Exercises for mnemonic activation

4.a.1 Parataxis 

Example 1Lecturer: eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, ospreys, buzzards
Students: eagles, hawks and other birds of prey.
Example 2Lecturer: prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests, vouchers for glasses…
Students: dental treatment and other free Social Security benefits.

4.a.2. Synonyms

Example 1 Lecturer: environment
Students: ecology, atmosphere, the air we breathe, our natural surroundings, our medium…
Example 2Lecturer: Mrs. Thatcher
Students: the former British Prime Minister, the former British Premier, The Iron Lady, Mr. Major’s predecessor, Mr. Gonzalez’ former counterpart, Britain’s longest-governing Prime Minister.

Reformulation ideas

There are as many ways to turn one language version of an idea into target language version as there are ways of expressing the same idea in the target language irrespective of the original. Below are just a few ideas, they are not the only way to do things but rather a limited demonstration of how reformulation can be used as a problem solver by the interpreter.

1. Changing word order in a clause

1.1  hold the first idea in a German sentence and tag it on at the end 

Am 15.Nov entschied sich das Parlament fuer…The Parliament decided on 15th Nov that.… . 
In Deutschland werden weitere Fortschritte gemacht Further progress is being made in Germany

1.2 German prefers the order…

TIME… MANNER… PLACESie haben sich letzte Woche in Muenchen wiedergefunden.
English prefers the order…PLACE… MANNER… TIMEThey met up in Munich last week.

1.3 unbundling complex german qualifiers…

die am 4. marz an der Sitzung in Rom unterzeichnete Vertrag wurde….On 4th march a contract was signed in Rome, which was…

1.4 English likes compound nouns…

methodes de collectes de donneesdata collection methods

1.5 changing clause order in a sentence 

( see also James Nolan on changing the order of adverbial clauses.) 

when we met in berlin last week, we ratified the committee’s draft opinionwe ratified the committee’s draft opinion, when we met in berlin last week

2. Parts of Speech (transposition)

2.1 Changing parts of speech

change nouns into verbskeine Vereinbarungfailed to agree
change adjectives into verbssont reeligiblesmay be re-elected
change nouns into adjectivesc’est un probleme de…it’s difficult to…
etc. etc.

2.2 changing active verbs to passive and vice versa

(this can be a useful when you are waiting for the verb in German.) 

wir haben das Parlament anschliessend zu dem am 15. erfolgreich abgeschlossenen Sitzung schriftlich informiert.Following the successful meeting of 15th the Parliament was informed in writing
ca se fabrique en Italie It’s made in Italy
wir haben einige sehr interesante Dokumente entwurfenSome interesting documents have been drafted (by our team)

2.3 “did” can be used in the normal affirmative sentence in English.

It may add potentially undesired emphasis but it can help you when working for languages in which the verb can come very late in the sentence (like German). 

The UN did the UN did , at its General Assembly Meeting in Geneva on the 11th May , agree that… Some interesting documents have been drafted (by our team)

3. Negation of opposites

Change affirmatives for words meaning the opposite in the negative…giving the same meaning. (Or vice versa. See Vinay & Darbelnet

plus que limitéless than generous
limiténot boundless
es geht mir nicht aus dem KopfIt’s always on my mind
Das ist nicht Dein Ernst?Are you serious?
Aucun piste n’a été priviligié nothing has been ruled out

4. Editing the irrelevant

Many languages have fillers that allow the speaker to start speaking before they have fully thought out their sentence. The interpreter can remove these and create a neater more concise syntax.

en ce qui concerne les tarifs , nous sommes d’accord

jezeli chodzi o tarify, jesteśmy tego samego zdania 

we agree on tarifs 

5. Lists in reverse order 

Lists do not always have to be given in the same order as the speaker gives them. Many lists contain 3 elements, as this is an oratorial technique often used, reproducing the list 1, 2, 3, in the order 1, 3, 2 can considerably ease the burden on short term memory

6. Easy bits 

You can do at least three things with stuff like “let me just say ” or “in 1998” or “I talked to John about this on Monday” 

  • i) hold onto it to the very end of the section, because it requires almost no effort to remember it
  • ii) get it out of the way as quickly as possible, because it is not the crux of the intervention 
  • iii) leave it just where it was in the original, risking sounding as inarticulate as the original, if, as is often the case, the phrase has been thrown in mid-sentence.

Reformulation – moving clauses around

Interpreting: Techniques and Exercises. James Nolan, 2005, Multilingual Matters

You can read a brief reviews of the book on this site under general reading.

The following has been taken from James Nolan’s recent publication, Interpretation: Techniques and Exercises. In it James demonstrates that the order in which elements of information appear in the original need not be the the same in the interpretation and that in this way the interpreter can create a certain amount of room for manoeuvre for themselves. This freedom can be used to relieve the strain on your memory, free up processing space and/or help create a more stylish final product.

This passage is reproduced without the permission of James’ publisher.

Chapter 5  General Adverbial Clauses 

A general adverbial clause modifies the main verb in the sentence. It is often used to set the scene for the rest of the sentence. The following two examples are taken from a speech made by the representative of Belarus at the 48th session of the UN General Assembly. First is a trans­lation following the original phrasing or structure, then the official English translation as it appeared in the UN Official Records after being interpreted and edited.

Example 1 

Original structure: 

Let us take a look at this experience and potential in those areas which, as is widely recognized and attested to even by this current debate, have become very important for preserving world peace and security. 

Official English version:

Let us take a look at this experience and potential in those areas which have become very important for preserving global peace and security, as is widely recognized and attested to even by this current debate. 

Example 2 

Original structure:

Taking an authoritative position on these issues, Belarus intends to present during this session of the General Assembly, on behalf of and on the instructions of the states of Commonwealth of Independent States, a joint declaration of the CIS on issues of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. 

Official English version:

Taking an authoritative position on these issues, Belarus, on behalf of and on the instructions of the states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, intends during this session to present a joint declaration by the CIS on issues of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. 

In Example 2, the basic subject-complement structure of the sentence is “Belarus intends to present a declaration”, and the two general adverbial clauses (marked in bold type) could also go in several different positions, or could be combined together (“Belarus intends, during this session, on behalf of and on the instruc­tions of . . .”), or could even be combined and inserted at the end in a separate sentence (“We shall do so during this session, on behalf of and on the instructions of . . .”). A short adverbial clause can also be squeezed in between two parts of a composite verb, as has been done with “during this session” in Example 2 above (between the auxiliary “intends” and “to present”). 

Notice that this feature gives one much greater leeway in interpreting than if one were forced to follow the original sequence of phrases. If the adverbial clause is short, one can slip it in before or after the verb (“We intend, at this session, to declare . . .” or “We intend to declare at this session . . .”) or place it before the subject (“At this session we intend to declare . . .”). If it is long enough that leaving it in the middle tends to disrupt the sentence (as in Example 1 above), one can save it for the end of the sentence. Or, if speed is a problem, one can save it, making an inde­pendent sentence out of the adverbial clause and slipping it in during the speaker’s pause between sentences (“We shall do so at this session.”).

Analysis exercises

“The first rule of consecutive interpreting is that the real work must already have been done when you start reading back your notes: the text, its meaning and the links within it, must have been perfectly understood.”  Jean-Francois Rozan

Extract from Conference Interpreting – A New Students’ Companion, Tertium Cracow 2004.

3 Active listening / analysis (is often overlooked in practice) 

3.1 Concentration. When listening to a speech or news broadcast in the foreign language concentrate on “hearing out” every single word / syllable without allowing your attention to wander to, say, your plans for the weekend. 

It is difficult to concentrate as intensely as the interpreter does and requires some practice. It is all too easy to listen inattentively to a language when we understand it well. This exercise should help us balance that out. This is useful at an early stage in the course. 

3.2 Make summaries of speeches. How many ideas did a speech contain? Summarise in your own words, first very briefly and later in more detail.(p212 Gile).  In doing this you are training yourself to listen for message and meaning, the essence, rather than the individual words used. 

3.3 Analyse written texts – highlight keywords (ideas) and links between them. › Annex 1.2 + 1.3 “Note-taking”. 

3.4 Practice notetaking from articles, noting only the link words in the margin (or only link words plus one word per paragraph). Reproduce as speech. › Annex 1.2. › Annex 1.3. 

It is worth consulting with other students and teachers to see whether they agree with your choices as to the key/ link words. This will help develop your analytical skills as you are forced to justify your choices to others and they offer you their viewpoint.. 

3.5 One student prepares a short speech containing say 5 clear ideas – listeners agree to note only five words while listening to the speech and interpret on the basis of those notes. 

Students must listen and analyse in order to decide which 5 words best represent the core ideas of the speech. 

All reformulation exercises, to a greater or lesser extent, force the interpreter to analyse the text more carefully. See also Exercises for Simultaneous Interpretation – Reformulation.

3.7 When note-taking try to maximize the time-lag between hearing the original and noting anything. 

This exercise will allow and indeed enforce a more thorough analyse of the text. If we simply write what we hear when we hear it we are not “listening” in the analytical sense of the word. N.B. Staying along way behind the speaker is not a goal in itself, it merely facilitates, by stealth if you like, analysis of the original speech. 

3.8 One student reads part of a text or speech aloud and stops mid paragraph. The remaining students must offer possible conclusions to the passage in question. 

Only if one is paying attention to the message of the speech as a whole and not listening to the individual words will one be able to make an intelligent guess at what comes next.

3.9 Create structure diagrams of given texts, breaking the text of a speech down into its component structural parts, regardless of content. 

1. An analytical brealkdown of the speech might look like this… 

Mr Speaker! Ladies and Gentlemen of the House! The subject of today’s debate, Poland’s integration with the European Union, should and will be the most important political topic of the next 12 and more months. This is clear from : the timetable for the current negociations; the urgent tasks of introducing and implementing legislation and of exploiting assistance funds, but above all from the setting of 1st January 2003 as the date for Poland’s entry into the European Union.
It has been almost six months since this House debated european integration in September. Since then there have been a number of significants events that may affect our path to the European Union, for example the Summit in Helsinki. Work was undertaken to adapt to the demands of union membership; negociations continued; discussions were held between the subsequent Presidencies of the Union, Finland and Portugal, the Foreign Minister and myself personally. We also sought to further our cause through diplomatic channels. It is time therefore that we in this House took stock of how far down road to the European Union we are and where we go from here as a continuation of the debate on Europe begun here in September, a debate on the return of Europe to Poland and Poland to Europe. 

What are we talking about?

Why? (list of 3)       

Events preceding this debate….. (list of 5)    

We conclude from this that we must….

3.10 On a word processor remove the paragraph divisions from a text. Read through the unbroken text and hit return twice every time you get to a logical break in the text. The sections of speech you now have should represent what you note one “section” of your notes (or in between the horizontal lines across your page if you use them). Note about 2 sections on a page. › Annex 4.2 

Practising the analysis of texts without the time pressure of interpreting isolates the activity interpreters complete as one of many and can help students to automize the task before the go into the booth. 

3.11 Listen to a speech without taking notes. When the speech has been completed, make some notes that will help in reproducing the speech. Reproduce the speech.[1] (Weber) 

By hearing the whole speech first and only then making notes we have a picture of the entire speech which we must analyse in order to make the most useful notes possible. Our notes are therefore much more likely to reflect structure and ideas than the individual words that we often get hung up on.

3.12 Have the speaker of speeches used in practice mumble a few words incomprehensibly at certain stages in the speech. On the basis of logical analysis and extension the listeners must fill in the gaps and offer plausible interpretations. (Van Dam) 

3.13 While listening to a speech take notes as per usual. At the end of the speech put your notes to one side and try to reproduce the speech from memory. 

The fact that this is difficult will demonstrate very clearly how much attention we devote to our notes when in fact we should be listiening to the speaker more carefully.Repeat, listening more carefully to the speaker. 

3.14 Read a text once through. Highlight the most important ideas (and only these) with a marker pen. Now cover the entire text and try to recreate it from memory. As a continuation of this exercise now sight translate the same part of the text. Finally sight translate a further as yet unread part of the text. (Kalina, 2000. p179) 

In the first part of this set of exercises Kalina offers a very interesting combination of analysis and memory skills. The continuation exercises are a useful and gradual progression towards fuller sight translation and therefore eventually interpreting.

3.15 Take a text or an Overhead Projection of a text with all but the first sentence covered. Uncover sections of the text (initially whole sentences then ever smaller segments) as sight translation is already underway. (Kalina, 2000. p180) 

Here we train our ability to anticipate and infer.

Log book for vocabulary

It’s useful to get into the habit of looking up unfamiliar terms and expressions when you come across them. That could be on a computer, but often you will be out and about when something appears, so a phone or a little note-book is often more practical.

Split the book into sections, for example:

At the back make a note of unfamiliar terminology regardless of how obscure. If you keep your eyes open you’ll constantly see new stuff, be it in the DIY store or the window of a temping agency. Do you know what a French coffreur does?

At the front make a note of expressions (and good translations thereof) that are more likely to come up in the sort of meetings that you interpret at. This means that when that term or expression comes up you will already have a version to hand. That saves time and stress in the booth.

Learning vocabulary, rather than just writing it down, will require you to revisit your notes again and again! Or try flashcards!