Ideal Interpreting Environment: A Medical Interpreter’s Dream


If you were to describe your ideal interpreting conditions what would they be?

To give an example, I’ll use a sports analogy: I play my best soccer games when it’s 11:00 AM, 65 degrees Fahrenheit, low humidity and overcast skies. How often do I play in those exact conditions? Not often. Still, it’s helpful for me to know this so that can I make adjustments when possible and still play well.

Interpreters will also find that they perform best in certain situations. For some it will be a fast-paced, high-urgency situation. For others, it will be an even-keeled diplomatic exchange of messages. How often do medical interpreters get assignments that match up with their ideal interpreting conditions? I'll let you answer that for yourself. 

The point is not to demand that parties bend to your needs or to insist on only interpreting when the conditions are perfect for you.  That would be silly and unrealistic. Just like the athlete who has to perform when it’s 40 degrees and raining or 90 degrees and sweltering, so, too, must interpreters perform even when the conditions are less than ideal.

I once conducted a language-screening exam with a candidate who insisted on closing the window blinds because the vehicles driving by were distracting to her. This was an indication that the candidate would only be willing to perform when certain environmental conditions were met and that she would be willing to interrupt the communication to have others accommodate her needs. She didn’t pass the screening exam.

The key is to be aware of your ideal conditions and how well they do or do not match up with the current environment. Then, you can adjust your strategies and modify your techniques to overcome the current challenges. Instead of expending energy dwelling on external factors (The children are making too much noiseThe doctor is speaking too fast. I didn’t have any time for lunch today.), which are arguably legitimate challenges, you’re positioned to perform like the pro you are in spite of the circumstances.

What are your strategies for keeping your interpreting performance sharp in less than ideal conditions?

Interested in developing strategies to keep your memory recall sharp even in challenging situations? Join us for the Fighting Mental Decay online continuing education course for medical interpreters. 

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