In this session, three experienced interpreters working between English and Asian languages—Japanese, Korean and Mandarin—discussed their experiences with bidirectional interpretation and offered insightful tips for interpreters specializing in any language. Céline grew up in a bilingual environment, achieving native-level fluency in English and Japanese from an early age, while Robert and Laura acquired fluency in Korean and Mandarin, respectively, from high school onwards.
It was inspiring to hear how the speakers maintain top-level fluency in both of their languages, and it was especially surprising for me to learn that all three speakers interpret from English into their Asian language more often, and that they indeed prefer it this way. Laura spoke to how there is less effort for her with listening, analysis and memory when interpreting from English. Céline mentioned that there is a longer lag when interpreting into English, and that it requires more note taking and creativity in order to overcome the disparate nature of English and Japanese grammar.
Audience members were eager to ask the speakers for helpful tips, such as how to keep up with fast or unclear speech. Robert’s advice was to not let discomfort get to you and to just summarize. Laura recommended ditching adjectives and opting for “SVO only” in order to focus on the logical narrative. Céline, drawing from her experience working at the State Department and interpreting for fast speakers such as Anthony Blinken, noted that the best way to keep up is to prepare yourself with background knowledge; it’s best to have a good idea about what the speaker will likely discuss.
Finally, the speakers gave encouraging advise to interpreters who need guidance on battling pressure on the job. As a newcomer to interpreting myself, I was keen to gain insight into how these professionals stay calm, cool and collected while performing, in my eyes, a herculean task (just the thought of interpreting for the Secretary of State makes me feel faint). Laura talked about the importance of having the right mindset; the interpreter must channel the speaker and focus less on themselves. Echoing Laura’s point, Céline shared advice that was once given to her: “It’s just you and the mic.” As long as we interpreters prepare the best we can through practice and research, we just need to focus on the mic and put our worries aside—the rest will follow.