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Hi all,

I'm a newly-graduate Italian interpreter who's currently studying hard for the EU accreditation test whose pre-selection phase will take place in October this year. My problem is that, for a few months now, I've had serious problems with my ability to focus: more often than not, I find my mind wandering and incapable of being as productive as it used to.

During my final year at university, i.e. less than one year ago, I used to wake up at 6am every day, study one hour and a half before going to classes, and study again after classes from 5 to 10 pm. It was an extremely tiring and intense routine, but very productive and rewarding (I ended up being the best student of my year and got invited to take the test by the Head of the Italian Unit).

The problem is that, even though now I have more time to study, for some reason my mind is always distracted, I can't concentrate and I feel like everything I do, I could do in half the time.

Since focus is pivotal in our profession, and I don't want to fail the test for lack of it, what would you suggest I do to improve my concentration? I started doing some meditation, even though I'm not consistent with it, and to rest a little more (my "military programme" almost didn't include any rest).

Do you have any other idea? Has any of you ever had concentration problems in the past and found a way to solve it?

Thank you in advance :)

asked 28 Mar '16, 09:32

Oasisxxx's gravatar image


Hi there,

first off, congratulations for having made it so far.

You are probably one of the lucky few to be wondering what to do next and how to do it. Your course will have taught you how to do sim and consec, but most likely forgot to tell you about what would be coming after graduation.

I was in your shoes less than four years ago and can relate to the difficulty of keeping practicing when your goal seems still months away and not having the slightest clue how to go at things.

Which brings me to the first thing you might find useful: a tentative planning from now till december 5th 2016 (pre-screening) and from there to end of february 2017 (accreditation test). The dates aren't set in stone yet, but having a rough idea still helps.

You already have the basics of interpreting, so doing sim and consec day and night probably won't be necessary nor helpful. What you need now keeping up and honing your skills: It's better to work little but being extremely focussed than doing 3 hours of a poor job in a row. Bear in mind that the EU test is made of short and easy speeches. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, don't kill off your motivation by doing too much. Enjoy what you do, by doing little and getting the rewarding feeling of a job well done.

The amount of hours you can reasonably put into your practice will depend on how much free time you have. Do you have a day job to pay rent? If so, is it full time or part time? Whichever, just be realistic. Don't practice for hours when you're exhausted, practice when you have the time and energy.

Keep track of your time. Finding suitable speeches and listening to yourself after your performance will be essential. That is work too, don't feel bad if you don't manage to do half a dozen of speeches per day.

Be aware of the effects of solitude. Until now, you practiced with a cohort of fellow students and there might have been some healthy competition and mutual help. Now, you probably have less people around you who'd be pushing and challenging you.

With those sources of stimulation vanished, you'll need to reflect on why exactly you'd want get up in the morning. A suitable answer would be that the day you graduated, overnight and without a warning, you became the founder and CEO of your own, one (wo)man, company. And right now, you are fine tuning the product and the service you'll hope to sell soon to your prospective client, the EU. It might not seem all that buzzing and exciting when you're just sitting around at home at noon in your pyjamas and craving for coffee while wondering whether to interpret President Obama's latest speech or go for Ms. Mogherini's recent statement about whatevershewastalkingabout. So make sure you remember why you're doing all this.

If you can't switch from idle mode to work mode in a spell, jump under the shower and dress like if you were to go for a job interview (i.e. the accreditation test). Imagine that you are actually about to take the test... and focus for the next 10 minutes. Phone off, browser tabs closed, boy/girlfriend and pets out of sight. Remember how serious and focused you were during your final exams? Recreate the mood, block out all other thoughts.

On average, I think I did two consecs and two sims per day in the weeks before the test. It can be done in almost no time. Having to work little, provided you do it well and very focused is a great incentive to really focus for every split of a second. Overall, I don't think you'll need more than 2-3 hours per day, to select speeches, do them, listen to yourself, see what didn't go all that well and make a note for the next day of what to avoid or to focus on.

You can also try to practice in groups, if you have graduates around you. But in my experience, it's often more energy consuming to try to organize, structure and lead a group that is lacking self-discipline (no more university lecturer as a figure of authority), than to practice on your own. Yet worth giving it a shot because...

...To keep the motivation going, you'll find it useful to meet people who work as interpreters. Have drinks with them, listen to their stories, it'll remind you about why you're still just practicing at home rather than doing something else with your life. Joining a professional association might put you in touch with new (yet older) faces. Knowing that you're not alone and that others had the same forced gap year tends to help.

Since the Italian head of unit seems to want to give you a chance, you could also ask her if there is any possibility to do some dummy booth practice in Brussels. Some get offered 2-3 days to tag along with colleagues and pick their brains about how it is to work here and what it takes to make it. And do holler if you're in town. Plenty of young colleagues here who meet on a regular basis for practice or drinks, generally both.

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answered 28 Mar '16, 12:12

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Thank you so much for your exhaustive answer!

If I only had two languages, the two that I've studied in my masters, it would be a lot less work to do and probably, as you say, 2-3 hours every day would be enough; but I also have a rare language that I've studied completely on my own and with which I've never practiced sim nor consec, so I really have to work quite a lot with this because very little comes automatic to me... (they're particularly interested in this).

And yes, I've done two weeks of dummy booth in Brussels last year and another two will come soon :D this is what keeps me motivated, that they've already told me quite frankly that my profile is very interesting for them and that they want me in. Still, working day in day out gets exhausting after some time... (my main activity in this period is teaching, which allows me to pay the bills but also to have quite a lot of free time to study).

But if you tell me you, along with many others, have been in the same boat as me I'm quite relieved :D

Thank you again, your answer definitely gave me some food for thought and motivation to hold on!

(28 Mar '16, 13:37) Oasisxxx

If you have a post-2004 language in your combination, "working" can be as pleasant as binge watching the dubbed version of your favorite TV show (Friends was dubbed in almost every Eastern European language, with over ten seasons of 20 episodes each, that can keep you busy for a few weeks), reading books and browsing through articles online. You can do that for a couple of hours at least every day and won't even have the feeling that you actually did work.

I had to sit the test with Hungarian C, while I never had done it during my training either. But the technique doesn't change that much, you break up utterances in units of meaning and convey the message as accurately as possible... the elements of a sentence might not be at the same place in all languages, but that can be easily dealt with after a bit of practice and adjusting.

(28 Mar '16, 13:47) Gaspar ♦♦

Thank you so much again for your suggestions =) I'll try to take it as light-heartedly as possible so as to not take the fun away, and yet as seriously as possible. Not an easy balance.

P.S.: Hungarian C must have been particularly hard to add... :O

(28 Mar '16, 18:11) Oasisxxx

Hi "Oasis" :-)

If you're now practising on your own, I wonder whether you haven't - understandably - given up on visual input and are working on audio alone, thus tiring sooner, taking longer and losing focus...? One of the reasons I'm saying this is because about the only times I've had trouble focusing is precisely when I'm deprived of such input by circumstances: it's always worthwhile remembering that over 50% of situational communication is non-verbal (which is of course why the profession insists on visual) ie if you miss it you lose more than half of what you so desperately need to understand, and thus be able to transpose. Furthermore, interpreting requires some identification with your speaker, irrespective of content... and that's a lot more - emotionally - difficult if all you have to go on is sound, right? If I'm right, the solution is obvious: despite the extra effort required to locate suitable source material, that should do the trick. If I'm wrong, it was well meant :-). Good luck with your work and your upcoming test! :-)

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answered 28 Mar '16, 20:14

msr's gravatar image


You're right, I hadn't thought about visual input. For rare languages this material is particularly hard to find, though not impossible.
I'll follow your suggestion and see what happens, thank you very much! =)

(30 Mar '16, 07:38) Oasisxxx

Hi Oasis,

Congratulations! It sounds like things are moving in the right direction for you and your career.

To answer your question, Gaspar and MSR are both completely right. May I also suggest that you read the text you will find here; it contains some useful information on practicing once you have your diploma.

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answered 29 Mar '16, 14:03

JuliaP's gravatar image


In addition to the above suggestions, I would look into meditation/mindfulness exercises. It can really help with cognitive skills like focus and attention. If you're interested in the research behind it, have a look at these articles: Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility and, if you want something specifically about interpreting, Mindfulness training for interpreting students. Keep in mind that meditation/mindfulness are not intended to replace any other activities but should be seen as complementary.

EDIT: I just noticed you mentioned meditation already in your message, but it can't hurt to get some more background on why you should keep doing it. :)

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answered 18 Apr '16, 22:50

jbeagley's gravatar image


edited 18 Apr '16, 22:51


Thank you jbeagley, very interesting articles! Yes knowing more about the background helps you keeping up with it. Definitely useful =)

(20 Apr '16, 05:58) Oasisxxx

Thanks jbeagley - I have been recommending meditation as a way for students to learn to bring their attention away from their mistakes and back to their interpreting, but haven't had any articles to back it up. Very useful!

(20 Apr '16, 06:37) JuliaP
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question asked: 28 Mar '16, 09:32

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