It is truly amazing how much you can learn in one week.
The week I spent as a student observer at the Cambridge Conference Interpreting Course has been one of the most intensive weeks of learning I’ve ever done. It felt as if my brain was constantly at work, because it seemed interpreting was all (or almost all, to be fair) I could think of.
There are 7 days or 168 hours in a week. Just think of it, 168 hours. There is so much you could do with that time. There are only two things you need to achieve that: motivation and perseverance. My great-grandfather used to say that to be a genius takes 1% of talent, and 99% of hard work. And essentially this is what the course is all about. It pushes you to question your motivation for interpreting, because unless you are motivated, eager and curious about pretty much everything, – I seriously doubt interpreting would be the right choice for you. Then the course makes you question your skills, and your languages. Interpreting is an interesting profession – we tend to be proud of what we do, but you can’t do a good job unless you are a harsh judge of your own character and abilities, which means you have to find the delicate balance between pride and humility.
Only then will you have a chance. You have to be an optimist and a realist at the same time. Then you will know what you already can do, and what you still have to work one, and then the teaching itself comes in.
Here’s an interesting fact. Children learn faster during their earlier years than at any other time of their life. Why? Because their brains are like sponges that take in everything around them. Which is what you still have to do even when you grow up if you want to become an interpreter. Of course, some people are lucky in that they never grow up. But then interpreting is also a profession that demands utmost responsibility, so they may not be that lucky after all.
I got to spend one week in the company of some of the very best interpreters, and, what may be even more important for the purpose of the course, some of the best interpreting teachers. Now I have to admit, I am not entirely sure that ‘teacher’ is the right word to use in the context, because to me the idea of ‘teaching’ interpreting sounds mildly ridiculous. To me it is a skill, something you can show and demonstrate, but can’t necessarily teach it to someone else. If you want to become an interpreter, you will need all the advice you can possibly get, but the actual learning – that’s something you will have to do on your own. And the course shows you the best ways to do that.
Now remember that interpreting is also a form of art. And that you definitely have to try to learn from the best masters.
However, you don’t only learn from your teachers. It is a simple fact that you learn most from your colleagues. The course creates a unique atmosphere of friendship and togetherness, it brings together people from different countries, who speak different language, and represent different cultures. Yet they all come together to learn and share their experience, to make mistakes, and try over and over again, and to finally get one step closer to mastering this incredible and wonderful profession.
Now add to the picture the beautiful Tudor houses, the magnificent colleges with their atmosphere of learning, the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over the river Cam, and the masterful evening performances of Shakespeare.
An experience I would recomment to all fellow interpreters.
A special thank you to Julia Poger and Chris Guichot de Fortis.