Dispelling the Top 3 Myths About Study Buddies

As some of you are already aware, this September I embarked on the Master’s in Conference Interpreting program with Glendon College at York University. At the time of this posting, a month will have already gone by. Time flies when you’re too busy to think!

Because I am in this program, and because for the next two years I’m going to be drowning—excuse me, I mean, swimming—in the waters of graduate school, you’ll probably be hearing about it a teensy bit when I blog. #sorrynotsorry. So for those of you hoping to obtain a vicarious degree, look no further! I’m happy to share everything I’m learning (but I’m sorry to say there is no substitute for the hours of studying…so you’re actually going to have to go out and implement these tips if you want them to work).

The beauty of being in a program like this one is that suddenly I’m surrounded by language and interpreting geeks just like me, and they all want to study too! So it is my desire to start my Vicarious Grad School blog post with one of my favorite topics: Study buddies. Our courses suggest specific ways to get the most out of study partnerships, and you can even find those tips in textbooks like this one (which I would highly recommend, by the way, if you need any guidance in community and medical interpreting).

Myth Number 1: It is hard to find a study buddy. group of individuals at a table, with notepads, laptop, coffee cup

Reality: Look no farther than the internet! I have had study buddies in three different time zones, and some of them I have never actually met in person. Facebook is a great place to start.  It may take a couple tries to find someone with whom you are compatible, but I can assure you it’s well worth the effort. Check out the Facebook groups if you haven’t already, or look for regional interpreting/translating groups in your area. I sent an email to the NAJIT listserv and ended up with a federal exam study partner who lived 20 minutes away! A word to the wise: we got to be such good friends that we sometimes forgot to study.


Myth Number 2: It’s a waste of my time to study with someone who doesn’t have my language pair.

Reality: It will probably always be best to find someone who interprets your language (and, ideally, whose mother tongue is opposite to yours). If you are a LOTS interpreter and you do speak the same language, it can be especially useful to create language-specific materials together (for more on that, see this post). However, if you don’t speak the same language, you can still help each other with all kinds of skills, including note-taking, attentive listening, delivery and grammar in English, memory, and more. And, most importantly, you can hold each other accountable! In all honesty, that’s half the benefit of having a study partner, to begin with.

Myth Number 3: Getting told our mistakes is no fun.

Reality: Okay…this one might actually be true. But there are ways to make feedback more pleasant! Follow the tips below and you will actually find yourself enjoying the process:

  • First, every study session is a real simulation. One person interprets, the other person only listens; no feedback or help until the end! The interpreter can use headphones for a simultaneous recording while the listener notes down errors on a transcript, or they can role play consecutive while the listener takes notes.
  • Always allow the partner who has just interpreted to go first. None of us like to be told what we have done wrong if we know it ourselves, and having the chance to speak first stops us from “breaking frame” in the middle of an exercise to excuse ourselves while interpreting.
  • Always start with the positive. This makes us feel good and be more open to criticism, yes, but it is also genuinely important to know what we do well so that we can keep doing it! Make your partners acknowledge your compliments and recognize the things they do well.
  • When you get to the things that can be improved, frame your feedback in a positive light while being as specific as possible. Say exactly what you heard, and precisely what you suggest could be different. As our textbook says, it’s exciting to find our mistakes because then we know exactly what to fix.
  • When receiving feedback, focus not on yourself but on your work product. You and your partner are working together to make your interpretation as good as it can be. How cool is that?!


Alright then…I think that’s it! Look out for next month, A day in the life of a grad school student. Or something like that. I’ll figure the title out as time keeps flying by.

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/ 

Click here to read Athena’s other posts.

5 thoughts on “Dispelling the Top 3 Myths About Study Buddies”

  1. Gila Khabbaza says:

    Thanks! I love the positive attitude. You are the best! 🙂 – Gila

  2. Vicki Santamaria says:

    You’re absolutely right about the importance of having at least one study buddy. When I was getting my master’s in translation and interpreting, we were actually assigned partners to work on translations, with one of us a native English speaker and the other a native Spanish speaker.

    What really helped me was having my interpreting recorded, audio for simultaneous and video for consecutive and sight. Besides helping with the actual interpreting, the video shows you any faces you might be making, any nervous gestures, lack of eye contact, etc. Especially for court interpreters, we have to learn how to keep our body language and facial expression neutral.

    Good luck to you, Athena. With your dedication, I know you’ll do well!

  3. Cecilia Mihaylo says:

    My comment about study buddies is that very good friends are often bad study buddies. They don’t want to hurt your feelings and tell you how terrible you are at something, or they give you the benefit of the doubt, or they are afraid to destroy the friendship if they are actually sincere. It is best to study with somebody who is willing to put the friendship on a shelf when it is time to study and retake it at the end of the session. Sadly very few friends are capable of going that.

  4. Best of luck Athena in your endeavor to conference interpretation! I could not agree more in studying with another language expert and or professional to be. Nothing is more stimulating than the ‘otherness’ in learning. Interpreting is all about ‘communicating’ so if we create study skills and practice with another person, I think we accomplish a lot in less time! Not to mention the excitement of accountability, it hone our memory, at least for me. I had good tips about my practice of consecutive interpretations by you and Interpretrain method. If someone reading this is looking for a study buddy, as far as consecutive interpretation, I am available. cmustile@verizon.net

    Thank you for posting.

  5. Alfredo Babler says:

    My experience is that it is a little bit like playing tennis. If you play with someone better than you, you reap all the benefit and he/she eventually gets bored. If you play better than the other player, then it is you who eventually gets bored and feels somewhat unchallenged. Language has metaphysical spiritual content as well, so anyone studying with you has to have some sort of spirit-intellect connection and somewhat of a decalsified pineal gland, or you end up going through mechanical nemonic exercises that, although helpful, ignore the emotional content in human communication, which deprives the interpretation of a normal fluidity of intent. LOL, I guess I would need a deranged, spiritual brainiac to study with.
    Egad, Brain! What are we going to do today? Same thing we do every day, Pinky: try to take over the world! The Pinky, the Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain.

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