Reflecting on performance, and addressing areas for improvement: there's simply no excuse for professional interpreters not to do it

Post date: Feb 13, 2017 1:44:17 PM

At the end of a recent interpreting assignment, I overheard a customer mention that he was going to write a report for himself when he got home, covering what he did well during his technical mission at a power station, and the areas in which he could improve his performance. This is the kind of thing that most, if not all, interpreters do quite naturally during and after every job: we automatically make notes to update our skills and knowledge every time we encounter a difficulty when interpreting.

For professional linguists, however, there really is no excuse not to reflect on one's performance on a more formalized basis: noting down areas for improvement, and developing a plan to address them, is the only way to be sure that we won't encounter the same problem again.

It may be as simple as not knowing a technical term. That's easily remedied, and you don't need a formal plan to help you search for a word and add it to your personal glossaries. More complex and systemic issues, however, require deeper reflection. For example, if you find your performance deteriorating because you are tired at the end of the day, or if you really struggle in a particular technical field (such as steam turbines, to pluck something out of the air), or your note-taking skills don't allow you to deliver TL segments as comprehensively and precisely as you would like in a pressurized situation, or if you find yourself reluctant (or even unable) to deliver long segments in front of a large audience, you should be having a serious think about how and why these issues arise, and what you can do to address them.

Once you've written down some areas for improvement (and I don't know of any interpreters who can genuinely say their performance couldn't be improved), you need to work out a plan for addressing them. I was once told by a nuclear industry manager that every action plan needs to consist of actions, resources, objectives, a person responsible for each action, and a schedule.

You can apply that simple model to improving your performance as an interpreter (let's assume that you are the person responsible for each action):

- once you have decided upon your areas for improvement (for example, note-taking), identify the actions that you need to take to address the problem (for example, asking colleagues for advice, attending a note-taking workshop, reading textbooks, practising techniques);

- decide what resources you need (this will probably be in terms of time and money - you might decide to spend two days on these actions, and you might assign a budget of £200 to travel to and attend a workshop, and/or to buy a textbook. You will also need to take into account the money you won't be earning while you are taking these actions);

- identify objectives that will help you tell whether the problem has been resolved (improved precision and comprehensiveness of segments; improved comfort when interpreting; improved legibility of notes; better feedback from the customer - make them as concrete as possible);

- determine a target date for taking those actions (in time for your next assignment, or within two months, or in time for a specific assignment that requires top-notch note-taking in a particularly pressurized situation or environment).

You don't have to construct a huge administrative machine: keep it as simple as possible, but write it down: it really does make the actions you decide to take much more effective.