What to note – Taylor-Bouladon

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

Most beginners tend to write down too much but with experience you will see that your memory is better than you think and a few clear notes are infinitely preferable to a whole page of notes written so fast you can’t read them back.

As to what you should note, W. Keiser suggests the following:

l. Always ideas, arguments, never just words. But write down all proper names, figures, titles, quotes.

2. Who speaks and about whom or what.

3. Tense of the action, i.e. present, past or future.

4. Whether the statement is negative, positive, interrogative or exclamatory.

5. Connections between ideas and arguments.

6. Emphasis and stress.

Notes should arranged vertically on the page, with indentations such as for new paragraphs to indicate new thoughts and a system of arrows and connecting signs.

Reading about simultaneous

Conference Interpreting Explained.

Jones, Roderick. 1998 Routledge.

THE book!
Almost all you’ll ever need to know about how to do this job.

You will find a number of extracts, or links to extracts from this book on the site, for example, on when to start speaking in simultaneous.

For a review click here!

To read an interview with R.J. click here!

Conference Interpreting – A Complete Course

Robin Setton and Andrew Dawrant

Read a review in the journal Interpreting here

“This comprehensive coursebook sets out an updated step-by-step programme of training, designed to meet the increasingly challenging conditions of the 21st century, and adaptable by instructors with the appropriate specializations to cover all these different applications in contemporary practice “

Pédagogie raisonnée de l'interprétation

Pedagogie Raisonnee de l’Interpretation, by Lederer and Seleskovitch. Didier Erudition 2002

Download the full work as a pdf

Aimed at teachers this book is still worth reading for students. It encapsulates the methodology that defined much of conference interpreter training for 30+years

Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training

Gile, Daniel, 1995, Benjamins.

Quite technical and aimed at teachers. Students will still find the book very useful – particulary the chapters on Fidelity and Language Acquisition

Read a review of this book in The International Journal of Interpreter Education

L’interprete dans les conferences internationales 

Danica Seleskovitch. 1968, Cahiers Champollion

Available in English as Interpreting for International Conferences: Problems of Language and Communication

This epoch-making book defined the profession at a time when there was almost nothing else in print and Danica Seleskovitch did more than anyone to raise the profile of interpreting. 

This book remained the benchmark for 20 years and although the language, the attitude and the style have dated a little, it is still a very worthwhile read.

Conference Interpreting – Principles and Practice

Taylor-Bouladon, Valerie, Booksurge.

A very interesting, thorough and practical guide. Although aimed at an Australian audience much applies to Europe.

An extract is on this site at Tips for beginners. And another here on What to note in consecutive

You can also find a review at AIIC’s Communicate site.

Author’s home page

From Russian into English: An Introduction to Simultaneous Interpretation

Lynn Visson

Former UN staffer Visson helps navigate through the maze of simultaneous interpreting from Russian into English.

Read a review here!

Interview with Lynn Visson @ ATA Chronicle

Nolan, James, 2005, Multilingual Matters.

Put together by senior UN intepreter James Nolan, offers some good strategies for simultaneous interpreting and interesting exercises to practise the same strategies. You will need Fr, En and Es in your combination to use all the examples though. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 are most useful. Don’t bother with all the language stuff.

Le manuel de l’interprete. 

Herbert, J., 1952 Geneve. Georg

Pre-history… but still one of few general books about interpreting. Out of print but available in most University libraries.

Simultaneous papers

Intonation in the production of and perception of simultaneous interpretation

In Lambert and Moser-Mercer (Eds.). Miriam Schlesinger.

Does intonation matter? You don’t believe that natural intonation is such a priority? An empirical study to show that it actual effects what the listener understands.

Tips for Beginners

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

Conference Interpreting – Principles and Practice Tayor-Bouladon, Valerie, Crawford House Adelaide. 2001


First and foremost: nerves. It is, to say the least, extremely daunting for an inexperienced interpreter to find himself in a glass booth overlooking an enormous hall with five thousand people listening to his every word. My advice is : forget yourself, forget it is you. Act the part of a conference interpreter.

A lot of famous actors and actresses have confessed that they are very shy people in real life, but once they are up on the stage being someone else, they are fine. Think of Italian waiters – they don’t just wait at table, they act the part of the perfect waiter with the white cloth over one arm and all the gestures, posture, facial expressions and flourishes that the part requires. There are cases of stammerers in the interpreting profession – people who, in private life, cannot speak without stammering yet once up there behind the microphone, the stammer disappears. This is because they are not just John or Mary speaking, they are The Interpreter. Take a deep breath before you start and act the part of The Perfect Simultaneous Interpreter and you will be fine. 

Another thought that has helped me to overcome nerves especially in consecutive: the fact that all I am doing is trying to help people understand one another. That thought has always made my role clearer in my own mind and somehow helped me cope with stage-fright. 

Working on medical conferences is a problem if you have, like me, a vivid imagination. I have suffered the imaginary symptoms of every disease I have ever talked about, felt creatures crawling up inside the veins in my feet and legs during meetings of expert committees on bilharziasis (schistosomiasis), suffered diarrhoea aches and pains in cholera control meetings, and fever during expert committees on malaria, and felt sores about to appear on my arms during discussions on the leishmaniases. I could not help scratching arms and legs while talking about smallpox or malaria. Rabies symptoms were unpleasant too. I had to interpret conferences on orthopaedic surgery with my eyes closed while slides or films were being shown especially if there was blood. I almost fainted the first time I saw a surgeon making the first incision. Until I discovered my Secret Method: not to be me but rather The Perfect Imperturbable Professional Interpreter. 

If you are feeling nervous, confide in your colleagues; often the entire team will rally to your support once they know there is a problem. Control your voice and delivery so that the nervousness is not perceptible to your audience. Keep your voice down, especially when interpreting a fast or difficult speaker. This will help you to remain calm. 

If a particular speaker makes you nervous, try to imagine him looking ridiculous, in his underpants, or when he first wakes up in the morning with his hair untidy. He is only a human being like the rest of us, after all. If you find his accent difficult to understand, seek him out during the coffee break and ask him if he can hear the interpretation satisfactorily. By talking to him on a social level you may find him easier to understand later when he takes the floor during the meeting. 

An interpreter is entirely given up to his profession while the conference lasts. In the middle of the night you may wake up with a word burning in your brain: You should have said X and not Y. It will worry you, haunt you, but there is nothing you can do about it. What is said is said. This is just one of the agonies interpreters have to put up with. 

Adjusting the Volume

A mistake beginners often make is to turn the volume up too high in their earphones for fear of missing something. They forget that it is important also for them to hear their own voice because if they do not, they will not finish their sentences properly or polish their delivery. The balance between the volume of the sound in your earphones and the sound of your voice is a very personal matter. Practise with the volume as low as possible. The louder the volume in your earphones, the louder you will speak and there is nothing worse than a booming interpreter who can be heard in the background on all channels, deafening all around and putting the technician in a flat spin. “Boomers” tend to be unpopular so if your colleagues in neighbouring booths close their doors rather pointedly you will know why. Beginners should make a conscious effort to lower their voices both in volume and in pitch (when nervous, one tends to raise one’s pitch.) You will find that by adjusting the tone contol, that is, the balance between treble and bass, you can lower the volume, thus protecting your hearing. 

Before you start work the first morning, check the equipment in case there is something you haven ‘t seen before. First, make sure you know how to switch the microphone on and off – in some convention centres I have worked in, the green light is on when you are free to talk to your cabin-mate, that is, the microphone is switched off – and the red light comes on when the microphone is switched on whereas in others on the contrary the green light comes on when the microphone is switched on. This is extremely confusing for the first hour or two. It is rather like driving in a country where traffic is on the other side of the road. Beware ! Check the cough-button, and the relay system and unless you work from Chinese or Arabic, check with the colleagues in the Chinese or Arabic booth to find out whether they will be working into English or into French. 

Before you start, too, have a look at the list of participants if there is one (if not, look at the report of the last meeting where there will probably be one) to see if there are any difficult-to-pronounce names, or any English names you may not recognize in the mouth of a French, Spanish or Russian speaker. Make sure too you are up to date with the country names which may have changed following certain political events (the former USSR, for example, “Burma” or “Myanmar” – you must of course say the same as the speaker) and know when to say “People’s Republic of” and when to say “Popular Republic of”. 


A word about your level of animation. Try to adopt the same level of animation as the speaker you are interpreting. When you are off the air, it is interesting to switch to the various channels: the original may be a dull British voice, but sometimes the Spanish and Italian booths sound so animated you would almost think the speaker was belligerent while the French booth makes him sound alert and agitated. Do not go to the other extreme, however: a dead-pan monotonous voice, however accurate the interpretation, is not pleasant to listen to and tends to send the delegates to sleep, especially after lunch. 

A pleasant tone of voice is important; however desperate you may feel, do not sound desperate. Try to sit back in your chair and feel detached enough to improve your style as you go, finish the sentences properly, and perhaps use different words from the speaker in order to get closer to his meaning. As you become more experienced and more confident you will learn not to follow the speaker too closely, but to sit back and put odd words in the little “pockets” of your brain to retrieve later when the speaker slows down. 


According to B. Grote (AIIC), reporting on an information meeting between five interpretation “users” and thirty-five conference interpreters in 1980, “delegates felt that interpreters should consider themselves part of a complicated “thinking machine”, that, painful as this may be to us, the best interpreters were those one could simply forget, that interpreters should take their vocation literally and “interpret” the original speaker as faithfully as a piano soloist interprets a sonata.” 

In case of doubt: accuracy comes before style. 

Fast Speakers and Economising your Voice 

It makes all the difference in the world if you have been able to read and prepare the text beforehand. However, whether or not you have been able to do this, the strategy applied by experienced interpreters is to condense. This can be done without any loss of information. This is called macroprocessing and is necessary when the source text information is so dense that there is not enough time to convey everything into the target message, whatever the speed of the speaker. According to Marianna Sunnari of the University of Turku in Finland: 

“when working with structurally different languages such as Finnish and Indoeuropean languages, macroprocessing is needed even in an “ideal” situation, where the speaker is speaking without a script and the interpreteers are familiar with the speaker and the topic. Novices, who do not master this strategy, fail to produce a coherent output message.” 

In any case, you must learn to economise your voice. You may be using it the whole, long day. You can learn to economise the effort required so that you won’t be too tired as the afternoon wears on and if the speaker is going hell-for-leather you will find it less tiring if you speak softly. 

Difficult speakers 

Some people do not have the knack of public speaking: they mumble or gabble their words. Everybody has heard and had difficulty understanding speakers like these in their own language too. The more practice you can get listening to speakers like this the better. Working in booths other than the English, you will need practice too to understand the different types of accent and imperfect English you will have to interpret – delegates from Brazil, the Middle East, Japan, Norway, often Germany, Czeckoslovakia as well as India, Pakistan and some African countries often have to use English instead of their own language. Practice makes perfect. 

Remember that you must not try to improve on what the speaker says. Even if it seems to you that he is talking nonsense and you think you could do better. He may be being deliberately vague, playing for time, awaiting telephone instructions from his capital; in any case you cannot know the tactics, the strategies that may be at play. All you are asked to do is to interpret accurately and to respect the register of the speaker. 

Keep up your languages 

There is a saying I have heard, generally applied to “grey power”(that is, those rather long in the tooth) : “Use it or Lose it!” This saying applies to interpreters’ languages at any age. You must use your languages, read in them, speak in them, listen to them spoken or you will forget them. 

Languages evolve all the time. If you left Guatemala or Argentina ten or more years ago, you can be sure the language you speak is not the same as is spoken there today and you will need to make a conscious effort to keep in touch. Quite apart from that, your Spanish will now be contaminated with the language being spoken around you. You may not even realize you are saying “el reporte” instead of “el informe”. English short cuts also have an insidious way of insinuating themselves into other languages. So you must be constantly on the look-out for anglicisms in your speech. It is essential to read newspapers and literature from the countries whose languages you work into and from in order to keep them up to date. It is no good just glancing at the headlines and reading only the subjects of personal interest. Thorough reading is required with an open mind as to type of language used, shades of meaning, paying particular attention to current affairs. 

As W. Keiser (1975) explains, beginners must also “acquire total mastery of the jargon typical of international negotiations and meetings i.e. terms and expressions directly related to conference procedure, the organization of meetings, voting, the amendment of texts such as resolutions, the preambular as opposed to the operative sections of resolutions, etc. Useful words: The Chair – to chair – the Chairman – Madame Chairman – The President – To call the meeting to order – to close the meeting – to adjourn the meeting – vote – ballot – casting vote – roll-call – secret ballot – to give the floor – to call on – filibuster – delegate – substitute or deputy – representative – credentials – proxy – delegation of powers – plenipotentiary -Standing orders – agenda – draft agenda – approval of agenda, resolution, statement, declaration, decision – preamble – items on the agenda – to delete an item – agreement – undertaking – provision – entry into force – ratification – signatories, etc.” 

In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter is at the mercy of the speaker and must learn to construct his sentences with flexibility, especially when interpreting from and into languages with different syntax. He must also be prepared to handle heavy, verbose or flowery speech, to change the order in cases where logical progression differs according to different cultures, to cut lengthy sentences into several short ones, and even find vague expressions and padding to overcome temporary difficulties, that is, while you are waiting for the speaker to clarify something incomprehensible he has just said. 

“The interpreter is a professional speaker. He must therefore be able to adapt his style to his audience and carry the original message in the way it would have been delivered by the speaker had he addressed the audience in the language into which the interpreter works. ” 

If you are a beginner, you can also learn a lot from listening to experienced colleagues working in your languages to see how they tackle a particular difficulty or subject. When you are not actually on the air yourself, switch over to the other booths to hear the words being used – this may be of great help because the delegates speaking those languages will be using the same words. This is also an excellent way to improve your vocabulary in your passive languages. 

Your Conference diary 

Keep careful note of all your conference commitments to avoid any overlapping or duplication. Reply promptly to offers of work. If you are not available, the recruiter will need to contact someone else and cannot afford to waste precious time. Be sure that someone is available to answer your telephone, someone who knows your availability – otherwise invest in an answering machine and check your messages daily, even from afar. Wherever you may be, be sure to check your e-mail messages regularly and respond to them, otherwise you may find you don’t get a second offer. 

Open your documents early 

Be sure to open e-mails or postal envelopes containing conference documents immediately, even if you do not need to study them until later. Contracts, programmes or details of change of venue may be hidden among them and organisers are justifiably irritated when you telephone for information that has already been sent to you. Do not leave it until the last minute because you need to see, well ahead of time, how difficult the subject matter is. Some conferences require more preparation than others – you may need to go to a reference library to study a difficult subject before you start work on the conference documents themselves or to research the subject on the internet. On the other hand, if the subject-matter is easy, or one that you have done frequently in the past, three or four days may be enough. But – better safe than sorry. 


Professional interpreters generally have squared “date cards”, the size of a postcard, printed like a calendar for each year. Across the top they put their name, telephone and fax numbers and language combination and the year. The months are in a vertical column down the left-hand-side, the days across the top horizontally. Twice a year they mark their assignments by blocking out the corresponding squares and send these to their regular clients so that conference organizers can see at a glance when they are free, thus saving unnecessary telephone calls. It is also a useful way to keep in touch with potential clients and remind them of your existence without pestering them by telephone. 

It is also possible to keep potential clients posted as to your availability over the Internet by means of the AIIC website

Preparing for a meeting

Booth manners

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

Conference Interpreting – Principles and Practice. Tayor-Bouladon, Valerie, Crawford House Adelaide. 2001

Spit and Polish
Booth behaviour and microphone manners


The only people who must always be on time for meetings are the interpreters. Sometimes at WTO your 9 a.m. meeting did not start until 11 o’clock but the interpreters had to be there, ready, because the moment the private negotiations taking place all round the room were over, the official meeting would start and there was no knowing when that would be. The official meeting might last ten minutes and then adjourn. In UNCTAD the meeting scheduled for l0 o’clock might not start until twelve-thirty but similarly the interpreters had to be there and ready at l0. It is not a good idea to arrive at the last minute, hair awry and out of breath. From the delegate’s point of view, it is most unpleasant to listen to a breathless voice, obviously unprepared for the meeting, panting into the microphone and switching off to ask in a loud, desperate voice:”Which Committee is this? What are they talking about?” 

Your group of delegates might habitually arrive late but the day you do, you may find they were on time. Interpreters need to be in the booth fifteen minutes before the scheduled starting time to check whether there are any changes in the programme, any new documents have been circulated or any ad hoc working groups convened, and so on. You may find when you arrive at the scheduled meeting room that the venue has been changed and that your group is meeting in a different wing of the building that will take you ten minutes to find. Or that there has been a last-minute team switch because of a change in the languages required. Better be early so you have plenty of time to sort out the documents that will be needed, and find out where they are on the Agenda. 

Team spirit and solidarity 

Team spirit and solidarity are the order of the day. Your team will be judged as a whole. Try to help one another by sharing vocabulary, proposed translations for new words, new technologies and new scientific concepts that have come up. You may have a mental block about one word and it keeps coming up – that is when your colleague can respond to a signal of distress and give invaluable help. If you are experienced, do not keep your know-how to yourself. Do not forget that not only are interpreters judged as a team but also that we were all beginners once. Similarly, if a colleague doesn’t know something, don’t spread it around thereby creating a source of tension but rather try to help discreetly. Remember, though, that there is nothing more irritating than a colleague determined to help when you don’t need it, who keeps pushing notes in front of you or, even worse, whispering suggested wording when you prefer to do it your own way ! If you want help from your boothmate, ask for it – scribble a few words on the notepad. If you do not, also say so. If you are a beginner and by chance know an expression or technical word which your more experienced colleague may not know, don’t antagonise him by gloating over it – you may need his help on another occasion. The best way to help your colleague is to write your suggestion on your own pad in front of you, without any fuss, so that he can read it if he wants to. 

While your colleague is “on the air” you may notice he hasn’t realized the delegate is reading from a text and is struggling with something that in fact already exists in an official text. See if you can find it in the appropriate language quietly and place it in front of him discreetly, without disturbing him. 

Sound levels

If there is a considerable difference in volume between your voice and that of your colleagues, the sound engineer will adjust the output volume whenever there is a switch from one to the other. Try to speak always from the same distance from the microphone and do not turn away while interpreting. Do not rustle papers, pour out water, drum your fingers on the work surface, etc. in front of an open microphone. Avoid noisy bangles in the booth. 


Posture is important in voice production and the work is far less tiring if your posture is correct. A slouching interpreter will not sound bright and alert, nor even reliable. Think of all you have heard about body language. All of this also applies to your posture as you sit in the booth (See Chapter 11 regarding the Alexander Technique). 

When not actually interpreting, do not leave the meeting room for longer than absolutely necessary and in your own interests avoid returning at the last minute before taking over the microphone. When not working you should relax but continue to listen to what is being said and be firm but courteous with people who drop by for a chat. If your colleague has to leave the booth for a short while, do not abruptly hand over the microphone the moment he returns – give him time to pick up the thread of the discussion again. Brief your colleague on how far the discussion has progressed and on anecdotes or unusual terms used by speakers. Likewise, if a new team is taking over after you, leave them a note in the booth telling them how far the discussion has progressed on which item and which document will be taken next, as well as any other useful information. 

As a general rule, respect your colleagues’ wishes (even unspoken) regarding socialising in the booth. Not every interpreter is able to deal with a speech from the floor and your life story in all the gaps. Do all you can to establish good working relationships with your colleagues – you all need to be able to depend on one another. 

Even if you think you are one of the best known interpreters in the profession, introduce yourself to colleagues you have not met before. Experienced interpreters should make every effort to put newcomers at ease and beginners should concentrate on doing a good job rather than impressing their boothmate. It is good to include a beginner in a team because they are the next generation of interpreters. However, it is also a good idea to obtain the agreement of the more experienced colleagues first and be sure to put the beginner in a booth with an experienced, helpful colleague who will be kind and cooperative. Beginners should be used in meetings where they can prepare beforehand. It is unfair to offer them meetings which are difficult and require experience because they may jeopardize their future career. 


Try to keep documents in logical order and by language – try not to disturb whatever system is agreed between colleagues sharing a booth. When the meeting is over, it is well worth taking ten minutes to put all the documents back in order ready for the next day. When your colleague takes over from you, pass over the pile of documents in the right order if possible. If the organisers have asked that the documents be returned to them at the end of the meeting, be sure to do so. 

Beware of handing over copies of speeches or documents to enquiring journalists or visitors. You have a duty of confidentiality. Always refer such requests to the team leader or chief interpreter. 

Booth manners 

Smoking is not prohibited in public buildings in all countries but do not smoke in the booth even if there are no non-smoking signs – it is generally forbidden in conference rooms and booths anyway. Similarly, use perfume or aftershave sparingly. Too heady a scent can be as intrusive as tobacco smoke and becomes overpowering in a small enclosed booth.

It is not advisable for the same reason to varnish your nails in the booth when you are not working or even during the coffee-break. Nor is it advisable to knit, sew, manicure your nails, or be seen to be reading a newspaper or snatching a late breakfast in full view of the delegates.

Not only is such behaviour likely to disturb your colleagues but it is also unlikely to impress the organizers and delegates with your professionalism. Do not take your mobile telephone with you into the booth unless you have checked that it is turned off. Beware of blowing your nose or coughing with the microphone on. Pity the ears of the delegates listening to the interpretation. 

Use the cough button Do not switch the microphone off when coughing, pouring water, rustling paper, because an intruder has burst into the booth to bring documents, to ask your colleague a word you have not understood or to make a brief sarcastic comment about what the speaker has just said. When you do this, the delegates’ listening to you will suddenly have their ears blasted with the floor channel which is probably gibberish to them and louder than the interpretation: there is invariably a difference in sound level. Use the cough button. Do not switch off your microphone until the speaker has finished. If your boothmate is working, go outside to cough or blow your nose. 

Only interpreters may speak over the interpretation channels. Sometimes a visiting interpreter, who may be part of a delegation speaking a rare language such as Korean or Farsi, may come into the booth to interpret into English a speech to be delivered by his delegation. This is then interpreted into the other conference languages by relay. 

Microphone manners 

Before the first session of the conference it is advisable to check that you know how the equipment works, how to switch to the required channel if there is relay and that in general the equipment is working to your satisfaction, the headphones are comfortable and the sound is right for you. When you come into the booth for subsequent meetings, make sure the microphones have not been left on by mistake by the technician, or earlier colleagues. It would be embarrassing for your private conversation with your colleagues to be broadcast all over the room. Beware of forgetting to turn the microphone off when you finish a speech. By leaving your microphone switched on after you have finished interpreting you may be preventing delegates from hearing something the Chairman has said. 

A professional interpreter turns the microphone on the moment he begins to speak and not before, and turns it off the moment he has finished. Failing to turn the microphone off immediately is courting disaster. Delegates do not want to year your comments, or the rustling of papers, coughing, nor do they want to hear the comments of your highly-strung colleague who erupts into your booth to let off steam about the stupidity of the delegate she has just interpreted. Beware of making comments – a microphone light may be hidden by a sheaf of papers. Do not laugh too loudly – this may be picked up by a microphone left on in the booth next door. 

A survey carried out by Jennifer Mackintosh shows that delegates attach greatest importance to accuracy, clarity, correct terminology and completeness, and do not like too much lagging behind the speaker and pauses. (See Appendix B entitled “How to irritate your delegates without really trying”). They want interpreters to concentrate on the essentials and to have an understanding of the subject under discussion. They want clear enunciation. I remember an embarrassing incident some years ago when the English booth, interpreting from Russian, gave the meeting the impression the Soviet Union was placing 45 vessels at the disposal of the World Weather Watch when in fact they were offering four to five. 

Correct terminology is very important as is broad general knowledge and wide cultural background. According to the survey Jennifer Mackintosh carried out, English, French and German are the most common languages, with English being used at 98 per cent of the meetings, French at 88 per cent, German at 61 per cent, Spanish at 41 per cent and Italian at 16 per cent. Lower down the list come Dutch, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Danish and Finnish, in that order. The survey indicated a direct correlation between pre-conference distribution of documents to the interpreters and high delegate satisfaction, particularly in the area of correct terminology and general understanding of the subject matter. 

Remember, life is not always easy for delegates. Some have to wear headphones most of the time and they are less well protected from extraneous noise than we are. It is tiring enough to have to follow several days’ discussions and when this has to be done via simultaneous interpretation equipment it becomes very demanding. So try to make your voice pleasant to listen to. Avoid a monotonous tone. Always seek to be clear and lively. It is advisable to keep your animation level similar to that of the speaker you are interpreting. Sometimes the speaker may be droning on in a peaceable manner, but if you switch to the various booths you might be forgiven for thinking that he was declaring war judging by the high-pitched tone coming from some of them. 

If a speaker is having to use a language other than his normal working language, try to convey the message with clarity. Never alter the emphasis of what is being said, never let your own views on the subject show through your tone of voice. Your job is to communicate the speaker’s intended meaning. It is only too easy for an unscrupulous interpreter to sabotage an argument especially if the delegates listening are monolingual. You have a responsibility and a duty to be accurate. It is dangerous, too, to try to improve on what you hear because sarcasm or vagueness may be deliberate. 

The golden rule is: as literally as possible, as freely as necessary. Be fluent in your delivery and as close to the patterns of spontaneous speech as possible. Do not speak in sharp bursts followed by long pauses, nor in a sing-song voice. Do not speak in a soporific manner, especially after lunch … Match your register to that of the speaker and the audience. If the speaker is using simple, plain words do not distort the original by using abstruse terms or arcane expressions. Conversely, do not lapse into a familiar, jocular tone or slang expressions on formal occasions. 


Always quote document numbers clearly, if possible twice. If your delegates still look lost, say the number again. 

Try to form a partnership with your listeners 

Ask for their help when documents are being distributed or if floor microphones are not working properly. Acknowledge their responsiveness. Enlist their help in slowing down fast speakers by saying something like: “We regret it is not possible to interpret accurately when a speaker is going at this speed. Please help us to help you understand by asking the Chairman to slow the speaker down.” If you still don’t get any response you may add: “We are doing our best under the circumstances but unless the speaker slows down the interpretation will not be complete.” Do not shout this into the microphone or bang on the booth window. Quiet appeals for help through the microphone are much more effective. If the speaker’s microphone goes off, it is better to say so quietly into your microphone so that your audience knows what is happening and that it isn’t you who have dried up. If the speaker moves away from the microphone so that you can only hear faintly, do not try to interpret. You must only interpret when you can hear properly. If you make a mistake you are responsible for it and once you have imparted inaccurate information the deed is done and no-one will be interested in your explaining during the coffee-break that you couldn’t hear properly. It is your duty to provide an accurate interpretation come what may. 

Microphone feedback 

A sudden high-pitched screaming noise may come through your headphones due to a speaker leaning too close to his microphone with his headphones on. Take your headphones off immediately before your ear-drums are damaged, preferably siIently, and signal to the technician what has happened. 

Introduce yourself to the technicians before the meeting. If you must make comments about volume or the equipment, do so through the team leader and politely. Remember how much you depend on the goodwill of the technician. When the meeting is over, do not leave without saying goodbye and thank you. 

As Valerie Andersen has said: “Quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder” – or rather “listener”, in this case the delegate. When interpreting, try to convey an interest in your listeners’ subject. See if you can communicate humour if the original does; show you take an interest in what you are doing. In a number of respects, interpreting is like acting, as I have explained in Chapter 5. Do not let your audience slip from your grasp. Watch the delegates listening to you for their reactions and hold their attention by being convincing and accurate. Make them forget they are hearing the speaker through an interpreter. Be helpful: repeat important figures or dates. 


Try to adopt a “middle of the road” accent. For example, in the English booth, a strong Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Lancashire, Indian or Australian accent might be difficult for some of your listeners to follow, especially if English is not their mother tongue: think of the Norwegian, Thai, Swedish and African delegations who will be listening to the English channel. 

“Les microphages” 

Some interpreters are “microphage” (they hog the microphone) and are reluctant to hand over to their colleague. If this happens to you, be tolerant and if they are doing a good job, listen and learn. 

Boothmates and Team mates 

Someone once said “An interpreter who is a bad colleague is a bad interpreter.” It is true that the work of the team will be much better if everyone gets on well with everyone else. However, beware of the colleague who has a plane to catch in the middle of the last afternoon and leaves you alone to finish “the last half-hour”. That half-hour may stretch to two hours. Beware too of the delegate who says “I have an important statement after the coffee-break and I want you to do it.” You will feel flattered but upsetting the working arrangements (or boasting) will not improve your relationship with your team-mates. If it is possible to comply with the request diplomatically without it being noticed or causing any changes, so much the better. 

Your team becomes your family for the duration of the conference. A warm relationship develops where you know one another’s strong points and weaknesses and can help one another. This is even more so when you are away from home on a conference, perhaps all staying at the same hotel: a wonderful spirit of comradeship develops. If one team member has a headache someone will replace him while he goes to get an aspirin, if someone’s wallet or handbag has been stolen on the city streets at night, the whole team will rally round and pass the hat around. If someone has a personal problem, everyone will provide support. A good feeling of solidarity prevails and like Josephine Baker and her “deux amours” I have always felt I had two families: my own in private life and my professional colleagues and friends.


Webmaster at Interpreter Training Resources, Andy is a freelance interpreter, member of AIIC, who works at EU and European institutions as well as for private market clients. Based in Paris he has been involved in training interpreters in Poland, the UK, Portugal and Germany and teaches regularly at ISIT in Paris, France and at Glendon in Toronto, Canada. He has written a number books for student interpreters.
Andy has also given further training courses (CPD) for interpreters at the European Institutions and for numerous national and international interpreters’ associations. He is also creator and curator of the Interpreters CPD Resources website.

A big thank you to colleagues who have offered material for the site so far, and in alphabetical order…..

Benoit Cliquet aka Clic!

Munich based colleague Benoit Cliquet, aka Clic!, has created a book of entertaining cartoons, lampooning some of the traits that working interpreters will recognize in themselves and their colleagues. He’s kindly allowed ITR to use some of the cartoons here. Proceeds from Clic!’s book go to the AIIC Solidarity Fund.

Alex has been involved in a number of innovative interpreting-related projects, including the excellent TechforWord and the Troublesome Terps. He and can also be found in several training films from the EU Commission.

Chris Guichot de Fortis

…is senior staff interpreter at NATO and teaches interpreting at several Belgian interpreting schools. He is also one of the organisers of the renowned Cambridge interpreting course for interpreters. He has volunteered a number of excellent guides, in FR and EN:  acquiring and maintaining a B language;  shadowing for delivery skill; a guide to practising; and difficultés psychiques de l’apprentissage. You’ll also find more of Chris’ training material at CCIConline.

Leading light in the world of interpreting research, curator of the CIRIN research network prolific author and experienced trainer of student interpreters Daniel offers some answers to students most frequently asked questions. You can also find an extract from Daniel’s excellent “…Concepts and Models” book here: The Gravitational Model of linguistic availability

Former head of the Polish booth at the European Parliament and senior member of the European Parlament’s interpreting Directorate General Anna is an experienced member of test juries at the EU institutions and she has offered a few pointers on getting through exams on the EXAM TIPS page

Guy Laycock

Guy is a staff interpreter at the EU Commission and has offered help and advice on a number of parts of the site but is too modest to claim the fame. Guy is a regular member of test juries at the EU institutions, so it is well worth checking out his very useful EXAM TIPS

Claudia Monacelli

Author of scientific papers but also a couple of very user friendly books on interpreting Claudia has volunteered a very useful set of questions aimed a getting to know your speaker

A teacher in a former incarnation, Jean-Jacques has taught at ESIT in Paris and is currently a staff interpreter at the Council of Europe. Jean-Jacques has compiled a list of tips for improving your knowledge of your working languages, loosely based on the Paris school, ESIT’s, well known booklet, Perfectionnement linguistique.

Lou is the brains and energy behind the fabulous A Word in your Ear interpreting vlog. She’s kindly donated some of the better photos that you’ll find on the ITR site.

Mikołaj Sekrecki

Mikołaj is based in Cracow Poland and has also taught at the Jagiellonian University’s interpreting school. He works from English and offers some answers to frequently asked questions.

Valerie worked for the UN and other international institutions from her base in Geneva before she moved to Australia where she has become a leading figure on the interpreting market there. 
She has written a book for student interpreters, Conference Interpreting – Practice and Principles”, extracts of which she has contributed to this site.
They deal with Booth Etiquette, a subject not always addressed on training courses, and Preparation. You can also visit Valerie’s home page.
Valerie has also offered a range of Tips for novice interpreters.

David Walker

David was a staff interpreter at the European Parliament for the best part of 40 years, and worked from 5 EU languages including Greek.

He compiled numerous invaluable preparation resources at the EP and has shared some ideas of the use of register in interpreting here. He has also produced this eclectic and original ten part series on language learning – the Dekalog.

Alex Williams

Started out as a freelance interpreter in Geneva a few years ago and generously shares with us a few tips for finding your feet, and work, at the international institutions there.

Martin Wooding

…is a former staff interpreter of the European Parliament. Martin was editor of the EP’s interpreter bulletin, Lingua Franca, and was Head of Unit responsible for Enlargement and Multilingualism at the EP. He has reviewed Andrew Gillies’ book, Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting, for this site.

Thanks too, of course, to the many colleagues who have included links to ITR on their own websites, who have offered suggestions and ideas on improving the site, and also to those whose material has been borrowed or summarized elsewhere on the site.