As I’ve been moving forward in my quest to become an interpreter, there is one issue that keeps flitting around my head: Why is it so hard to stop thinking word-by-word? Wouldn’t it be easier to get the whole idea first and then start interpreting from there?

The answer is yes. Agustin always brings up the importance of completely understanding what we hear and making sure we get the whole concept. There is clearly only one good way to do it: hear the whole idea first and then interpret.

I frequently make the mistake of following what the speaker is saying word by word and finding the translated words in my mind almost simultaneously. Basically, my mind is still working one frame at a time, like a movie in slow motion, and it takes a lot more time to think like that and interpret each piece than when you let your mind grasp the whole concept first.

For instance, if you don’t know one of the words, it’s very likely that your mind will freeze up at that point, losing focus on the rest of the meaning. Agustín has pointed out in various classes that we should interpret meaning, and to interpret meaning one must of necessity interpret the whole concept as opposed to interpreting piece by piece.

To get the whole idea, we need to imagine the actions and the agents that are performing those actions. The clue really is to train your brain to grasp the meaning while you listen and stop breaking down sentences word-by-word.

This is a sweet piece of advice in theory, but how do I make it real? It’s all about training. Part of De La Mora’s online training workshop encourages you to record yourself while interpreting consecutively. Recording yourself and then listening to your performance really makes a difference. At least, it did it for me because I realized what my weaknesses were, but mostly, I learned to give myself time to listen and understand what I was hearing. Then, once I understood the whole concept and could picture the complete idea – only then did I allow myself to interpret.

I used to be part of the choir back in my high school days, but I was kicked out because the teacher considered my voice ¨ugly.¨ Later in life my aunt confessed that she agreed with the choir teacher, but she didn’t tell me because she didn’t want to break my heart. After hearing this, I was not a big fan of recording myself or listening to my own voice. Now that I’m recording myself and listening to myself repeatedly, I think I’m getting over my shame, and that is certainly important in order to be able to succeed with this technique.

The other important part of this process is repetition. Being aware of your flaws and correcting them several times in a row helps you master interpretation.

So far, my goal is to train myself to start thinking in ideas and not in words. I’m looking forward to future exercises provided by De La Mora’s online training.

I know I suggested that new interpreters watch CSI episodes in my first blog, but this time let me encourage you to watch ¨The Good Wife.¨ It’s a great series, but it also demonstrates how the criminal justice system works. I’m finding it very useful so far, and you might too.


María Ximena Pineda

Colombian writer, journalist, and screenwriter. She has written for television and collaborated with various newspapers and magazines.