Preventing Interpreter Fatigue
One of the questions we get most often from new clients, or clients requesting simultaneous interpreting services for the first time is, “why do simultaneous interpreters work in teams?” or “will it be OK to have just one interpreter?”
The answer is twofold; first, having a team ensures the interpretation is as clean, accurate, and nuanced as possible, so the interpreted message Is received in a manner that most closely represents its original meaning. Secondly, simultaneous interpreting is like running a mental marathon; working in teams prevents interpreter fatigue.
Why is simultaneous interpreting so fatiguing?
If you have children, you may know what it’s like to have information streaming in from multiple directions. The brain works diligently to keep all the various data separate, to field all of the information, and disseminate the resulting answers/solutions/messages accordingly. This is a large aspect of how simultaneous interpreting works.
The stakes are much higher, however, when working at the professional level. Interpreters are wholly invested in every second of their work – mentally, physically and emotionally. In simultaneous interpretation, where verbal information comes in at a normal, conversational pace, the interpreter must jump through multiple mental hoops in order to instantaneously translate that message – along with any relevant cultural adaptations; it all takes place in real time.
Simultaneous interpretation requires active listening at the highest level, and there is no room for the interpreter’s brain to lapse into a blank or dreamy state. There are actually very few professional situations that require this level of continuous, relentless presence or attention because – since every event is different – there isn’t a familiar or established routine, per se. A surgeon requires sustained attention, but a surgery that he or she has performed many times might become more routine. By contrast, each speech, presentation or summit has its own rhythm, vocabulary and when others are able to ask or answer questions, the interpreted material goes completely off script.
It is also so important to remember that with simultaneous interpretation, there is no pause button. Unlike consecutive interpreting, the speakers aren’t consciously aware of using a slower rhythm and speaking pace to accommodate the translator because they’re going about their business as usual, and there is no opportunity to ask them to slow down or stop. The speaker is often several if not dozens of feet away from where the interpreter is isolated in a soundproof booth – and the speaker is fairly oblivious to the fact that their nervous, up-tempo talking speed is causing the interpreters to scramble in efforts to keep up.
Using a partner set or a team of interpreters, depending on the type, length and technical level of the event, makes a world of difference in the quality of the interpreters’ work, and their desire to work with your company in the future. Read Why Two Interpreters are Better than One, for more information on the topic.
The bottom line is that failure to accommodate your simultaneous interpreters can result in you losing important sections of your presentation as the mental slow-down resulting from interpreter fatigue occurs.
Ways you can help to prevent interpreter fatigue
As an employer, you have a vested interest in keeping your professional interpreter(s) well-rested and highly functional – since both counts will ensure higher-quality interpretations and the foundation for a long-term professional relationship.
Here are some things you can do to prevent interpreter fatigue:
Give your interpreters a break
Respect recommendations set forth by professional interpreter organizations, like the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), when it comes to working with interpreters. Not only do they recommend simultaneous interpreters be hired as a team or group, it’s also recommend that interpreters work no more than 30 consecutive minutes at a time, even less if the information is highly technical, stressful or emotionally charged. And keep in mind that a full working day for an interpreter is 6 working hours even, meaning 6 hours of time in the booth excluding coffee and lunch breaks.
Meet with the team ahead of time
Try to meet with the team ahead of time, in person or via digital sources. If you cannot, schedule a phone consultation with CCA to learn more about the simultaneous interpreting process. This will help you feel a part of the interpreting team (which you are), and will provide insight on how interpreters work, the signs or signals they may use to communicate with you and/or each other, and their proposed break/work schedule. This keeps you in the know regarding what is happening, when. Eventually, their activities will become as routine to you as they are to each other.
Provide interpreters with any supporting information, documents and resources available
Interpreters prefer to be prepared, allowing the best chance at being successful. The more well-versed interpreters are about your company, the target audience’s industries, general and specific topics, the presentation itinerary, supplemental materials provided to attendees, etc., the better prepared they are to provide seamless and accurate interpretations. Make it a point to share any and all materials you have available in a timely manner to help your interpreters prepare.
Are you planning to host or attend a large-scale conference, presentation or professional event requiring simultaneous interpreting? Contact the team at Chang-Castillo and Associates. We never let fatigue get the best of us – or the quality of your interpretations – because we diligently uphold our industry’s best practices. CCA is considered the platinum standard in our industry, and our impeccable reputation and client testimonials are proof of that.