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What to do if you’ve made a mistake while interpreting

mistake while interpreting

Interpreting Skills: What to do if you’ve made a mistake during an Interpreting Session

Recovering from a mistake is a vital skill to have as an interpreter. You must admit a mistake while interpreting session as soon as you realize you’ve made one. It’s an uncomfortable situation and a common one. In previous blogs, we’ve discussed interjecting, advocating, and conflicts of interest. In this installment of our Interpreting Skills series, we’ll cover proper mistake procedure and some self-practice tips.

Admitting a Mistake while interpreting: The Procedure

  1. Admitting a mistake is rather the same procedure as interjecting to act as a clarifier or cultural broker:
    If you realize your mistake while one of the parties is speaking, write it on your notepad. This ensures that you don’t forget. Tip: write it separately from your other notes and put a box around it.
  2. As soon as party has finished their phrase, interject by saying a transition phrase in English. “Excuse me, the interpreter made a mistake and needs to clarify the word/phrase “_______.”
  3. Repeat this in the target language.
  4. Clarify your mistake and resolve the error in both languages.
  5. Say “Thank you. Please resume the session.” and proceed.

Note that it might not be necessary to complete this last step. Some sessions automatically resume once you’ve clarified the mistake. The goal is always to be as inobtrusive as possible during a session. As you gain experience, you’ll learn how to “read the room” and determine if it’s necessary to include further transition.

It can be difficult and sometimes embarrassing to admit a mistake while interpreting. However, you are obligated to do so by Canon One of the Ethical Code: accuracy and completeness. You must strive to interpret as accurately as possible, without omitting and changing anything. Admitting the mistake as soon as possible makes it easier to continue the session as normal.

Admitting a mistake also shows professionalism on the job. We know that this may seem counterintuitive. However, when a client knows that they can trust an interpreter to admit a mistake, they’re more likely to rebook. If you’re willing to admit a mistake openly and honestly, you build trust with your client and non-English speaker. They feel assured that you’re always interpreting accurately and that you take your work seriously.

Interjection Practice Activity: Partner Work

Interjecting to make a mistake, act as a clarifier, or make a cultural clarification aren’t the only times you’ll find yourself interjecting as an interpreter. It’s also important to interject:

  • To ask a client to speak more slowly
  • To ask a client to pause more frequently
  • To remind the client to speak directly to the non-English speaker, instead of addressing you

This is a difficult skill to learn! We’re taught from an early age to never interrupt someone speaking. Being an interpreter requires that you learn how to interject quickly, efficiently, and effectively. When starting your career, it helps to engage in self-practice activities to get the feel of the work. One of the skills we insist our interpreters practice and master is interjection.

For this activity, you’ll need the following:

  • A friend, to help: They don’t need to be an interpreter, just someone who’s willing to work with you.
  • A couple of monologues: You can easily find suitable monologues online. Theatrical monologues work well. For a challenge, consider a legal or medical monologue. Keep it fun! You’re learning a new skill and the best way to do so is with a positive experience.

You’ll play your roles: the person practicing will act as the “interpreter;” the other as the “English speaker.” The “English speaker” will read the monologue through, without pauses, perhaps too quickly. The “interpreter” interprets and interjects. They ask the “English speaker” to read more slowly, or to pause more often, or to admit a mistake. English speaker: you should “ignore” this and proceed as before to give the “interpreter” more chances to interject. Interpreter: feel free to interject as many times as you can. If you’re both interpreters, you can switch roles for the next example. Go through the texts as many times as you need, until you’re comfortable interrupting someone speaking in a monologic way.

Global Arena’s 16-Hour Interpreting Course

Would you like more practice? Does discussion about interpreting topics and skill-building appeal to you? Are you interested in connecting with peers in the interpreting industry? Global Arena’s 16-Hour Interpreter Training offers new and established interpreters an opportunity to build and refine their skills. The dynamic, activity-based course takes place live, over Zoom, at the end of each month. It’s divided into four days of four hours each, from 8:30 AM- 12:30 PM every day. The course culminates in a final exam and certificate of course completion upon passing score. Learn more about the Global Arena Interpreting Program.

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