The Great Language Career Test

Do you wonder if you have what it takes to be a translator or interpreter? This test won’t tell you that. What this test might tell you is whether you have the personality of a (stereo)typical translator, public service interpreter, conference interpreter or PhD researcher. Simply write down the letter that corresponds to your answer to each question below and then match them to the key at the bottom.

1)    At a party you are the kind of person who:
a)    hides at the back, reading the new dictionary you brought from home
b)    goes round the room, drinking all the coffee and talking incessantly
c)    loves to be in a smaller group, making sure people talk in turns
d)    brings Tupperware to take as many leftovers as possible home with you

2)    Your ideal work environment is:
a)    an office in your garage, surrounded by specialist dictionaries and the works of obscure authors
b)    locking someone in a tiny room with you, while you talk incessantly
c)    waiting about 3 hours for your clients to turn up
d)    until 2pm, your bed, after 2pm, anywhere where the food is free and you have access to journals

3)    The difference between translation and interpreting is:
a)    the former produces perfection; the latter produces approximation
b)    about £150 per day, mwhahahahaha
c)    Unfair working agreements! Interpreters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your travel expenses!
d)    most interesting. Shall we write a journal article discussing it?

4)    Power means:
a)    All your dictionaries are belong to me!
b)    I pressed the mic button last!
c)    I get to set my own rates!
d)    Whatever enough scholars say it means.

5)    If you had a million pounds, you could afford to:
a)    upgrade your TM software from version 1.12011 to version 1.12012 beta
b)    buy assorted tech gadgetry to help you look up terminology on the fly
c)    hire a team of lawyers and PR people to campaign for better rates and conditions
d)    pay off your student loans and get a one year journal subscription

6)    Your ideal home is:
a)    a private reading room in the British Library (heat and light optional)
b)    in Brussels, alongside others like you who talk incessantly (sleep optional)
c)    within 5 minutes walk of any assignment so you pay less on travel
d)    anywhere with fast wireless broadband, unlimited journal subscriptions and free food

7)    The biggest danger you would like to face in your career is:
a)    RSI. I already have wrist splints on order
b)    A sore throat. I already have a prescription for benzocaine
c)    Having to deal with client phone calls at 2am when you have already worked from 5am to 11pm the previous day.
d)    Being the person whose photocopying means that the entire department runs out of toner

How did you do?
If you answered mostly a) then you have the ideal personality for a translator. If you answered mostly b) then conference interpreting is for you. If you answered c) and have a great deal of courage, you are cut out for Public Service Interpreting. If you answered mostly d) then you should become a PhD student. Bonus: if the grammar of 4a and the inconsistent use of full stops annoyed you enough that you are considering leaving a comment with a corrected version, you are ideally suited to a career in proofreading!

Author: Jonathan Downie

Thank You!

On behalf of the LifeinLINCS team, I would like to send a huge thank you to everyone who has posted, reposted and commented on LifeinLINCS posts recently. I would especially like to thank all those who have contributed to the incredible success of the blog in the past two days.

Until Monday, our most successful day was November 8th, last year when excitement for Graham Turner’s post, Broken Britain: Blame the Interpreters, meant that we received a respectable 757 page views. On Monday, that record was not just broken but smashed. Facebook and twitter, along with other superb interpreting blogs like the Interpreter Diaries  and TerpsTube  got the world stirred up about 7 Ways To Annoy Interpreters. It might have been the ironic humour, it might have been a hint of self-recognition, it might even have had something to do with the fact that interpreters tend not to have an “off” switch.

Whatever it was, it meant that the blog received 1,238 views, not far off double the previous record. And then the incredible happened. Just when we thought everything was getting back to normal, word spread even further. Yesterday, thanks to visitors from the USA, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Russia, as well as the UK, you beat the record again. By the time I woke up this morning, the picture was clear: yesterday alone, LifeinLINCS received two thousand, two hundred and ninety-one visits. 2,291!

Well, what good does this do? As well as giving the profile of Heriot-Watt University and especially LINCS a boost, it also points to a nice future for the profession. You see, yesterday alone, 36 people clicked on links sending them to info on Interpreter training. Over the last 30 days, an additional 24 people have done the same. If nothing else, it seems that Monday’s article has managed to increase enthusiasm for interpreting as a career and that can only be a good thing.

So, give yourself a pat on the back and please accept our sincere thanks.

And, if you know of anyone looking to train as an interpreter or a translator, feel free to use the links below.

For undergraduate degrees (including the new degree in BSL Translation and Interpreting) use this link:

For postgraduate degrees in translation and interpreting, use this link:

7 Ways to Annoy Interpreters

It is almost too easy to find guides on how to work effectively with interpreters. You can choose from videos, articles and even blog posts. What you don’t often get, however, is a guide on how to annoy interpreters and make sure that no one understands each other. You can rely on LifeinLINCS to fill that gap! This week’s edition will only cover conference interpreting, since so many of our previous posts have demonstrated how to annoy Public Service Interpreters. So here is our list of 7 Ways to Annoy Conference Interpreters.

7. Give them as little info as possible

We all know that conference interpreting is an easy job really. It’s not as if you need training or anything to do it. So, with that in mind, how better to wind up interpreters than to tell them as little as possible about the job you expect them to do. Surely, they can interpret fine without knowing what the conference is about. Obviously, they don’t need to know about any of the speeches. Their knowledge of mechanical engineering terminology will be just as good as their knowledge of critical theory, won’t it? After all, conference interpreters are nothing but walking dictionaries, aren’t they?

6. Read from a manuscript

There is nothing interpreters like better than a speaker whose intonation, speed and attention are knocked off course by the supreme effort it takes to read word for word from a manuscript. In fact, it is even better if you mumble while you read. That shows just how intent you are on getting things right. The best thing about reading from a manuscript is that it scores two goals with one shot: not only do you annoy interpreters, you also get to bore your audience!

5. Make sure they can’t see a thing

This might seem strange. Interpreters work with language. Surely they don’t need to see you too. Well, leaving aside for the moment the fact that not all language is spoken (e.g. sign languages), it is surprising how many problems you can cause interpreters when you make sure they can’t see you. Life gets even more fun if you are using PowerPoint or any kind of visual aid.

4. Tell rambling stories

Ah stories, the speaker’s friend. What better way to liven up a speech on yearly accounts than with a story of how you first met your accountant? Of course, with stories, the longer, the better! You see, the longer your story takes, the greater the risk that the interpreter (and probably also your audience) will forget what on earth you are on about. Plus, with the propensity of interpreters to actually look for the ideas behind your words, you get a decent chance of confusing them thrown into the bargain!

3. Hire awful equipment

To be fair, this one is harder to pull off nowadays with the range of companies supplying equipment that actually does what it says on the tin. But, if you can find booths that aren’t soundproof, headphones that have spiky edges and poor sound quality and desks that wobble loudly then you have the perfect setup to make life difficult for your interpreters. Top all that off with poor (or very loud) air conditioning and you can even make them sweat too! Fantastic!

2. Blame them when it all goes wrong

Now, if you combine all of the strategies above, the likelihood is that quality will suddenly become poor and the interpreters will begin to look forlorn and frustrated. You can alleviate this completely by telling the interpreters that all the problems and all the misunderstandings are their fault. Threaten to never work with them again if they complain. Call them unprofessional. It works every time!

1.    Call them “translators!”

Of course, if reading from manuscripts, given no information, and hiring awful equipment doesn’t get the required result, make sure you call interpreters “translators.” It shows that you care enough to not care about the difference between the two professions.

Editor’s note: the opinions given in the article above are not the opinions of the editor, Heriot-Watt University or even the author. Readers ignore the irony in the above at their own risk.

Author: Jonathan Downie

Improving as an Interpreter: Research

This is the second post in our attempt to pull together ways that we can improve as translators and interpreters. This time, it would be good to concentrate on one specific area that interpreters have to deal with for each job: research.

If anything, modern interpreters suffer from having too much information at their fingertips. Within seconds, Google and Wikipedia can give us introductions to just about any field imaginable, complete with all the required vocabulary.

But is that good enough?

It is an open secret that clients vary in the speed and reliability with which they make materials available to interpreters. In some cases, such as medical and legal interpreting, there are good reasons why no paperwork can be passed on. How do you cope in those situations?

Still, even for those who receive material before they work, it takes time and effort to make sure that they are on top of all the information they will need. One question new interpreters will want to know is just how do you do that?

So, in the comments below, let’s have a discussion of how we do our research. Do you rely on paper dictionaries or prefer online sources? Do you read up on a field more generally before you work or just look at the speeches? Do you attend conferences on areas you regularly interpret in? Have you taken any other courses to help?

Over to you!