The Couch: Forget Everything Else

The Couch is a place to exchange ideas and brainstorm, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. Today’s “Couch” article is a question about juggling that an interpreter would like help with. A thank you goes out to this contributor for bringing the issue to the fore.

Hi everyone. My question is, how do you set aside concerns while interpreting? Is there a technique anybody uses that you could recommend?

I am brought to interpret on all kinds of topics, from simple to very complex. I like to prepare as much as I can before the job. But there is so much going on in life right now outside of interpreting that it is difficult to focus, and many other things are making significant demands on my time. We have small children at home; we have to move and find ourselves a new place; there is so much paperwork to go through; and much more.

I know I am not the only one who is busy and who has a lot going on. But when we interpret, we have to put everything else aside and be entirely focused on our client’s needs. How do you do that? Not only during the job but also in preparing for it… are there any techniques you use to stay focused and set all your own cares and worries aside?

Thank you!

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Body photo (cropped) taken from “Desarrollan dispositivo láser con aplicaciones potenciales en salud” by Armando Bonilla at cienciamx NOTICIAS, under the CC BY 4.0 license.

10 thoughts on “The Couch: Forget Everything Else”

  1. JANIS PALMA says:

    Absolutely! But you have to develop that “tunnel vision/hearing” like every other skill. Even after fortysome years in this profession, I can still catch myself sliding out of full concentration on what I am interpreting to think about something going on in my life that I either need to handle or is just nagging at me to find an answer of sorts. I consciously and intentionally STOP that thought and refocus on whatever it is I am interpreting. Find that spatial point where you can set your gaze (your note pad, the wall, a window, the floor, whatever works) and use it as an anchor for your full and uninterrupted concentration. You know you can get back to “the other stuff” once you’re done with work, but you can never go back to fix whatever interpreting mistakes you made because you were not 100% focused.

  2. Joan Rinker says:

    Occasionally I have felt the urge to burst into tears when interpreting, sometimes because of the matter being interpreted, or sometimes because of some related trigger. When this happens I have found it helpful to concentrate on the number of lightbulbs in the ceiling, or the dates on the court calendar, as if I am going to have to count them. This seems to help refocus.
    I realize this is only partly related to your question, but I hope it helps!

  3. Halina says:

    What helps me is deliberately getting into my interpreting mindset and concentrating only on the task at hand. Other stuff, concerns and worries, will be waiting there for me after I’m done. Unfortunately.
    But when interpreting there is only here and now. If it sounds a lot like mindfulness, it is.
    There are different type of mindfulness and awareness exercises not to mention meditation that practice that type of skills. It is something that could to be learned over time and is extremely useful and not just in interpreting. Good luck!

  4. Helen Eby says:

    I learned how to have that tunnel vision when I lived in a 450 square foot apartment. While I studied for med school, my sister practiced piano right next to me and my brother blared out music from his boom box in the room next door. Oh… and my mom came in to check on us. I just ignored it all and was in my own little world. Right now, I turn off my cell, so don’t even try to call me. Not happening. I have no brain span left for anything else.

    1. Estela Pujals Montañez says:

      Thank you for sharing with us the life-saving ability of selective “tunnel vision”… as long as we can turn it on / off at will. And as long as we are also able to go from on to off, in masterly control over the infinite or subatomic gradations, it sounds like entering in the field that ancient yogis called Pratyahara in the Sanskrit language. Lucky you who were able to count on and overcome your sister’s, brother’s and mother”s “tests” against frequent distractions. You possess a unique ability for deep, intense concentration. I wish that more people in the US were given that option, instead of being asked to multitask… which is the opposite, and leads to mental decay. Lucky you!

  5. Kenneth Barger says:

    Great question, and there are so many ways one might approach this! Here are a couple. Concentrate on your breathing. Being aware of the physical sensations you are experiencing can help clear the clutter from your mind. Similarly, try meditation. This is one I have only recently begun and I’m still getting the hang of it. I meditate once a week for six minutes. It’s a tiny amount but as I get the hang of it I’ll do more. Drink plenty of water, eat well, and make sure you’re getting regular, gentle exercise. Set aside time for yourself, whether it’s quiet time or an activity you love. In short, take care of yourself. It can be tough to find the time to do these things in this crazy, overly busy life, so you’ll likely have to schedule it. Put it on your calendar and stick to it. Finally, just know that you’re doing your best whenever you interpret, and even when you are distracted or you make a mistake, you’re still providing an excellent and essential service to all involved.

  6. Azucena Puerta-Diaz says:

    It may be a different perspective, but for me, what works is paying close attention to the “story” we interpret. I found that focusing on other people’s problems sometimes gives me a different perspective on mine. It also helps me to retain details when doing consecutive interpreting, and to derive meaning from context.

  7. Elizabeth Hand says:

    I feel for you. I’m still in the tail end of the small children phase, and I have to say that there have been multiple occasions where I contemplated quitting altogether because I didn’t have the brain capacity to interpret excellently in the moment, much less to prepare well and to further my professional development. It is ok. It is a season. As much as your finances can handle it, I recommend cutting yourself a break and opting for shorter, easier/less intense assignments. You know, less travel, fewer trials, not so much interpretation of expert witnesses or specialized topics that you need to research. This is your career. It will still be there waiting for you in a few years. Knowing your limits (including knowing how sleep deprivation affects you, knowing your personal emotional triggers, calculating how much time you realistically have to devote to studying and research outside of normal business hours) will help you set realistic and non-stressful goals for what you want to tackle in this season. Again, it’s a season. I feel ya. There is nothing wrong with stepping back temporarily to survive and to care for your family well, especially when it means that what you do accomplish in your interpreting, even if not as many hours or as diverse in topic, is of uncompromised quality.

  8. Enedina Davila says:

    All comments are relevant very very similar to several cases, where my mom passed away one day, with No one free to cover my cases, so I had to perform, same thing with my father 5 yrs later,…judges were more understanding than many attorneys !! On depositions now in private sector…it seems attorneys lose alot of their professionalism
    And bri g their home baggage to work or they are just built that way, ihave been with the extreme both ways, compassionate, patient, understanding, or. Very rude, demeaning, unprofessional to the max which they would never do in court in front of a judge !

  9. Estela Pujals Montañez says:

    Dearest colleague on the couch. The only remedy for me has always been to expand the walls of understanding. Which sometimes feels like tearing the walls that contain the heart. Not the organ, but it’s relation to feelings–including identity, the feeling of who am I. This takes me to endless study. I am sure you are already familiar. But, what I suggest that we are lacking in a growing conversation on sociopathologies. We are living in times where sickness for profit is pervasive. And so many of us have started to analyze what is wrong out there that has nothing to do with me. Or questioning, how much sensory overload have I allowed to invade the private spaces within me? And perhaps, we can go on from there. Your question goes to the core of a very complex web / puzzle pieces for social engineering. This is not political, it is economy driven. And in a world where economy drives motives, our humanity is not even secondary. It rarely counts. But, we should not end up putting blame, or the misery will never end for us. We can take this wonderful “opportunity”–a favorite word in the marketplace–and challenge our intellectual and empathetic being into being a force for change. Awakening the rage that comes with this realization has helped me feel deeply connected to my obligation-love-responsibility-respect-awe-dignity for humility in the recognition of our vulnerability and immense psychic and empathetic potential.

    I hope that you and all of us keep tapping into our empathetic self, understand the splendor and the frailty of our human condition, made even more stark in times of techno-robotic (AI) ascendance, and that by deepening and widening our apprehension of the increasing complexity in the interrelated nature of our being–while we are still using the instruments of speech from Cartesian times and embedded in notions of divide/conquer–in order to make sense of our beloved profession. Inevitably, Ortega y Gasset and his work “La miseria y el esplendor de la traducción”, (1936), The Misery and the Splendor of Translation, comes to mind. Indeed we are fortunate, privileged and immensely overwhelmed! My heart goes to you, as I struggle to preserve that called “mine”.

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