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A Linguist Particle?


This week, physicists revealed to the world that they’ve all but confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, called the “God Particle” in layman’s terms. The discovery is said to answer the riddle of how subatomic particles were formed, and what gives them their mass. As an interpreter and translator who’s dabbled in more than one specialty within the scope of being a linguist, and in the shadow of such an exciting moment for mankind, I started exploring what makes us tick, a “Linguist Particle,” if you will.

This week, physicists revealed to the world that they’ve all but confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, called the “God Particle” in layman’s terms. The discovery is said to answer the riddle of how subatomic particles were formed, and what gives them their mass. As an interpreter and translator who’s dabbled in more than one specialty within the scope of being a linguist, and in the shadow of such an exciting moment for mankind, I started exploring what makes us tick, a “Linguist Particle,” if you will.

Discovery

Beyond the necessary trait of bilingualism and the basic role of bridging communication gaps, I pondered what traits seem to appear in the interpreters and translators I’ve encountered in my career. Commonly, I’ve noticed they have a creative streak that manifests itself in former or second careers as musicians, painters, singers, poets, lyricists, writers and graphic artists, among other right-brained qualities. As a subdivision of these, many are the entrepreneurial, business-minded people, who are very good at marketing their professional services. The academic subgroup’s passion lies in sharing knowledge and developing others. Life experience seems to be a big factor for professional success, providing not only broad knowledge but the maturity needed to excel. Hmm… maybe another line of thinking was in order. By this point it started looking like there was just too much variety to name just one common thread.

Rather than traits, I thought perhaps what was common were principles we have all agreed to abide by. Codes of ethics, standards of practice and good practice recommendations abound, and most generally have the same sort of list ranging from the fundamentals of faithful renditions to the broad-reaching implications of client relations and professional behavior. Still, with the great variety of environments, purposes and subject matters, the ways that professionals apply such guidelines can vary, albeit only slightly in some cases.

Corroboration

My next leg in the journey was to check whether the professions themselves have identified specific traits. Resources abound from a variety of sources that seek to name the ideals, what makes a good interpreter or translator. The more I looked, the more I found, but the “ah-ha” moment came when I found a study by Nancy Schweda Nicholson called Personality Characteristics of Interpreter Trainees: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)[1]. I encourage you to read it because it’s much more detailed and complex than what I seek to explore here, and it cites many other very interesting sources.

Schweda Nicholson described that the study sought to identify traits of interpreter and translator trainees. She found that the traits that could be elicited from interpreters themselves would be highly subjective, explaining that “…interpreters have often examined their own personalities and attempted to generalize based on their own personal assessments… if one asks an interpreter what he or she believes to be the perfect temperament and personality for a new trainee, the interpreter will, almost without exception, describe his or her own personality.” Because interpreter and translator training programs are often led and taught by practicing industry professionals, it makes sense that some objective data would be an excellent supplement to the anecdotal descriptions that a seasoned trainer might offer.

Conclusions

Work by Henderson (1980) cited in the study says that the “typical” interpreter is “A self-reliant, articulate extrovert, quick and intelligent, a jack of all trades and something of an actor, superficial, arrogant, liking variety and at times anxious and frustrated…” going on to say that these are only major features of a picture that is much more complex. Interesting! Schweda Nicholson concludes that “personality may definitely have an effect on that person’s comfort level in different situations as well as on processing and organizational behavior.” Fascinating, I think, because the only entrance exams I have ever heard of for training programs focus almost exclusively on skills and abilities that tend to be limited to the performance, rather than any predictors for how a trainee might fare in the professional setting. Recognizing work such as that of Schweda Nicholson might assist programs to develop the other characteristics in trainees in conjunction with the specifics of the industry.

Perhaps intuitively, I’ve always been frustrated to hear professionals kindly encourage bilinguals to become linguists without knowing much about them. Research tells us there is so much more to interpreting and translating than language skills and the right vocabulary, and although many of the ideal traits can be developed, I’m not convinced that all of them are necessarily attainable to their fullest. The information contained in the Schweda Nicholson study seems to explain why some perfectly talented bilinguals have difficulty getting into or succeeding in the interpreting and translation industries. As a profession, when linguists seek to prepare for “the next generation” of interpreters and translators, it makes sense that people considering these careers are made aware that research and experience strongly suggests that certain personality traits may be better suited for success.

In the end, perhaps there is no such thing as a “Linguist Particle,” but instead a personality profile that is much more complex and intricate, with features that are both subjective and objective. As Schweda Nicholson puts it, “…the personality profiles of interpreters can be as varied as the topics with which they work.”

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For additional background on the Myers-Brigg topic visit: https://sites.google.com/site/interpretjc/home/archive and look for the first session of the Interpreters Journal Club twitter meeting.  Myers-Brigg was discussed and several interpreters from around the world chimed in.

Commentary on 2nd Session of #IntJC


Our second discussion over Twitter took place yesterday at 10pm Tokyo time.  This time we had nine participants from Spain, Slovenia, Venezuela, Japan, U.S., and Belgium. The topic at issue was Stress and Interpreting.  For a full transcript of the 1.5 hr. discussion, click here.

The reason this topic was chosen is because interpreting is acknowledged by most in our ranks to be a stressful occupation due to the fact that you only have one shot at getting it right and many times there are significant stakes involved. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), 90% of visits to the doctor are caused by stress and stress is linked to 6 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide. Furthermore the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that mental diseases including disorders caused by stress will be one of the leading causes of disabilities by 2020.

Some quick findings from our chat were that there is a thin line between positive excitement and stress.  Stress being when one has difficulties in coping with a situation.  And stress is not caused by an event that is imposed on you but rather by the way that you react to it. Interpreters stated that the majority of the symptoms experienced were cognitive ( poor concentration and forgetfulness), subjective (moodiness, anxiety), and psychological (increased blood pressure).

Outside stressors were reported in some parts of the world where disturbances of the peace and protests actually impact performance.  Some reported forgetting personal life stresses when working in the booth, although I think that that is a conscious decision we make to refuse to entertain these matters in order to be able to do the job.  However, our emotions are always present if only subliminally and they affect us 24X7. I was surprised to hear that last minute calls for work were experienced everywhere, although most of those on the call tended to turn down those offers.  I had thought it was predominantly a U.S. phenomenon  for some reason.

Some of the favorite techniques to combat stress among the group were time management, other interests outside of work (a/k/a having a life), salsa dancing, cooking, playing an instrument and yoga.

What I like most about our meetings/chats is not so much our conclusions, as nothing is rigorously substantiated, but the fact that we are creating a valuable network of interpreter friends around the world.  We are a sounding board for one another and we have begun to share common concerns, experiences and responses in a simple and fun environment. Our next meeting is scheduled for October 8, same time as before.  The subject matter has not yet been determined.  Please come hang out and opine, we all want this to be an inclusive group and the more diverse we are, the more we will all learn from it.  What would you like to be discussed?  Leave suggestions here or on Twitter under #IntJC.  See ya!

The Interpreting Journal Club; Save the Date and Participate


Carl Jung

If you are serious about your profession, would like to discuss it with other colleagues from all over the world whilst having a good time in the format of a stimulating, fun conversation, please join us. Interpreters, lovers of language and students of the profession are all welcome.

What am I talking about?

A  colleague, Lionel Dersot, The Liaison Interpreter based in Tokyo, has come up with a novel idea of discussing interpreting-related topics on a regular basis over the Internet.  The first chat will be held over Twitter.com on Saturday, September 10, 10:00 p.m. Tokyo time, which is 11:00 a.m. EST that same day.  I know it’s during  working hours but some of us, depending on assignments, will be available. The hash tag that is being used on Twitter is #IntJC.  You can do a search there for that tag to see what kind of a buzz this has created. Another interpreting colleague, Michele Hof, The Interpreter Diaries, suggested that the topic for the first chat be a personality test based on the work of Carl Jung, which has been used as a model to study interpreting aptitudes.  I found it very much on the mark insofar as I am concerned and it explained some contradictions that I had noticed in my personality, quite well.  I am an INFJ, a rare bird from what I am reading. To find out what this is all about, take the test here.  If  after taking the test you are intrigued by the concept, visit the site Lionel has created so that you can read the actual material that will be discussed regarding the test, and see how the meeting will work. Interestingly, the study in question was also mentioned in the most recent issue of Interprenaut.

This is a great opportunity to end the summer doldrums making new acquaintances and learning something new about how our personalities influence our profession. Make a date to be there.  Drop in and let your voice be heard!

P.S.  You do not have to be a geek to participate.  Twitter is very user friendly and insofar as the material is concerned, that’s what we do, study the texts that are going to be discussed in conferences or legal proceedings (when we are lucky enough to get them) and it’s all very interesting to boot.

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