Strategies for New Interpreters: Interpreting in the Indonesian Environment
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This article presents some strategies
derived from my actual personal experience and observations
that can be beneficial to new interpreters. These
strategies are used before an interpreter steps up
on stage, while on stage, and after being on stage.
A new interpreter has to equip himself beforehand
with linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge and interpreting
skills to be well-prepared while on stage where he
has full self-confidence to improvise and make adaptations
according to the actual conditions he is facing on
stage; then he steps back to assess his performance
before stepping up on stage again for another assignment
work is truly challenging to a newcomer in this
field; however, it becomes an enjoyable game when
you know how to play it. As a long-time freelance
interpreter, I feel like I am worth nothing if I
keep my experience for my own sake. Therefore, I
think all experienced interpreters have the responsibility
to share their experience with their juniors to
encourage them to enter the world of interpreting
as a new promising career. Having such a feeling
of responsibility I would like to share my current
handful of strategies that are preferably used in
the Indonesian environment as I learned during my
part-time interpreting with BP LNG Tangguh
Project (British-based natural gas company)
in Papua, the eastern part of Indonesia. However,
I believe interpreting work is universal, so some
strategies presented in this article might be beneficial
for other new interpreters and in different environments
throughout the globe. Basically, 'strategy' is a
carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal
(Thesaurus: US-English) so, I prefer
categorizing this as a part of the 'code of conduct'
for new interpreters.
2. Strategies for new interpreters before, while,
and after performing interpreting work on stage
Before an interpreter steps up on stage he should
equip himself with some adequate linguistic and
non-linguistic knowledge and skills as a part of
strategies he has to take into account.
2.1.1. Language and its usage.
- The interpreter should keep on improving his
linguistic knowledge of both the source language
and the receptor language through reading and/or
listening to discourse genres available from different
sources of information, like books, the Internet,
television, radio, etc. (either English or
Indonesian can be a source language or a receptor
- The interpreter should search for an appropriate,
accurate, and natural way of using both the source
language and the receptor language by asking and
observing how native speakers using their language
in real-life situations.
- The interpreter should agree with the speaker
on how to interpret on stage: statement by statement
or giving a summary after the talk. If the interpreter
is to interpret statement by statement, he must
use the first-person personal pronoun "I" to refer
to the speaker; when giving a summary after a
talk, particularly in a debate or a discussion,
the interpreter must use the third-person personal
pronoun "he" or "she" or "speaker's name."
2.1.2. Psychological Readiness
- The interpreter must have an I-can-do-it feeling.
He must trust his own linguistic and non-linguistic
abilities by saying to himself: "Go and Just
Do It! No one is perfect at first" This inner
force will strongly encourage him to walk up on
stage with full self-confidence.
- The interpreter should assume that nobody else
in the audience knows English and/or Indonesian.
This is to avoid a feeling that somebody on the
floor will identify the mistakes he may make.
This is also to increase self-confidence and to
2.1.3. Cross Cultural Understanding
- The interpreter must make an effort to understand
the differences and similarities between English
and Indonesian. This will guide an interpreter
on the right track of a culture. For example (only
mentioning three out of many aspects):
Each interpreter should know that
most Indonesians do not always keep their eye contact
with the audience or listeners when speaking, which
is not the case of English-speaking people. So,
the interpreter should keep eye contact with the
audience or listeners when interpreting from Indonesian
Directness versus indirectness
Each interpreter should know that
most Indonesians avoid straightforward statements,
because it is culturally impolite to say something
right in the face of the audience, while English-speaking
people prefer straightforward talk. So, the interpreter
must listen carefully in order to digest and convey
the intended meaning hiding behind long Indonesian
Terms of addressing
Culturally, the way of addressing
a person or a group of people depends very much
on some aspects like the relationship between the
speaker and the addressee, where the communication
takes place, the age, sex, and social status of
the speaker and the hearer, and the cultural backgrounds
of the speaker and of the hearer. For example, in
Indonesia the use of pronoun 'you' (kamu)
in a particular statement varies from one interpreting
to another such as in English statement like "I
am very pleased to be with you here"
Interpreting 1: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama
dengan Bapak (in singular)/Bapak-Bapak
(in plural) disini;
Interpreting 2: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama
dengan Ibu (in singular)/Ibu-Ibu(in
Interpreting 3: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama
dengan Saudara (in singular) / Saudara-Saudara
(in plural) disini;
Interpreting 4: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama
dengan Anak (in singular) / Anak-Anak
in plural) disini);
Interpreting 5: Saya sangat gembira bersama-sama
dengan Bapak-Bapak, Ibu-Ibu, Saudara-Saudara,
dan Anak-Anak disini.
Literally, bapak, ibu, saudara, and
anak mean father, mother, brother/sister,
and child respectively. Therefore, an interpreter
has to learn and observe how a particular speech
community addresses each other within and/or outside
its own community.
2.1.4. Cross-Field Understanding
- The common assumption of people is that if a
person speaks English, he has the capability of
understanding every detail of all fields of knowledge,
which is of course untrue. Accordingly, the interpreter
must make an effort to familiarize himself with
different fields of knowledge in order to enrich
and prepare himself becoming a well-prepared interpreter
to counterbalance such an assumption.
2.1.5. Logistical Preparation
- The interpreter should to carry his own small
tape-recorder or cellphone/recorder with him at
all times to record his actual interpreting work
for his own performance assessment. Remember,
interpreting work is not always in a very well-organized
formal situation. It may take place anywhere and
anytime. This small extra work may improve his
performance and bring the interpreter up to a
more professional level. Make sure to let the
speaker or the organizer know of this recording
by asking their permission to do it for personal
improvement, rather than for commercial or political
- The interpreter should have a pen and a small
notebook on him to put down certain points during
a session of discussion if the audience is given
a chance to comment and raise questions (in a
- The interpreter should ask the speaker if he
has a hard copy of the talk and review it before
going on stage. This will help the interpreter
to find out new terms that he needs to clarify
with the speaker or a friend to avoid misinterpreting.
If the speaker is invited to deliver a speech
without written notes, the interpreter should
ask the speaker to brief him on the main points.
2.1.6. Negotiating and Promotion
- The interpreter should negotiate the price when
the other parties need his interpreting service
for the benefit of their businesses. Ask experienced
colleagues how much they charge for an hour or
a day service and under what conditions.
- The interpreter should have some spare business
cards on him in case someone is impressed by his
performance and may need his expertise one day.
The interpreter can also promote himself to potential
clients during a break.
2.2. While On Stage
Every interpreter should know that
interpreting work may occur anywhere, anytime, in
a formal way or in an informal way, between individuals
or between an individual and a group, through a
face-to-face communication or through an electronic
device (telephone, skype, SSB radio, walky-talky
radio). Below are only a few different occasions,
taken from my experience with the Tangguh Project,
with different stakeholders followed by some strategies
used in the interpreting work.
- Occasions and Stakeholders
- Face-to-face meeting between the Project and
individuals (village leaders, religious leaders,
tribal leaders, local government leaders, contractors,
- Teleconference / telephone between the Project
and individuals (government leaders and contractors)
- Formal meeting between the Project, government
authorities, and agents of private institutions
(district leaders, domestic and foreign NGO leaders,
- Opening and/or closing ceremony of a new project
outdoors (in the
- field) between the Project, the contractors,
the government leaders, and the communities.
- Contentious meeting on labor issues between
the Project and the demonstrators
- Formal meeting between the Project and the villagers
in the Village Hall
- Formal interview for new recruitments at LNG
- Working procedure meeting (safety/toolbox meeting
at the LNG Tangguh Project)
2.2.2. Some Strategies
- The interpreter should keep eye contact with
the audience or with an individual when sitting
or standing in front of them.
- The interpreter should speak up to ensure that
the message is clearly heard and understood by
- The interpreter should ask the speaker to raise
the volume of his voice when he speaks too softly.
This is to avoid asking for repetition of unclear
words or missing the point when the environment
is polluted by external noises.
- The interpreter should listen to the speaker
with full concentration while performing the job.
He must not bring any psychological burden with
him that might interfere with his work. He must
refuse to do the job if he has a psychological
problem or a bad mood on that day.
- The interpreter should ask the speaker to repeat
an important point if the interpreter has missed
it. He does not have to feel that the speaker
or the audience may think he is stupid if he asks
for clarification or repetition.
- The interpreter should sit or stand close to
the speaker so as to interpret what the first
speakers say if it's an event (e.g. opening ceremony
of a new project) where several speakers are invited
to deliver their speeches, or comments may be
made or questions asked by individuals from the
- The interpreter should not look at the written
version of the speech if the speaker provides
him with one, because this will interfere with
his concentration. He has to put it aside right
away and concentrate on the verbal message, because
the process of listening to and interpreting incoming
messages in the Short Term Memory is faster than
reading. In addition, some good speakers usually
do some improvisation and adaptations while delivering
their speeches because of new information received
from previous speakers or new ideas occurring
to them spontaneously.
- The interpreter should put down some particular
points during a discussion, especially if the
speaker is flooded with comments and questions
from different people attending the meeting.
- The interpreter should select the appropriate
language and acceptable forms of addressing when
talking to the audience or a particular individual.
- Apart from a hand phone on a teleconference
or a telephone meeting, the speaker-phone button
on an office telephone must be pressed when interpreting
so both the speaker and the interpreter can clearly
hear the comments, questions, and answers from
the speaker at the other end. The interpreter
should stop the speaker at the other end when
he speaks too fast. This usually happens when
the speaker at the other end does not realize
that interpreting is in progress The interpreter
should remind the remote speaker to adapt to the
pace of the speaker on his side.
- When interpreting a speech outdoors, e.g. at
the project site, the interpreter should raise
his voice to reach the audience standing far from
the speaker if there is no a battery-operated
loudspeaker available (in the Indonesian tradition,
several speeches are usually delivered prior to
cutting a ribbon or laying the first brick to
signal the beginning of a new project in an opening
- At a contentious demonstration event the interpreter
should make quick decisions on omitting a particular
offensive statement or taboo expression or irrelevant
message and/or paraphrasing them using acceptable
equivalent words (emotional demonstrators often
yell and speak using foul language or make statements
that are irrelevant to the purpose of the demonstration).
In such a situation the interpreter only interprets
the louder and repeated statements because they
are the main reasons for the demonstration. The
interpreter should speak in a louder voice because
some demonstrators will not stop at the time of
the speaker begins to respond. With a louder voice
he can attract their attention and make them stop
speaking and listen carefully to the speaker and
This is a critical phase for the interpreter to
make a self-assessment of what he just experienced
while on stage for the purpose of performing better
in a future interpreting assignment. The following
strategies are taken into account for self-preparation.
- The interpreter should be proud
of and satisfied with the mission he has just
completed successfully, although he might have
some regrets about missing some important points
due to lack of knowledge and unforeseen interference.
Such a feeling strongly motivates the interpreter
to perform better in the future
- The interpreter should play back
the recording to assess what happened on stage
in order to ensure a poor performance can be improved
- The interpreter should recall
and put down some particular statements, terms,
cultural aspects that he omitted, missed, or misunderstood
during interpreting (This is only applicable if
no recording and no note-taking are available).
This small extra work is a useful strategy to
learn new things that might appear during the
Each new interpreter must make an
effort to improve his interpreting skill and knowledge
in different fields of science and technology. Such
skills and knowledge can only be acquired by learning
before stepping up on stage, experiencing while
on stage, and learning from the experience after
performing on stage so as to perform much better
in future assignments.
The process of LEARNING à
LEARNING is an on-going process each interpreter
goes through once he has chosen interpreting either
as a part-time or as a full-time career.
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