by Chi-Wei Chang
This was my first time going to a national conference for interpreters. My goal was to be there and learn about simultaneous interpreting and how to teach simultaneous interpreting. Unfortunately the speaker for that specific topic was missing in action! What a disappointment!
Nevertheless, this conference was packed with workshops. One of them in particular drew a huge crowd of interpreters: Becoming an expert interpreter. As any medical interpreter can tell you, every interpreting encounter has its own challenges. How can a novice interpreter advance to be an expert?
Mr. Ryan Foley spoke about many tips for interpreters to improve their skills. Among those, three are fundamental and should be remembered:
1. focus on the techniques: the example he gave us was figure skating (which I can relay really well). How a skater improves on making a perfect axel not only requires repetitions but more importantly, using the right techniques. The same principle can be applied to interpreters who want to improve themselves and become better at interpreting.
2. goal oriented: set goals for oneself. Whether they are weekly goals or monthly goals, it is crucial for medical interpreters to learn more about medicine and look up information about illnesses or procedures that one has come across at an appointment.
3. look for constant and immediate feedback. Always seek direct and indirect feedback from patients, providers and peers. Based on clients’ feedback, interpreters can better prepare him/herself by identifying and correcting his/her own mistakes right away as well as gaining new ideas.
The conference’s hospital tours also offered an invaluable experience. I signed up for a tour that took us to MD Anderson, one of the hospitals that is part of the Texas Medical Center. The scale of this medical center is enormous. The interesting aspect about these tours is not just getting first-hand experience about the size or the appearance of the hospitals but how their language assistance program is run. As expected, Spanish is the most requested language. Yet to my surprise, the Vietnamese patient population is more than Mandarin Chinese here in Houston. The manager of the program explained to us that they use two schedulers to schedule all interpreters, temp and staff alike. What intrigued me the most was that their interpreters are sent to appointments when providers are ready to see the patients. And when interpreters are done with one job assignment, they are obligated to call their schedulers so they can be deployed to other available jobs. This way they do not have to keep a huge staff of interpreters. Wow! I would love to learn more about their model and how it can be applied to our own.
One of the best parts of going to a national conference is networking with other interpreters. It offers a great opportunity to learn from one another and to build one’s contact network. I was fortunate to be able to form on day-one a small group of interpreters from Asian countries. We went to most of the workshops together and shared our thoughts and experiences. All of us are now friends on social media and we provide resources and support to each other on a regular basis!