Professionalisation Talk 2022-23 #12: Precis Writing

On 10 February 2023, Mirna Soares Andrade gave a talk about retour interpreting and the B language, based on her career as a conference interpreter.

Mirna has Portuguese, English and Spanish as her A (native), B (active) and C (passive) languages, respectively. She’s based in Washington, D.C. and works with international organisations. In addition to conference interpreting, Mirna is well-versed in translation and teaching. She is active in professional associations.

Unlike their peers in Europe who usually interpret from but never into their C languages, interpreters in the Americas often need to be able to work bi-directionally between their A and B languages to gain work opportunities. As an experienced interpreter into English B, Mirna shared her strategies for improving the quality of retour interpreting.

Focus on core ideas

Firstly, interpreters need to dispel unnecessary fears. The B language is not a mother tongue. It can always be improved but is unlikely to be impeccable. When interpreting, we need to let go of perfectionism. The ultimate goal is to convey ideas clearly.

Secondly, interpreters can capitalise on A language understanding to improve B language output. For instance, Brazilian Portuguese tends to express itself indirectly. Thus, when an evasive Brazilian speech is interpreted into English, the interpreter can focus on the core meaning to achieve better understanding. Moreover, keeping things simple reduces the risks of making mistakes and wasting energy.

Finally, interpreters should be proactive in practising their B languages. Improving the B language requires both input and output. Interpreters working for international organisations need to listen to relevant podcasts, familiarise themselves with useful phrases and practise speaking whenever possible. It is also important to improve the B language register to prepare for formal meetings.

Q&A session

I’ve heard that many interpreters choose to add a C language to improve employability. Is it difficult to acquire a C after you start working?

It is difficult, but you can do that based on your professional needs. Learning a language similar to your A or B is more convenient.

Is a B language compulsory for working in the Americas? Where are the hubs for interpreting and translation jobs in the USA?

In most cases, having a B language is preferred in the Americas, especially when you work for regional international organisations. This can avoid the inconvenience of relay interpreting.

Global international organisations based in the Americas, like the UN, also recruit interpreters with only C languages. Generally, the East Coast has more work opportunities, but it also depends on your language pairs. For example, there are more interpreters with Spanish A or B in Florida.

What qualifications do I need to work in the USA?

You don’t tend to need a specialised certificate to work in the USA, but the American Translators Association does have certification exams for translators, which will be useful if you want to work there.

Is it very stressful to be an interpreter in international organisations?

It is, and the amount of work can be huge. However, it also depends on the season.       

I am busier in spring because many meetings take place at that time. Normally, I work no less than 3 days a week as an interpreter, and 5 days a week when it is busy. Moreover, I need to travel a lot.

Author: Zitao Zhang