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The Importance of Preparation for Interpreting Assignment

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Table of contents

  1. Theoretical Framework on How to Prepare For Interpreting Assignment
  2. Familiarizing Myself with the Speaker
  3. Familiarizing Myself with the Theme
  4. Background Information and Glossaries

Gaining familiarity with the subject matter to be discussed at an upcoming assignment is important. It is also said that no matter what kind of job you do, being prepared beforehand is of great significance; especially for interpreters, the more you are prepared, the better interpretation you will produce. According to Gillies (2013), the reason why interpreters are expected to prepare the topic is that by doing so, you can know what is being talked about and you are not surprised when interpreting by the terms related to that field, and preparation also serves to widen your general knowledge. It can be seen that if interpreters make well-rounded preparation before interpreting, they can minimize the risk of possible background knowledge barriers so that they can focus on using interpreting techniques to deliver a high-quality interpretation rather than spare much concentration on figuring out what the speaker is talking about. Therefore, knowing much about the theme of interpreting assignments can help interpreters fulfill their tasks successfully and smoothly.

Theoretical Framework on How to Prepare For Interpreting Assignment

Preparing for an interpreting assignment is a kind of research actually, and research is to search for knowledge that you do not know before in a comprehensive and organized way (Hale and Napier, 2013). During the preparation/research stage, interpreters need to know the reasons why they are doing research, what they want to find out, the aims of their assignments and what problems their interpreting assignments will solve (Hale and Napier, 2013). Just as Zou (2014) argued, the fully prepared interpreters are expected to prepare for interpreting tasks from two aspects, namely, linguistic aspect and non-linguistic aspect. The former one includes the speaker and the glossary, and the latter one includes the theme of the speech and background information. Zou (2014) also pointed out that preparing glossary requires interpreters to consider equivalent Chinese/English expressions of terminologies while reading related English/Chinese materials and then collect them; knowing the speaker refers to understanding his/her speech style, such as his/her delivery speed and diction, and the speaker’s accent should also be taken into consideration. In terms of the subject of the speech and background information, Zou (2014) suggested that interpreters should pay close attention to latest news and read documents that are related to the upcoming interpreting assignment to gain background knowledge as much as possible so that the interpreters can be more sensitive to input information, understand and memorize the information accurately. If possible, interpreters can also contact organizers or the speaker to see whether they can provide conference materials, such as the speech transcript or the introduction of the speaker. These are the essential aspects that should be taken into consideration by interpreters.

Familiarizing Myself with the Speaker

As Pochhacker (2004) indicates, in interpreting from spoken language, the aspect of message delivery that relates most closely to perception is the speaker’s pronunciation and the resulting phonetic quality of the source-language input. Similarly, according to AIIC (2002), in a survey among interpreters, unfamiliar accent is cited by a majority of respondents as a frequent and serious problem that causes job stress.

Pochhacker (2004) also indicates that in simultaneous interpreting, high delivery speed of the speaker has been regarded as a factor that causes high processing loads, which may affect interpreters’ interpreting quality. Therefore, it is of great importance to be familiar with and to get used to the speed and accent of the speaker in advance, so that interpreters will not be panic and surprised and miss much information if the speaker has high delivery speed or unfamiliar accent.

In my scenario, I interpret for China’s president Xi Jinping. In order to familiarize myself with President Xi’s delivery speed, accent and diction, I watched some of his previous speeches on political issues, such as the speech delivered on the Opening Ceremony of Belt and Road Forum in May 2017 and the speech delivered at the APEC CEO Summit in 2014. The reason why I choose political speeches as my references is that they share a same feature with the speech that I am going to interpret they are delivered in formal occasions and focus on political issues, so President Xi may speak in same tone and style and this can help me familiarize myself with the speaker better. After listening to his speeches, what I found was that President Xi spoke at a regular speed in each of his speech, and there were appropriate pauses between sense-groups and sentences, so I could imagine that President Xi is an interpreter-friendly speaker and I did not have to be as nervous and stressful on site as I was interpreting for those speakers with high delivery speed. As for the accent, President Xi spoke standard mandarin, thus I did not need to spare concentration on decoding what he was saying. Therefore, the delivery speed and the accent were not the challenge for me in this interpreting assignment.

Apart from these two aspects, I also noticed that most sentences in his speeches were relatively simple and short, without complicated grammars and structure, which made chunking easier as long as interpreter had enough background knowledge and good ability to anticipate. Another feature that is worth mentioning about President Xi’s speech style is that he likes to use ancient poems and literary quotation to support his points. This is a quite challenging problem because Chinese ancient poems always have profound meaning the interpreter needs to understand

Familiarizing Myself with the Theme

Interpreters should familiarize themselves with the theme of the speech when they are preparing for a conference, and it is the most fundamental part of preparation stage, because just as AIIC (2013) points out, to perform the task successfully, interpreters must have a complete grasp of subject matter and the context they are working in.

Generally speaking, in order to know more about the theme, interpreters prepare for an interpreting assignment by reading related background materials, browsing related websites or directly contact the speaker to collect information about the upcoming meeting. In my scenario, it was impossible to contact the speaker, so I only referred to related materials that are available online such as videos on the YouTube and press articles. The websites I visited were some official websites such as government’s official website, because only in this way could I guarantee that the information I received was correct and faithful. Due to the fact that Presideng Xi Jinping did not make remarks on this kind of celebration activity before, I could not find Xi’s previous speeches on the same subject, but I referred to speeches delivered by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin on the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony in 1997, on the 1st anniversary of Hong Kong’s return and on the 5th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland. I also studied speeches given by another former Chinese president Hu Jintao on the 10th and 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.

The former Premier of the State Council Li Peng’s speech on the reception celebrating Hong Kong’s return in 1997 was my reference as well. Although the leaders mentioned above were not my speaker, their speeches were still worth studying because they shared the same topic with the one I would interpret, so that I could figure out what would be talked about on the event themed Hong Kong’s return and made more accurate anticipation of what aspects President Xi would refer to. For example, it was anticipated that President Xi would talk about the achievements that have been made by implementing one country, two systems policy, because that was something mentioned in every speech themed Hong Kong’s return. Another feature that those speeches and the upcoming one had in common was they were all official remarks which followed the same style—— using high register and political terminology, thus I could find out the state leaders speak in a formal way. Apart from referring to previous speeches, I also watched documentaries recording Hong Kong’s return and went through news reports on the same subject to gain comprehensive and deep understanding of the theme. These measures enabled me to be more familiar with the subject and more prepared.

Background Information and Glossaries

Zhang (2003) pointed out that it is necessary for interpreters to collect and sort out terminology and proper nouns that might be used in the upcoming interpreting assignment, find out their semantic equivalence in another working language and then memorize them. By doing so, interpreters’ pressure and nervousness before or during interpreting can be relieved, so that they can give accurate and smooth interpretation with confidence. Therefore, the glossary is considered as an important, if not indispensable, component in the professional practice of interpreting (Jiang, 2013). For most interpreters, every time when they receive a new assignment, building glossary according to the topic is a must-do.

My glossaries mainly come from two kinds of resources, previous speeches themed Hong Kong’s return delivered by former national leaders mentioned above and background information. Background information refers to the information that I gain when I try to do research to see if there are any important events that happen in Hong Kong SAR and mainland China shortly before the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return. The speeches can provide me with political terminologies that are frequently used in talking about return and from searching for background information I can keep up with major things that are related to relationship between Hong Kong and motherland happening and absorb newest buzz words that may be referred to in the speech.

I collect background information by reading the news reports on the websites, such as and During the stage of collecting background information, I noticed that there are several events that I should pay attention to. For example, the first one is the launch of Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect in December, 2016. The reason why I think this event is important in preparing for interpreting task is that the speaker may mention it in his speech, because it is a major move that benefits both Hong Kong SAR and mainland China. For instance, it helps deepen the financial cooperation between two sides and enables investors to share the fruits of economic development of both places. This is a significant achievement that is realized shortly before the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return, thus it is should be taken into consideration. I also pick up some terms from news reports and put them into my glossaries.

Another thing that is worth paying attention to is Hong Kong’s role in the Belt and Road Initiative. The Belt and Road is a hot issue in China in recent years and Hong Kong, as an international financial and shipping center and the window of China, functions as a bridge in this initiative. At the same time, Hong Kong can improve its own international economic status by actively participating in it. Therefore, I imagine that the speaker may refer to this topic in his speech and it is necessary to know about the relationship between Hong Kong and the Belt and Road Initiative as background knowledge. There are many terms that can be put in my glossaries.

In terms of the layout of my glossary, I divide it into three columns on Microsoft Word. The first column contains Chinese terms, the second column contains equivalent English translations. When adding English translation, I consult some websites like Chinadaily first to see whether there was a translated version of these speeches, because I thought that official translation was more accurate and reliable.

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