07 Feb Getting Back to Crisp Consecutive
For me, among the specific skillsets that court interpreters use on a daily basis, true old-fashioned consecutive is the one that has the highest potential to showcase our talents. Because this is the mode that we use most often to go into English, on the record, in open court, it is for all to hear. Knowing this, I think my colleagues would agree that consecutive can be cause for performance anxiety that can translate into both excuses and innovation. When our skills and practices stray from the industry standard, we have a duty to think about how we got here, and to work on getting our consecutive groove back.
Ever since we started studying to be interpreters, consecutive has been a part of our lives. No matter what field we work in, whether by remote or in person, there is always reason to use it. We learned that in order to render a true and correct interpretation, we need the complete thoughts that simultaneous doesn’t always allow. What’s more, we try to avoid the disruption and chaos of speaking at the same time as others.
Two styles, one witness.
I recently interpreted for a witness in a jury trial. All circumstances allowed me to use crisp, clean consecutive. Nobody was rushing the proceedings, the witness was very clear in all answers, and the attorneys had done a great job preparing their questions. Our flow was terrific. A couple of times, I interrupted the attorney by mistake (he hadn’t completed his thought/question) and began a bit of simultaneous for the question. I noticed that on the few occasions I did this, this same witness who I had been flowing so well with, was thrown off. She had to have things repeated. She was less clear. Hmm. Note to self. I was told later that the same witness had to continue testifying through another interpreter. This time, her interpreter did quite a lot of non-consecutive work, and observers noticed a marked change in how her testimony flowed and sounded.
With all the advantages of consecutive, why do we continue to look for excuses not to use consecutive? “Things go faster if I use (modified/pure) simultaneous,” is a common reason I hear. I think the truth, however, lies in our apprehension that our rendering will be deficient. This concern for accuracy has even led to a very popular technology solution to aid consecutive with a recording device. This tells me that as a profession, we still believe in the value of consecutive.
There are definitely valid reasons for switching to simultaneous mode where consecutive is normally used. A common example is running explanations. Many times a witness is asked to stand up and point to a chart while giving a description. I personally support my colleagues who use simultaneous in these situations. To me, when we’re interpreting into the record, consecutive should be our starting point both into and out of English. If we must switch to another mode or hybrid because circumstances warrant it, we should consider it a special situation, and not use it as an excuse to avoid consecutive altogether.
Where are your skills?
Has time in the profession helped you improve your consecutive skills, or are you losing them? Have you convinced your court that a hybrid is the best they can get from you, going simultaneous into a witness’s ear and consecutive into the record? Has the sound system in your court allowed you to simply use the microphone to speak louder than the witness?
When was the last time you really worked on better notetaking, memory, visualization, and other techniques to help you produce top-notch consecutive? Just about every time a big educational opportunity comes up for us court interpreters, there is a presentation that helps us hone our consecutive skills. Are you putting them into practice when you get back to court?
Be inspired by talented colleagues
Some of my most remarkable experiences in the courtroom have been observing great consecutive. There was an interview just yesterday where I observed a Russian interpreter doing pure, lengthy consecutive without even taking notes. I have colleagues who can do extremely lengthy consecutive by using excellent notetaking. What a great goal to aim for, if we’ve let our skills erode with time or complacency, right?
So next time you have the opportunity to use consecutive, do. If you’re tempted to pull that microphone closer so you can speak over the witness, resist. Witness going on a tangent? Visualize. Pull out all the stops and dust off the training books if you have to. Improving skills where you’re lacking is the professional thing to do… and so is consecutive.