Language Learning Trick for Beginning Interpreters

I believe I shared a little bit of some of my experiences as a Spanish Interpreter while in Memphis. I must admit, the first year of interpreting were awkward because unlike most people I knew who majored in Spanish and their degree was in Spanish, I have never been out of the country and lived in a Spanish speaking territory.

Yet, working in a Mexican neighborhood in Memphis did have slight advantages that would equal just a small fraction of the experience I would get from traveling and staying in a Spanish speaking country.
Nevertheless, I was and still am jealous of those who do have the opportunity to travel to another country and study and become immersed in the language of the culture.

However, I have not let this little known fact completly leave me gunshy when it comes to improving my Spanish language skills. My very first assignment included transporting a client to the hospital and preparing him for particular medical procedures. Fortunately, my supervisor had already spoken with the Nurse Case Manager (NCM), who gave her the paperwork for the procedure that the client was going to have. I took the paperwork home and studied it in English before translating it on paper. In this way, I would know exactly what I was to explain to the client as the doctors spoke with him. I was very insecure in my speaking skills but I made it work. In some cases it worked in my favor. The client would from time to time tell me other words for certain parts. I think in 2004, I learned 2 different words for stomach in Spanish (barriga y panza).

Sorry for the long-winded story. But the real point of the story was to learn how to develop your own meaning when you are interpreting, regardless of the language you speak. With that said, let’s talk about technique for building vocabulary.

Sure you could do the usual vocabulary list and become lost in a collection of letters without illustration but it’s best to be creative. In a personal notebook, you can any of the following graphic organizer:

*Venn Diagram: Now, I realize that these diagrams are used for bigger concepts such as comparing historical figures, stories, cultures, etc. Why not use words? One thing I have learned that what means stomach in one Spanish speaking region doesn’t mean stomach in another Spanish speaking region or is not commonly used.
Yes, it is a bit over the top but it depends on how big and in depth that you make it.

*If there are words in English that you may have a hard time explaining, then a Pyramid Chart would be good to try out. The capstone of the pyramid could represent your word. The remaining levels could be synonyms of the word or an easier explanation so that when you need to interpret to the client, you are able to do so with confidence. Eventually you want to raise the bar on your understanding so that you develop more with your interpretation skills.

*In similar fashion as presented above, a graphic organizer in the shape of the sun or a light bulb can be used. Certain words or phrases that are used with either legal, medical, or any other type of interpretation that serve as a the main concept would be placed in the center. The rays would represent various explanations for the interpreter to use as they practice their oral interpretation of forms.

*Keep bilingual materials on hand to study that are related to the type of translation that you want to work with. If you intend on working as a CPA or in banking, it is a good idea to find financial materials in both your home language and the target language. If it’s school related interpretation that you are concerned with, then search for bilingual materials related to school administration and policy as well other school related matters.

As the appointments or meetings come, the less you will need the charts. Your confidence will build and you will be surprised at how much your vocabulary has improved.


~ by animeheather on 07/03/2011.

4 Responses to “Language Learning Trick for Beginning Interpreters”

  1. […] (, Don’t Walk, to SES New York 2011 ( Learning Trick for Beginning Interpreters ( / Hispanic / Spanish Seo ( […]

  2. […] Language Learning Trick for Beginning Interpreters ( […]

  3. It’s interesting to see this point of view. I can’t say fore sure if I agree or not, but it is something I will think about now.

  4. Thank you for this post. Your suggestions are very helpful. In the Fall I’ll be studying for a graduate degree in Spanish Translation and I want to build my medical as well as my legal vocab.

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