Acrobatics: A Metaphor for Interpreting with Confidence and Humility

This article by Athena was first published in November 2014. We liked it so much that we decided to share it with our readers once again. Enjoy!


Those who know me outside of interpreting know that acrobatics (specifically, partnered “Acroyoga”) is my not-so-secret other love. I am tempted to wax enthusiastic and convert you all to Acroyoga right here and now, but I will limit myself to explaining something I learned about acrobatics last weekend that I find to be applicable to interpretation.

There are many poses in acrobatics that make us nervous (and justifiably so!) Case in point, the one I performed last weekend, where I perched, stiff as a board, on my partner’s feet and waited for him to bend his knees and launch me into the air so that I rotated 180 degrees and he could catch me on the other side. In such a case, my goal as a “flyer” is to know what shape I am in at the beginning and where I need to be at the end. I must then transition smoothly and without hesitation. The moment I become nervous and flail, the trick will come apart and cause me to be more nervous for the next time. It struck me last weekend that outwardly I must be confident even if inwardly I am trembling.  At the same time, if I truly know I should not attempt a trick I must clearly state so at the earliest possible moment. Communicating with my partner and recognizing and attempting to correct my own flaws is a necessity.

Yes, I realize that interpreting is different from standing on someone else’s feet with nothing but the trust in my adductor muscles and my partner’s good judgment. However, the demand for accurate self-assessment, confidence in our presentation and recognition of our mistakes and limitations in directly analogous.

Consider the need for confidence as an interpreter. We must present ourselves as knowledgeable members of our profession in order to be respected and have our work taken seriously. We must know where we are and where we are going and have the conviction to request what we need. Similarly, we must be able to stand our ground if our interpretation is called into question.

Then again, the more nervous we are, the worse our interpretation can be. I don’t know about you, but there are a few things that make me nervous as an interpreter. A colleague observing can be a bit nerve-wracking. The entire jury silent waiting for your interpretation of witness testimony can cause anxiety. And certainly any of these situations can distract our brain enough to cause our renditions to be not quite what we would like, which in turn increases our nervousness. Taking a breath and interpreting with confidence “fake-it-til-you-make-it” style will actually change the interpretation and others’ perception of you, which in turn will bolster your confidence, until suddenly you find you aren’t faking it anymore. Kind of like how I ended up cross legged 8 feet in the air last weekend with a “What, me, scared?” smile plastered on my face.

But sometimes…the trick doesn’t go the way it should. In acrobatics, we trust in our spotter, our partner and ourselves and if there is a mistake hopefully no one gets hurt. With interpretation, if we make a mistake we must correct it. Enter the role of Humility. Here we must be constantly self-aware and conscious of the Big Picture. We confidently put our best foot forward, do the best job possible, and then jump at the opportunity to make it better even if this means admitting we have done something wrong. Yup, it’s an ego slap. But even here, having confidence will help us to move past this. If we remember that our entire worth as interpreters is not determined by any one situation, we can admit fault and maintain the respect for ourselves as professionals and for the products of our work. Then, like the circus performers we are, we can pick ourselves up off the floor, smile at the audience, and start fresh like it was all part of the act.

Food For Thought

To err is human and to mope about it is too. 😊 Recently I asked my partner if she still felt confident working with me after I had made a mistake which I corrected with the judge. She laughed and assured me she did, which of course I already knew. But it helped to hear her say it! With that bit of external validation I was able to remind myself that one mistake does not a terrible interpreter make. But of course we want to take pride in our profession and so swallowing that same pride can be challenging. What are your coping mechanisms? How do you project confidence and yet remain ready to put your ego to the side when it serves the big picture? Join the discussion! I look forward to seeing your responses below.


Portrait of Athena MatilskyAthena Matilsky fell in love with Spanish the year she turned 16. She chose it as her major at Rutgers University and selected a focus in translation and interpreting. After graduation, she taught elementary school in Honduras and then returned home to begin freelancing as a medical and court interpreter. She has since achieved certifications as a Healthcare Interpreter and a Federal Court Interpreter. She was the recent editor-in-chief of Proteus. Currently, she works as a freelance interpreter/translator and trains candidates privately for the state and federal interpreting exams. When she is not writing or interpreting, you may find her practicing acroyoga or studying French. Website: https://athenaskyinterpreting.wordpress.com/

Main photo by villedepluie: Athena Matilsky with Jill Campbell of AcroYoga Global (Instagram, website

5 Comments
  • Gila
    Posted at 14:56h, 28 May Reply

    Thanks so much and it is so true especially with team interpreting. We grow more confidence with each and every success! 🙂 – Gila

  • Patricia H Weist
    Posted at 17:32h, 28 May Reply

    This is such a good article!
    I’m sure this will date me… but I remember as a child hearing my mother play the soundtrack of the King and I… it basically says what you said, Athena,..

    Whenever I feel afraid
    I hold my head erect
    And whistle a happy tune
    So no one will suspect
    I’m afraid.
    While shivering in my shoes
    I strike a careless pose
    And whistle a happy tune
    And no one ever knows
    I’m afraid.
    The result of this deception
    Is very strange to tell
    For when I fool the people
    I fear I fool myself as well!
    I whistle a happy tune
    And ev’ry single time
    The happiness in the tune
    Convinces me that I’m not afraid.
    Make believe you’re brave
    And the trick will take you far.
    You may be as brave
    As you make believe you are
    You may be as brave
    As you make believe you are

    I find this to be very true! (obviously we cant actually whistle in court or in a depo…;)

  • Athena Matilsky
    Posted at 18:55h, 29 May Reply

    Thanks, Gila and Patricia! And Patricia, I recognize the song. You made me smile when I read it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Sandra Aidar-McDermott
    Posted at 18:42h, 31 May Reply

    Great article, I’m happy it was reposted. Today, we had our first batch of exit exams at Glendon, and I re-read all your super helpful tips. Many thanks again!

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 11:00h, 01 June Reply

    ” The moment I become nervous and flail, the trick will come apart and cause me to be more nervous for the next time. It struck me last weekend that outwardly I must be confident even if inwardly I am trembling. At the same time, if I truly know I should not attempt a trick I must clearly state so at the earliest possible moment. Communicating with my partner and recognizing and attempting to correct my own flaws is a necessity.” YES! This relates to every task we intend to engage in.

    Well said, Athena.

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