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Being Part of the Solution

Last week I genuinely felt that I was part of the solution. Colombian senators visited the UK, meeting their counterparts in the Houses of Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. There were many discussions about the Colombian and North Irish peace processes. Similarities were found but there were also differences. The Colombian senators learnt a great deal from their trip to Belfast. It was a privilege to be involved and I hope that both countries achieve a lasting peace for their people.

A Success Story

This year I have been endeavouring to improve my consecutive interpreting skills by attending practice sessions with David Violet to work on how I take notes while listening to a speaker. For most of the year I was taking notes using biro and notepad but then in September another classmate, Eric Liao, gave a presentation on digital note-taking. He talked about Notability software and Apple Pencils. This was like manna from Heaven for me because I had been wanting to return to using my iPad for consecutive note-taking. I got the software and pencil and then dived into this new modus operandi at the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ CityLab Conference on 10th October 2022. The lady next to me in the photo above is Nathalia Sanchez, aka GLeo, a Colombian muralist, who was being interviewed by Barratunde Thurston about her work. The slide is taken from Eric Liao’s presentation on digital note-taking for consecutive interpretation which he gave at the American Translators’ Association on 15th October 2022. Congratulations Eric! I am delighted to have been included as a success story too! The extract that he has highlighted is in yellow is the video clip below. GLeo was a wonderful artist to interpret for because her work is so inspiring.



Today, I had my first interpreting assignment using Qonda. I was a little nervous at first because connecting with the technican who was going to brief me proved problematic. However, once we were on Zoom, I was delighted to see the console. The video window showing you into your booth partner’s booth was particularly exciting. Unfortunately, the remote conference call was very short so I was working by myself but I can’t wait to work with a colleague on a long conference. It would get rid of having to connect with Skype or WhatsApp to recreate booth conditons. It looks like I will also be able to hear my booth partner and the relay without creating any independent back channels. That would indeed be a step forward in RSI. Well done Qonda!


Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpreting

At last! In January I was finallly able to do a course, not a day or an hour-long webinar, but a course on note-taking for consecutive interpreting. I learnt about it when I registered for Terp Summit 2022 and attended an online free webinar on note-taking for consecutive interpreting given by David Violet, President of l’Association internationale des interpretes de conference (AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters) in the USA. David trained at the presitigious Ecole Superieure d’Interpretes et de Traducteurs (ESIT), Paris.

I really enjoyed the class and found myself navigating to his website. There were two free classes on symbols and the concept of understanding with quizzes at the end to check that you had understood them. There was also a twenty-module course which I could do at my own pace and so I enrolled. I completed it in a month. I liked the way that David took things one step at a time and covered the basics very comprehensively before moving on to the next “baby step”. The course was and remains beautifully targeted. What became apparent was that I had to practice my new note-taking skills to embed them properly in my brain.

I began practice sessions with David in February and they have been extremely helpful in embedding the note-taking, as well as helping my simultaneous interpreting skills. I focus on the substance of what someone is saying like never before. In the practice sessions we listen to a speech in English and then interpret it into English. I think that this works very well for interpreters with English as a B or even a C language but I would like to listen to a speech in Spanish and interpret it into English or listen to a speech in English and interpret it into Spanish. I had a go at doing the latter last Saturday. I was in a break-out room with another Spanish interpreter, Fabiola Tortajada. I raced through the speech because I was expecting the timer to appear on the screen very soon. It was nerve-wracking and I forgot the Spanish word for ‘permafrost’. However, I got through it all and my colleague’s feedback was quite complimentary. Thank you to David, Fabiola and all the interpreters in the Saturday group.

Subtitling, A New Year and A New Skill!

It feels great to start the New Year with a new skill! In October 2021 I started the Basic Subtitling course at University College London and since then I have learnt a great deal.

I have learnt to:

  • set in and out times of dialogue, also known as time-cueing,
  • transcribe English dialogue (intralingual transcription) and translate English dialogue into Spanish or Spanish dialogue into English (interlingual subtitling),
  • use ten different condensation techniques,
  • keep to the 17 characters per second limit (which is very hard),
  • set pauses between subtitles to 80 milliseconds,
  • subtitle within one to six second(s) duration,
  • segment text,
  • respect shot changes (again very hard),
  • synchronise,
  • match frame rates and resolution between software programmes and
  • deal with register, dialect and culture-bound terms, especially extralinguistic ones.

One of our assignments was to take a clip of no more than five minutes and subtitle it into a foreign languge, Spanish in my case. I chose a sequence from ‘Singing In The Rain’ which You Tube described as ‘A Noble Profession’. It was quite challenging because there was so much fast and overlapping dialogue. Moreover, there were cultural references to Shakespeare, Ibsen and Ethel Barrymore. The jokes and puns were difficult too. At the beginning of the sequence Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is mobbed by adoring fans and he shouts to his lifelong friend, Cosmo Brown, “Call me a cab!” Cosmo replies in English, “Okay, you’re a cab”. Above is how I subtitled Cosmo’s reply in Spanish.

I received a variety of other clips to subtitle, all much harder than the previous one to subtitle. It was fun trying to resolve the problems, even if it did take a long time! Hopefully, as I subtitle more I will get faster. At the moment I am using Subtitle Workshop and Subtitle Edit to work on. I need to familiarise myself with professional subtitling software.  I have still to learn how to convert videos into different formats and how to transfer srt files into formats other than Notepad. Although this basic course has been demanding I intend to study the Advanced Subtitling course at UCL later this year.

Sound Solutions On A Covid-19 Trial

Back in May I blogged about my first Covid-19 trial in which I was essentially an observer because the defendant on trial had such good English. I noted all the new changes made to make a courtroom Covid-free and anticipated that when I had to interpret for real in those conditions it would be quite demanding. Well, last week I found out just how demanding it was.

I was asked to interpret for a defendant on trial who had no or very little English. The regulations had changed so there was no screen in front of the judge or the barristers but the jury remained socially distanced, with screens in front of them. The courtroom was so short of space in the jury area that three jurors had their desks set up on the floor of the court, next to the barristers’ horizontal benches. There were hand sanitisers, tissues, sterile glove boxes and bottled water everywhere.

Everyone was wearing a mask save for the clerk, the judge and barristers when they were speaking. Once inside the dock the defendant and I were allowed to take off our masks although the custody officer always kept his on.  I sat with a seat between me and the defendant. He was unvaccinated which made me nervous. We had an ample supply of polystyrene cups, a big water jug and our own sanitiser.

The first day of the trial was a shock to the system in many ways because I thought that it was a one-day trial when in fact it was listed for seven! I had to sort things out with the List Office quite quickly and by the end of the day I was completely booked for the trial.

The next shock to the system was the sheer number of sound problems that I encountered in the dock. Firstly, the air conditioning was humming very loudly. Secondly, I could only hear the judge when she spoke and not the court clerk, defence counsel or the prosecutor. Thirdly, the custody officer kept jangling his keys. Maybe it was my perception. The court clerk blithely tried to start proceedings by identifying the defendant but I could not hear her so I informed the court and I asked for the clerk to speak into a microphone. I am delighted to say that the court resolved this by giving me a Sennheiser RI 150 mono infrared receiver in the form of a stethoscope headset. It was my new best friend for the rest of the week! I heard the clerk beautifully. The barristers were audible even when they had their backs to me and I heard the witnesses perfectly. It was so nice not to finish the day without a raging headache from straining to hear what was being said. What a godsend. I hope that HM Court and Tribual Service retains this practice after the pandemic.

The next problem was organising the area around my neck. I had to wear my interpreter’s identification badge which was on a ribbon round my neck. It was constantly in the way when I reached for different things. Then, I needed to have my reading glasses at hand. Sometimes I folded them and hung them on my t-shirt. Other times I put them on the seat next to me. Obviously, there was the Sennheiser which had to dangle from one ear as I needed to monitor myself. It was odd doing that with a Sennheiser receiver rather than one of the comfortable mono-aural headsets that I have at home. I am glad that I didn’t have to wear a mask because it would have obstructed the area around my ears, muffled my voice and generated a lot of heat.

After that my problems were standard occupational hazards: interpreting for two hours without a break, avoiding increasing the sound of the Sennheiser to prevent my own voice from going up, compensating for the back-ache that sitting in the same position gives you, sight-reading a statement in English with my glasses and Sennheiser on, reading the statement so the defendant could see while keeping a metre’s distance and remembering during my much-needed breaks to look up terms that had escaped me.

During the trial there were Covid-19 developments. The complainant had to self-isolate so she gave her evidence over the cloud video platform. She used headphones so the reception was very clear. Later in the trial, the prosecutor had to self-isolate too. A relative of his had tested positive for Covid-19 and although he had no symptoms he had to dial in using the cloud video platform as well. The reception continued to be great. There was no feedback or echo because he knew to use decent headphones, Airpods I think. He performed his cross-examinations digitally and gave his closing speech that way too. The prosecutor admitted that it had been a first for him. It was a first for me too.

I am very grateful for the use of all this technology to solve audio, medical and logistical problems. Normally, these sorts of changes take forever to be introduced into courtrooms so it was very refreshing to see how swift the courts can be.


My First COVID-19 Trial

Last month I experienced my first trial under Covid-19 restrictions. I was in the fortunate position of having been booked “out of an abundance of caution”, as the defence barrister put it, to make sure that the defendant understood everything but his English comprehension was very good.  Therefore, I found myself observing the courtroom changes and wondering how well I would be able to work if I had to interpret every stage and in full.

The social distancing meant that the courthouse was at 20% capacity. Few courtrooms seemed to be in use so the trials being held were in courts that were well-spaced out from another. For example, I was working in Court 10 but Court 9 next to it was not being used. That provided the advantage of not being overheard by parties to another case. The emptiness of the seating area meant that you could read quietly or eat your packed lunch in peace.

In the courtroom itself, there were perspex screens between everyone. Masks had to be worn unless you were speaking.  The judge had a microphone behind his screen on his bench so he was very easy to hear in the dock but unfortunately so was his keyboard! While I was glad that he could type people’s evidence so quickly it was a pity that he didn’t swing the microphone away from his laptop while he was writing.

The jury had individual screens on three sides of them, making each one look like they were in a kiosk. Thank goodness that they didn’t speak! I felt sorry for them because getting to and leaving their seats was a very cumbersome process.

The barristers had screens around them on three sides but they didn’t have microphones and their backs were to me, as usual. In the dock I could hear them but softly. When I needed to interpret their words my voice masked their comments. I had to work consecutively and was glad that I had my trusty notepad with me! Simultaneous interpreting was not an option.

The dock was modified so that there were screens between all the seats and the defendant and I were expected to wear masks. Therefore, when I needed to interpret something it had to be done consecutively. Often, I preferred to lean back and speak to the defendant without the screen so that he could hear me properly.

The witness stand had a perspex screen around on three sides so the witnesses and defendant could give their evidence without a mask. The judge requested that they remove their masks so that everyone could clearly see their faces while they were communicating. I thoroughly approved of this. There was no screen for the interpreter, just a chair for me to place one metre away from the witness stand. I took off my mask too in case I needed to interpret.  In the end, the defendant didn’t understand two key points in the cross-examination so I interpreted the prosecutor’s questions for him. I was glad that I was there.

In conclusion, it was most helpful to be in the courtroom essentially as an observer. Now I know what to be expect for the next trial. I anticipate that it will be quite demanding.



At last, new photos!

At long last, I have new photographs for my website! I have been wanting to refresh them for some time but the pandemic put paid to that. The photographer who I used eleven years ago is no longer round the corner from me. I went past his studio a couple of weeks back and found that his establishment had been taken over by another company, offering a completely different service. I like to think that that photographer has just moved location and that his business is still thriving somewhere else.

The photographer that I used for this photo shoot was and still is Lawrence White at Westend Portraits in Richmond. He’s clearly very experienced and was great at putting me at my ease. We were able to experiment with a prop, my glasses, two changes of wardrobe and different backgrounds. We played around with another type of surface too. I was rather enjoying myself.

Initially, I was just interested in buying six photos but the ‘shortlist’ of photos that Lawrence sent me was so good that I ended up buying eighteen! I am very pleased with Lawrence’s work and I would have no hesitation in recommending him. Thank you Lawrence!

March 2021, a year on


Last year I had no idea that one year on we would still be in the throes of this pandemic. As it progressed I remember discussing the matter with friends. Back in the summer one of my friends highlighted a recent press release from the WHO which anticipated that it would be 2022 before we had a handle on the virus. She was aghast and I felt condemned when I heard it but thinking the forecast through it made sense. Here we are now, in 2021 the year of the vaccine. Will 2022 be the year of the recovery?

Over the course of the last twelve months so many things have happened to me that it beggars belief. I am glad to say that one calamity that did not befall me was contracting COVID-19. Was it because of the precautions that I, my family and friends took or sheer luck? Recently, I was vaccinated and I am hoping that in two weeks’ time the vaccine will have kicked in and become effective at protecting me. I can’t wait to get my second jab! I still think that it will be another year before we can even contemplate disposing with masks, sanitiser and the two-metre rule. I would dearly love to be wrong.


Terp Summit 2021

Although I wasn’t able to attend a lot of the presentations at Terp Summit, the ones I did attend have helped tremendously in improving my home office and making it as comfortable as possible for remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). I particularly enjoyed the presentations given by Naomi Bowman, Maha El-Metwally and Barry Olsen. I have already ordered more tech and office supplies to change my RSI set-up. The summit was also great for talking to other interpreters in the chatboxes and offline about mixers and headsets. Judy Jenner’s presentation on price quotes was superb. It has made me review my terms and conditions and adjust them. I have already succeeded in getting a client to pay me for recording an assignment. I am grateful to all these people but most of all to Sophie Llewellyn-Smith for coming up with this project and the fantastic idea of The Interpreter’s Toolkit for Success. It contains all the presentations given over the summit’s three days and you can access them for a year. This will definitely keep my continuing professional development going for some time! A big thank you!
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