Exam Day: Success & Failure in Interpreting

In interpretation, and maybe in many things, the beginning of success, is understanding the degree to which we fail. A few weeks ago I inevitably found myself discussing my craft with an enthusiastic layperson for whom the proverbial lightbulb had gone off. Marveling, he said “but your job is so hard! When interpreting, you have to not only deal with the information, which can be very technical, but all the nuances as well, or a poorly organized speaker, and all in a split second. That’s impossible!”

“It is,” I confided. “It’s nothing short of constant failure.” These words seemed to be a bit too heavy for my ruddy friend, so I pulled back on the reins a bit. Relying on the sentiments of one of my trainers, I swung around, “Interpreting is very difficult, so that’s why the goal is not to be the speaker—we can’t, the speaker is the speaker—but to create our own speech. The speaker relinquishes the copyright to the speech the minute those words pour out of their mouth.” (Credit for this latter sentiment must be attributed to the training Legend: Hans Werner Muhle.)

As is typical of Conference Interpreting degrees, at Glendon College, one must pass oral exit exams in order to earn their credential. These exams have hung heavy over all of us since the day we said “yes” to this two-year crash course in vulnerability, falling short, and maintaining a sense of humor—a.k.a. conference interpreting.

Exam day knocked at my door earlier this week, on a Tuesday. I woke up, got myself dressed in my current favorite vintage blouse that I rescued from my mother’s closet, drank an espresso, read a Spanish medical article on allergies out loud, interpreted Emma Watson’s speech on feminism, hopped on my bike and pedaled towards fate.

Thirty minutes later I arrived at the Glendon College campus, inordinately early, where I began to speak in strings of vocabulary to no one in particular and then slowly walk in circles around the exam room, listening to my favorite Kevin Johansen instrumental that never fails to remind me that the world is much, MUCH vaster than we perceive on a daily basis.

I was less afraid of failing the exams than underperforming. If I performed to the best of my current abilities and failed, well then that is valuable information. But a mediocre turn in the booth due to nerves, being sick, being tired, or just having an off day, well, that genre of near tragedy at a microcosmic level would follow me around—a tiresome thorn in my side for some time to come.

Post-exam moment captured. That's a smile ladies and gentleman.
Post-exam moment captured. That’s a smile ladies and gentleman.

I won’t know the results of my exams for a few weeks. Tuesday afternoon I thanked my excellent team of professors and walked out of the lab and climbed onto my bike. I was content: an adjective that I rarely identify with. I pedaled back to where I came from, the wind at my back.

Finally…FINALLY, I stand in that space where failure dovetails into success. Success on my terms, at least for the moment. This space, that feels so comforting, is the “this but also that”, it’s the “space in-between” that has always intrigued me. In fact, it’s what drew me to this impossible profession in the first place.

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6 thoughts on “Exam Day: Success & Failure in Interpreting

  1. Well I responded to your post immediately yesterday through word press and it did not send. So I will try to reconstruct.

    Laura, you are an amazing woman. A woman that can jump out of a cab in a busy intersection in Spain, try to wave down a bus and then, in pursuit, guiding a cab driver to successfully stop it a few blocks away, can do anything. You just don’t give up and your perspective on success and failure will see you through the most formidable storms.

    Your comments reminded me of A quote by Rudyard Kipling- “If you can meet Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”. Those word have stuck with me for years. I think life or the way we deal with it can be like a mathematical Sine wave with the rise and fall around the X axis with limits. If we allow ourselves too spike in either direction it disrupts the order of our lives. I know you get it! Congratulations and let’s celebrate with a long bike ride this weekend. Hugs, Jack

    Sent from Jack’s IPAD

    >

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    1. That is a beautiful quote, Jack. Thank you for taking the time to be with me in my writing. You and Carole have the clear and so appreciated talent of cheerleading. Your son has taught me a lot about ways to stick a bit closer to the axis. But what I’m grateful for, is that with time I become less afraid of straying from that axis, uncomfortable though it may be. See you very soon!

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  2. Hi Laura! As a future interpreting student (who just got accepted to the MCI program at the University of Ottawa) I really appreciate your post and I can relate to it. I’m sure you did well in your exams and gave it your best shot. I can tell by your attitude that you’re heading in the right direction, no matter what. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

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