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A Support System for Interpreters

A few years back I was asked to give a talk for interpreters at a Conference in the City of London.  There were highly successful interpreters and heads of departments of various universities also speaking.  The Conference was aimed at giving working interpreters information and support on how best to maintain physical and mental well being while they were working on sensitive jobs.

Interpreters are highly trained academically but sometimes their need for more practical skills have not been met.   At that time there wasn’t much training given to interpreters on how to handle the physical and mental rigors that come with the job.  Much discussion was given over to methods of relaxation after a day of mental gymnastics and physical constriction.  One highly successful interpreter believed that the Alexander Technique was the practice that had helped him the most.  This technique guides your body and mind into a state of release.  It is a fantastic technique for interpreters who can benefit so much from the released posture and mental relaxation.  Many people use yoga exercises for relaxation – again an excellent form of tension release and those of you who practice meditation may have found it life changing.

My own specialty The Grotowski Technique, is a useful tool for using “on the job”.  While relaxation exercises are part of the interpreters daily routine, Grotowski offers a way of dealing with sudden surges of stress sometimes connected with sensitive subject matter, that can trip the amygdala and open up the parts of the brain that deal with emotions.  It can happen at any time to interpreters and the effort needed in dealing with the emotions, without letting them affect the voice and the ability to speak, is draining.

One interpreter explained that when she was 4 months pregnant and interpreting at a conference for orphaned children, she found herself choking on the words she was interpreting.  The description of the conditions orphaned children lived in was too much for her to bear.  Many would say that it was unprofessional of her – but how can we convey the meaning behind the words of the speaker if we don’t take in that meaning. Normally we are able to maintain a separation between the general (others) and the particular (ourselves) because the brain can separate the two however the Amygdala can allow our feelings to switch the parts of the brain that we’re using and an in certain circumstances can highjack our words.  A practical understanding of how the voice works and how speech is made together with instruction on how to place the voice in different areas of the body for different effect, is a helpful tool to any interpreter and recommended by the ITI.

Recommended reading – Goldman – Emotional Intelligence

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How the brain can hijack your thoughts and words.
How the brain can hijack your thoughts and words.
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