The Art of Faking It ‘Til You Make It

There are few things more off-putting than to hear an interpreter fill their delivery with um and uh, to second-guess themselves, and to interject side commentary. In real-life situations, this sort of delivery makes the listener tune out. On a test, it costs the candidate time, scoring units, and most importantly, it saps one’s confidence. If we allow ourselves to give in to doubt and second-guessing, it takes over. Furthermore, if you are trying to tackle something difficult that you’ve never done before (a faster speed, for example, or a particularly complex expert witness topic), all those voices of doubt that lead to a non-confident sounding delivery stop you from reaching the very goal you are trying to achieve. The good news is, though, that the opposite is true! The more confidence you project, the more confident you will feel.

So how do we convince ourselves and those around us that we’re the best interpreters ever? We fake it until we make it. This is easier said than done, and as test season approaches, I thought that the topic deserved its own post.

I’ve broken it down into three sections that you can apply to your own life as you see fit.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Confidence must be cultivated. That means that you should treat every opportunity like it’s the real deal. If you are studying for an exam, then every practice interpretation should mirror the test conditions. Interpret whichever section you have chosen, from start to finish (feel free to choose bite-sized sections to minimize overwhelm). When you hit a difficult spot that you don’t know how to interpret, leave it in the original language and move on. The important thing is never to stop. Afterwards is the time to analyze and see what you can do better, of course. That’s when you research words, listen to examples, and then you repeat the exercise until you’ve polished it to near-perfection. But while you are interpreting is not the time for analysis or research. It’s the time to tell yourself you’re the best interpreter there ever was, even if you don’t yet believe it. If someone’s watching you, make them believe it.

2. Allow for Silence

One thing I’ve noticed, especially with sight translation, is that we have a lot of trouble allowing ourselves to pause. This is a phenomenon that has been noted in more places than interpretation; when it gets quiet, we get nervous. So, if we are interpreting, and we’re the cause of the quiet, we become frantic. Enter the Um Parade. Our ums fill the silence, but they’re not nice to hear. The good news is, you are allowed to pause. So next time you’re not sure of how to resolve a difficult syntax issue and you need a moment to think, take a breath and quietly determine your solution. It feels weird at first, but it is more pleasant on the ears and puts you in a better state of concentration, leading to higher accuracy. This applies particularly to sight translation, but it can also be applied to consecutive. With simultaneous, the challenge is to simply keep interpreting without getting flustered or adding fillers. See above: Practice, Practice, Practice!

3)  Be Prepared to Fumble

As interpreters, we tend to beat ourselves up when we’re not perfect. I’ve noticed it’s a common trait that pretty much every interpreter shares (yes, I’m counting myself!) But if you’re looking for perfection, you should find a new profession. Interpreting requires us to navigate a host of difficult emotional, mental and even physical challenges, often in an unfamiliar environment on a range of topics for which we may or may not be prepared. We have good days, and we have bad days. In other words (shocking, I know!) we are human. So instead of aiming for perfection, my advice is to understand we won’t be perfect, but to learn to keep going when something goes wrong. That means that if I’m interpreting simultaneously and I hear a word, even that easy word that I totally should know, and I suddenly can’t for the life of me interpret it, I keep going. In real life, you can research it in a break and make a correction if necessary. On a test, consider it collateral damage and move on. But don’t beat yourself up. This is part of faking it ‘til we make it; not letting ourselves collapse just because we weren’t perfect. If you’re studying with a partner, don’t even let them know you know you’ve messed up; you can tell them at the end, and then try to improve the next time. See above: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what I have to say on the topic! If you’re looking for more advice relevant to test-taking, check out a recent webinar with Virginia Valencia from Interpretrain and yours truly: And for a breakdown on studying each mode of interpretation, check out previous blogs: Conquering Consecutive, Solving Simultaneous and Sailing through Sight. Feel free to share your own tips and observations below.

Remember: You’re the best interpreter there ever was!

[Also printed at on 7/28/17]

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