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I had my third interpreting contract last week. I was a bit nervous and also hoped to givee a good impression of myself. It did not occur to me to keep track of time and I ended up working much more than the senior colleague I was in booth with. Is this normal? We had the same languages so from that viewpoint, workload could have been distributed more equally. How do you distribute turns in the booth?

asked 26 Oct '11, 19:19

Sirpa's gravatar image


edited 26 Oct '11, 19:36

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

It’s usually one of the first things I address before the session starts (OK, after coffee ;).

  1. Who’s first
  2. Taking turns

If I’m lucky, my colleague agrees to my preferred no-brainer: Working between full and half hours (i.e. meeting starts at 09.37, the first „shift change“ would be due for 10.00, then 10.00-10.30 … and so on and so forth. Even if the coffee break were to last until 10.45, the next slot will finish at 11.00 etc. -> saves us from constantly timing our stints throughout the day.

In the afternoon, when we get tired, we may want to consider switching to 20 minutes. Also, if there is a panel discussion, it may make sense to take turns on the basis of speakers to make life easier for the listeners (i.e. otherwise they may not really be aware of speaker changes if it is always the same voice interpreting all panellists for 30 minutes in a row)

Of course, it depends on the subject and whether we get presentations beforehand etc.

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answered 28 Jan '12, 16:43

Tanja's gravatar image


edited 28 Jan '12, 16:45

You had bad luck, sorry to hear about that incident. Ideally, you should aim at distributing the workload evenly in the booth. One very common way of doing it is to do half-hours but this is not always possible in multilingual setups where you might sometimes opt for a language-based distribution. It should be in the interests of the entire team that no single interpreter gets overworked. I think raising the issue before the meeting starts is a good way of getting a consensus over how things will get done. At that point you can also agree how to keep track of the turns and synchronise your watches.

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answered 26 Oct '11, 19:35

Sirpa's gravatar image


I agree with Sirpa's reply above. Try to agree on the division of work at the start of the day, either going by half-hour and/or by dividing up any presentations in advance.

The important thing is to keep the communication channels open between colleagues in the booth. It sounds ridiculous to have to say this, since we are communication professionals, after all, but often we are so focussed on the meeting that we forget to talk to each other about the practical aspects of our work.

Your colleague probably wasn't even aware that you were doing more work than him, and likely would have been happy to take on his fair share. If you're worried about how to raise the point with a senior colleauge, the most diplomatic way would probably be to say something like, "It looks like my half hour is just about up, when would you like to take the mike?".

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answered 27 Oct '11, 09:41

Michelle's gravatar image


I believe that the best policy is to ask, as soon as the niceties are behind us and the coffee is before us 'how do you want to organize the work'. It is very easy to work half hour shifts because they are easy to keep track of. Regarding who goes first, it may be advisable to choose the member of the team most familiar with the subject and with the client. In the afternoon I would be in favor of Tanja Berlin's suggestion of maybe shortening shifts and changing every 20 minutes, subject, obviously, to language combinations. Changing with the speakers during a panel discussion may be advisable but some participants are very succinct while others are long winded and this may lead to a very imbalanced distribution of work.

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answered 08 Feb '12, 12:52

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

Whatever time shifts one has agreed it is also very important to signal to one's booth mate that his/her shift is coming to an end. At times I get carried away by a fast speaker and am concentrating so hard on translating that unless my booth mate makes some sort of obvious but discreet gesture I'll just keep going even though I may realise I'm getting a little overworked! I find it's a good idea to inform your booth mate that you DO want to be signalled to when your shift is coming to its end so you can then find the right point to break and hand over.

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answered 02 Apr '12, 13:45

olol's gravatar image


No; what happened to you is not normal -- or shouldn't be, anyway ;-)

The way my colleagues and I do it is by speech, and then if one of us ends up with more work than the other we even it out somehow, having the other one of us do two speeches to make up for it or we even leave it for another day -- we're always the same few people anyway, and we all get along so it's peaceful ;-)

I never had a single argument or "uneasyness" about this and it's typical to hear us saying: "No, I'm fine, I can go on, you did more than I did last time so now it'is my turn, relax."

I wonder if I'm just extremely lucky and only now realize it??

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answered 03 Apr '12, 13:15

Malintzin's gravatar image


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question asked: 26 Oct '11, 19:19

question was seen: 5,682 times

last updated: 03 Apr '12, 13:15

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