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Three Secret Weapons to Improve Interpreting

Dalai Lama III am sure we will all agree that some of the basic requirements for a professional to deliver a successful interpretation, be it in the booth or in a court or other environment, is to firstly have a disciplined mind to render the task at hand without distractions and in order to have a disciplined mind, your physical body must be healthy, relaxed and rested.

During my 30+ years in the business, I have tried a lot of methods to achieve this goal in the most expedient and effortless manner, ranging from diet, to personal trainers, to mind control methods, etc., all of which I found lacking in some aspect.  Either they conferred better health without the necessary relaxation and mental concentration or they met some other incomplete set of criteria.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and I have been able to verify through my personal practice, that the combination of the three basic legs of yoga: the postures, breathing exercises and meditation, achieve this end exceptionally well.


The postures differ from traditional Western exercises that focus on developing large muscles and disciplining the body. They positively affect both the mind and the body.  They are unique in that they also tone up the chief endocrine glands of the body, such as the adrenal or suprarenal capsules, the pineal and pituitary glands, the thyroid, carotid, the gonads, etc., which produce hormones that regulate your body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development as well as function.[i] We need a well-tuned body to carry out the oftentimes stress-inducing work of interpreting, which will in time adversely affect us if left unchecked. It should be noted, in our youth-oriented society, that the gonads are responsible not only for an individual’s  sexuality but also for his remaining in an optimum state of health.  They  maintain youthful vigor, prevent the onset of senility and exercise a deep psychological and physiological influence on the organism.[ii]


By learning to control our breathing, we can control our life energy, which we draw in through the breath, therefore life itself and its activities.  The aim is not to build a bigger chest as in the West, but to increase oxygenation of the blood. All metabolic processes in the body are regulated by oxygen. Our brains process billions of bits of information each second. Our metabolic processes work to rid our bodies of waste and toxins. Even our abilities to think, feel and act require oxygen-related energy production. Scientists now also agree that oxygen plays a powerful and primary role in our overall health and well-being. A growing number of researchers have shown that the best way to improve health may be related to the optimum oxygenation of every cell. [iii]

When energy is distributed evenly through this technique, we achieve psycho-physical coordination, get rid of our emotional complexes and the unbalances that give rise to fear, anger, envy or a sense of inferiority.[iv] The breathing is an indispensable resource for interpreters that may succumb to any of the above during an assignment because of external circumstances or because of his own sense of inferiority due to a very demanding job. It swiftly counteracts anxiety and allows us to perform optimally.


Lastly and most importantly, there is meditation.  The fatigue of the senses demands rest.  Hence we sleep at night.  However, the mind is subtly working even during sleep so we do not achieve full rest.  Real rest is only secured through meditation.[v]

The whole mind and nervous system are re-modeled thereby. New grooves, cells and channels are formed.[vi] These will allow you to experience  serenity, a sense of focus, one-pointedness of mind, patience and contentment at all times. Even under stress. They will allow you to control the wanderings of the typical mind that often jumps unrestrained from one thought to the next without respite.  This is an invaluable asset in our field where we have to continuously render the thoughts and words of others, playing down the normal interference created by our minds as a reaction to said input.  It creates a space where our mind is stilled and we can be creative in how we manage the output of what we are hearing.

Not convinced?  Check it out.  The philosophy of yoga starts with the tenet that any idea not confirmed by experience must remain mere speculation.

[ii] Yogi Gupta (1958). Yoga and Long Life, pp.36, Yogi Gupta New York Center.

[iv] Yogi Gupta (1958). Yoga and Long Life, pp.121, Yogi Gupta New York Center.

[v] Swami Sivananda (Fourteenth Edition 2011), Concentration and Meditation, pp. 120.

[vi] Swami Sivananda (Fourteenth Edition 2011), Concentration and Meditation, pp. 124.

Am I Making the Right Decision?

imagesThis question is not the exclusive purview of philosophers and mental health practitioners. It has always been a hot topic and many of us chew our nails to the nubs while making decisions that involve a major issue in our life such as relationships, health care, family problems, the purchase of a house, etc. After we reach a conclusion, we oftentimes continue to second-guess it, especially when as now, circumstances are aggravated by difficult economic times that have a bearing on many of these situations.

In the T&I profession there are key decisions as well, that impact our lifestyle and need to be confronted. Among others, they include questions such as educational choices, what work aspect of language to focus on, what is best for me, a freelancer or employee position?  What remuneration should I seek? Is there value in volunteering my services to a trade association, etc.

Being a rational MBA and a long-time spiritual seeker, I have one foot planted firmly in both of these camps, and I follow a balanced procedure I devised that I would like to share with you as it has proven invaluable to me over the years. Start out by not believing everything you think prior to undergoing the process.

  1.  The first step is to research the matter.  The most generalized search you will do will be probably be on Google but rather than typing in a simple phrase, learn the search conventions for advanced searches which are very simple to do and will save you a lot of time. Please note that there are similar tips for advanced searches on other platforms such as additional search engines, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.
  2. Make a short list of the pros and cons of each solution.  Remember that comparing options will increase your confidence.
  3. Identify a qualified friend as well as a devil’s advocate to discuss the alternatives. Remember that advice from others usually comes from the intellect.
  4. Listen to your gut/intuition to determine what feels comfortable and resonates with you.  Remember that in the end, you know better than anyone else what is best for you.
  5. Be aware that the world is in constant flux and you will be able to reassess many of your decisions should you decide they are not working for you in the future.
  6. Realize that experience is one of the main filters our brain uses to make decisions.  It therefore stands to reason that you focus on positive experiences and try to reduce or eliminate internalizing  negative ones so that your “database” is populated by optimistic, affirmative information.
  7. I cannot overstate the importance of a regular simple meditation practice of 15 minutes twice a day to clear the cobwebs.  It will help you immensely to analyze all of the above, in addition to having many other benefits.

Bear in mind that whatever you ultimately decide will be the best resolution you could have reached. It may not be completely apparent why in the short term, but in the end I can assure you that it will be an experience you had to undergo to fulfill some as yet possibly unidentified need in your path.  I am convinced that nothing in life is random.  It just may take a while to connect the dots but there is an Intelligence superior to ours guiding our steps and our prior understanding of all the details does not contribute to the desired outcome.

I hope you will agree that this is both a relevant and fascinating topic. I look forward  to seeing your comments and benefiting from your opinions and experiences.

Sobering News and Turbo-Charged Learnings

Dear readers:

My last post was October 22.  Since then, my life has involuntarily changed 180°. I have been diagnosed with a condition I didn’t even know existed, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, which is a preliminary stage to Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  Conventional medicine is telling me that left unchecked I will not be alive a year from now and that the only “cure”, with no guarantees, is a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT).  Assuming we find a donor, which is a feat and that I survive the transplant which is an inordinate ordeal, there is no assurance it will take or not come back. So you are probably asking, why is she discussing a very private matter here on what is ostensibly an interpreting/translation blog?

The reason is that there are a lot of lessons to be learned for everyone, that because of my condition and my predisposition to learning and self-development, I am being taught at lightning-like speed. I hope I am up to the challenge of learning and  I am grateful to be learning. I want to tell you what some of the more apparent lessons have been, in case they may resonate with you.

I love the work that I did.  It is exciting, fun, challenging and interesting but it was only my work, not my life.  I am not my job, despite appearances, I am a much more versatile being.  More of a spirit dressed in a body, and now I am coming to terms with the fact that the body does not last forever, while the spirit does. We need to feed the latter which is what gives sustenance to the body and we have to arrange our lives to put this in perspective through our actions.  I am not saying that I worked myself into this situation altogether but it was definitely a factor and I am sure some of my colleagues are driven people, similar to me.  You have to look deep and hard into all the activities that you invest your time into and be discriminative when you decide which you will undertake and the reason why.  The more reasons you can connect to the welfare of others and your own spiritual development, the more on track you will tend to be.

Your relationships are another corollary. In the brief time since I was diagnosed, I have seen very positive changes in the family dynamics of both my immediate and extended family. Make sure that your house is in order and that you harbor happy/peaceful thoughts about everyone who is part of your life, to the degree that you can, and only you can manage that. Negative thoughts, be they feeling sorry for yourself or disapproving of  others, harm you more than those you find at fault. It is my belief that these emotions, feelings, desires, etc., percolate from your energy body to your physical body and manifest accordingly in due time and that incubation period varies from individual to individual. As a constructive step in this regard, I have for many years been receiving daily inspirational quotes from Ralph Marston at  Someone did me the great favor of subscribing me and I will be forever grateful. The daily email that I receive and often forward to others serves to put my day in perspective and train my mind to follow positive paths. I also subscribe to “I Quote Wisdom” and “Tiny Buddha” on Twitter, which give you bite-sized chunks of insight that likewise help to mold your thoughts along the right lines.

On a more spiritual level, I began to meditate years ago and seriously started practicing yoga about seven years ago.  This has been an incredible moral support and tool for self-development throughout the years and especially in these circumstances.  If you have ever entertained the idea; to start, it is a great investment in your health.

This all begs the question, why did this happen if she followed this advice?

I daresay I did not start the process soon enough and I needed  to learn the lessons above now, among others, and thus a method has been initiated that I can either take advantage of or try to deny.  I am going for the first alternative and I ask all of you who believe, to keep me in your prayers.

In the meantime, I will continue my usual business-related posts as time and health permit and perhaps sneak in a philosophical reflection here and there that I feel may benefit others.

Interpreting Spurs the Monkey Mind

I am not a monkey…am I?
The monkey mind is a concept that was coined in the east.  It refers to a mind that does not focus on the present moment but is always flitting endlessly from one thought to another, in the same way that a monkey furiously jumps from branch to branch. Although it is done unconsciously, it automatically drains quite a lot of brain power that we could be using for productive purposes. Scientists have determined that human beings think an average of 65,000 thoughts a day and 95% are the same thoughts from the day before. (e.g. when is that client going to call me again, I need to create a glossary and study for that conference, I loved seeing the views of the city at night in “Midnight in Paris”, my clothes are ready to pick up at the dry cleaners, etc.)

These statistics forced me to ruminate on how many more thoughts an interpreter produces. In addition to our individual thoughts, when we interpret we hear the thoughts/words of others and however fleetingly, we have to figure out what they mean and turn it into another language, sometimes wondering along the way if we captured a specific thought accurately.

A few years ago when I was studying for my MBA, one of my teachers suggested we read Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath, who leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consulting worldwide.  Based on more than 40 years of research, this book and test are a distillation of the insights gleaned in this research that has helped millions discover and develop their natural talents.

One would think that after having raised a family which entailed decades of wearing multifarious hats, e.g. being a mom, a short order cook, a makeshift vet, striving to be a femme fatale (definitely not my forte) and then being in business for many years, which brings its own line of bonnets: interpreter, boss, strong-armed collections clerk and miracle worker at-large, that I would know what my natural talents were. Neverthless, I was only aware that  I was good at communicating, I am an interpreter.  I knew I was hardworking because although I was born on a Caribbean island, my life has never been the relaxed tropical affair it should have been sans Fidel. I was raised in Connecticut and the Puritan work ethic is hardwired into my brain. I also knew I was responsible because everyone in my family is militarily responsible and there simply is no other way to be.  You don’t do just what is expected of you but more, and you do it the best way you know how, without cutting any corners. But all in all, I had never taken the time to  officially ponder what my strengths were, these were just things I knew intuitively.

I guess I always had a soft spot for Cheetah…

Rath’s book and accompanying test, which I enthusiastically recommend, taught me that among my  top 5 “themes” are  Input, which means that I have a craving to know more and that I love to collect and archive all kinds of information.  Another is Learner, which is reflective of the fact that I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve, and that the process of learning, rather than the outcome, is exciting for me. Once it was pointed out to me by my scores, I knew without a doubt that this was all true and that I did indeed present symptoms of the “Monkey Mind”.  Whenever I have to study for a complex case or a conference that I am interpreting, it becomes a mission and the more I learn, the more I am prompted to research and regardless of how much I enjoy it, the downside is that I tend to go overboard and devote much more time to these pursuits than I should, and I have an unending number of files with materials that I may not ever need again.  These files are all taking up real-estate not only in my office and my apartment but in my brain. The more overarching problem is that this discipline is very ingrained in me and creates an avalanche of additional thoughts on a regular basis because I do it constantly. Now I hazard to think that I am not exceptional in this regard as this type of endeavor is something that comes with the territory.  If you are an interpreter and you want to do your job well, you have to prepare, there is no way around that and we often interpret for different industries that are constantly evolving so there is always something new to learn. If my hypothesis is correct then many interpreters must be suffering from MMS, the Monkey Mind Syndrome.  If we extrapolate from the figures above, the average interpreter’s thought load, in conservative terms, could be anywhere between 81,250 and 97,500 a day. This is all made worse by the fallacy of multi-tasking that our society promotes. Our brains can only handle one thing at a time but our thoughts take place so fast that they fool us into thinking that we are doing several things simultaneously.  In the end we are only delaying matters by engaging in multi-tasking because it takes us longer to divide our attention among several issues than if we handled each focusing exclusively on one at a time.

Being a “Learner” as per the above, I pondered on what the most efficient way was to quiet the Monkey Mind as its incessant chatter can sometimes exhaust you and you are not immune to it while working. I also know that the “chatter” is linked to my stress level.  The more stressed we are, the louder we hear our thoughts and the more negative they become.

Once again, I knew from experience that physical exercise had its place in this puzzle.  I had been a gym rat for years and I knew that when exercising or running, if you drive yourself hard enough, you release stress and feel a certain degree of relaxation and euphoria from the endorphins generated.  Sleep and rest are also good alternatives but none of these options do the full job.

The swing back through the trees to a relaxed and productive mind

According to yoga, which I practice regularly, stress is accumulated in the physical body, in our subconscious mind and in our emotional body.  We build up stress when the sum total of our positive thoughts is overwhelmed by a greater number of negative thoughts., which may even be imperceptible to us. Exercising only affects a portion of the stress in the physical body, whereas the culprits lie for the most part in the other two areas to which we do not have ready access by traditional means. Our negative thoughts come in part from our own subconscious mind which is operating 24X7. It does not switch off when we go to sleep. If we are negative thinkers or our immunity/energy level is depressed and generating negative thoughts, then the universal law of “like attracts like” will be working while we are asleep and unable to override it and will reinforce existing negative patterns.  We also pick up negative vibes from others.  We have all experienced this at one time or another.  Our minds are like radio tuners that pick up frequencies from the ether.  We do not even have to know the people whose frequencies we’re picking up. It doesn’t matter where they are located. If you are on the same wave/energy level you will get their “broadcasts”. Take a quick test, and peek at your wellbeing score, at the Twitter Tracker. See how you compare to the rest of the population. Nonetheless, there are tools to “clean out the closet”, digging deeper, helping us to live saner, more relaxed and therefore more productive lives.

These techniques, among others, are breathing methods. Our breath is directly connected to our thoughts.  The slower we breathe, the more calm our thoughts. Picture an interpreter who is agitated under stressful circumstances, unconsciously leaning forward, breathing shallowly and rapidly from the upper chest area. What kind of thoughts is she likely to be having? Are they conducive to doing our job properly? We can however, quickly and efficiently reverse those circumstances, while working, with proper breathing. Another technique to do this is meditation.  Meditation purges our “cache” memory which we humans don’t have a button to push to clear.  As those of us who work with computers know, clearing your cache can significantly improve the speed and performance of your browser/brain. An additional benefit to this simple technique is, that unlike the deal with psychotherapy, you do not have to relive anything you are consciously aware of that created stress in order to process it and remove it. Therapy, in any case, requires a very long, arduous effort. Meditation does the job automatically and also eliminates stresses you may not even be aware of.  Contrary to the myths that abound, it is an effortless and natural technique that our minds inherently enjoy and are drawn to, once we experience it properly.

If you are interested in these topics, there is an ancient maxim that says “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.  You can start by looking into yoga studios in your area and inquiring if they offer breathing and meditation techniques.  If you are not familiar with local offerings, click here and do a search for programs in your area.  You can easily do research on these methods but they should be taught in person by a teacher that can guide you as needed.  Both are part of an oral tradition that has been handed down through many thousands of years, in addition to hatha yoga’s, poses or “asanas”, that we are most familiar with in the west.  Asanas also have their place in the stress “trifecta” of poses, breathings and meditation. Nonetheless, breathing and meditation are the more advanced techniques and unfortunately, many never forge ahead far enough beyond the exercises to experience their benefits. Don’t get left behind and please share any experiences you have had with either MMS or relief of same.

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