Yvette Citizen, FCCI

Many of you are either aspiring interpreters in need of training, or practicing interpreters who need to hone their skills in order to pass a certification exam.  To that end, The Confident Interpreter has prepared a brief guide to help you in your self-study program.   Here are a few tips to a good self-guided practice:

  1. FIND GOOD PRACTICE MATERIAL. Here I will shamelessly promote the excellent training material we offer at The Confident Interpreter.  But I will add that there’s also some good stuff out there not created by us, like the material from ACEBO and the National Center for Interpretation, University of Arizona.  You can also use more general but free material from the internet, like TED talks (  If possible, try to get material for which there is a written script.
  2. EVALUATE YOUR SKILLS.   Record your rendition as you interpret simultaneously. Then listen to yourself objectively – emphasis on objectively.  Focus on your strengths as well as your weaknesses; oftentimes, we pay too much attention to our deficiencies and ignore our strengths.  Be patient (and nice) to yourself.  Below is a checklist for you to use to see how you are doing.

CHECKLIST 1: CONTENT ANALYSIS.  First and foremost, are you getting all the messages across? Remember, we don’t interpret words; we interpret concepts or units of meaning.  When you listen to your recorded rendition, read the script as you listen along.  Are there gaps?  Are you finishing your sentences?  Are you getting the correct message across or are you distorting the message somehow? Are you by chance adding information that was not provided in the original message (e.g., over explaining)?

1. Were there any gaps in my rendition?
2. Did I finish my sentences? Or did I leave the listener hanging?
3. Omissions: What kind of omissions did I have? [example: adjectives, adverbs, names, the middle parts of sentences, etc.]
4. Distortions: What types of distortions? [example:  25 kilograms became 35 kilograms; or the blue car became a red car, etc.]
5. Additions:  Did I add anything that wasn’t’ said in the original? [example:  explaining a concept when an explanation wasn’t provided in the original; adding synonyms; adding concepts, repeating prior information, etc.]
6. What terms or concepts gave me difficulty? [example:  legal terms, “big” words – tendentious, propinquity, … slang words – sick, bling, hack… ]
7. Resourcefulness. How resourceful was I when I couldn’t come up with the precise term?  Was I able to define or describe the term using other words?  Or did I just go blank? [example:  the original speaker said “scalpel” and you said, “a surgical instrument” or otherwise described it]

Ideally, you want to use the precise term, but it’s important to be resourceful on those occasions when you get stuck – and you willget stuck at one point or another.


CHECKLIST 2: STYLE AND DELIVERY.   Now that you’ve evaluated your rendition for content, let’s look at your delivery.

1. Were there a lot of uh, uh, um, um’s in my rendition or other type of utterances indicating hesitation?
2. Did my voice sound confident?
3. Pace:  Was my delivery rendered at a nice pace or was I interpreting so fast, it was difficult to understand?  Did my pace speed up then slow down dramatically?
4. Slurring:  Did I enunciate properly?  Or did I slur my words making it difficult for the speaker to know what I was saying? If you find that you’re slurring a lot, try practicing tongue twisters in all your working languages.
5. Monotone:  Was my voice monotonous?  Could I listen to my voice for a long period of time?
6. Did I remember to breathe or did I wait until I was completely out of breath and straining my vocal cords before taking a breath?
  1. SET A COURSE OF ACTION. Now that you know where you are, you can set a course for where you want to be.   Focus on one issue that you want to work on and work on it for a week or at least several days then, choose another aspect that you would like to improve on and focus on that for a few days and so on.  Set little goals and practice every day even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes.
  2. GLOSSARY BUILDING.  This is a great time to build up your glossary. Note every word or concept that causes you to stumble; research it, find an equivalent or equivalents you like, and note them in your glossary.  There are many ways to keep a glossary.  If you don’t already have a system, you can use a simple word table like the sample below or an Excel spreadsheet.
Term in original language Translation Comments or context in which you heard it

Most interpreters are self-taught.  Even those who had formal training continue to work on their skills on their own time.   Be patient with yourself – some of you are way too hard on yourselves.  Set realistic goals and truck on – you can do this!


  1. Thank you so so much. Very encouraging indeed and a great checklist for us. Her in Fiji we don’t have courses for interpreting, but we are grateful for training that has been happening.

  2. I have appreciated your guide self – study on mail.
    Would you please provide me free online interpreting training guide for self – study in English ? My target languages are french and portuguese.

  3. Hello Drame Abou, and thanks for your message. There is a great deal of free material available, though you have to be a detective to find it, depending on what field you are interpreting in. For example, the UN and WHO have multi-lingual glossaries and parallel pages for much of their information. In medical, there’s MedlinePlus with several languages. Also, many EU institutions have multi-lingual pages, so you read up on a topic in English and then check out the equivalent in Portuguese or French. ( You should also try to join various Facebook intepreter pages (again, depending on what your area is, whether legal, community, medical, etc) because they post there about free webinars and also post questions and answers from which you can learn a great deal. Good luck with your pursuits!

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