Specialists in oral translation services

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mentoring: An old idea that’s still new

Conference Interpreter

Are you a young interpreter just starting out, feeling rather alone and not knowing quite how to jump-start your career? Have you thought about working with a mentor?

Are you a more experienced or retired interpreter watching beginners in their efforts to break into a complicated market and wondering what the future of your profession may be? Have you thought about offering your services as a mentor to help orient them?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a mentor as "a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school".

The term was derived from ancient Greece and both its meaning and purpose have remained the same till today. A mentor may play a formal or informal role, which may change according to the mentee’s needs.

It is important not to confuse mentoring and coaching, although the two concepts have some points in common.

Coaching is more project oriented and is also more focused on technical aspects, somewhat akin to preparing for a conference — clarifying terminology, gaining a basic understanding of the subject matter, studying presentations.

Mentoring takes a wider approach, looking beyond the practical skills. In a nutshell:

         Practicing the profession. Things like ethics in professional practice, relationships with fellow interpreters who may be both colleagues and competitors, relations with clients.
         Balancing personal and professional life.
         Tricks of the trade, beyond what the young interpreter learned in school.
         Dilemmas typically faced by independent professionals; for example, when to accept an assignment and when to turn it down.
         A conference interpreter is a skilled linguist but is also managing a business, something not usually included in interpreter training programs.

The mentor’s view

What does a mentor do?

A mentor can be a role model, coach, sounding board, voice of reason, emotional support, counselor, and a trusted resource. A mentor is an experienced person who can help a young interpreter cope with the doubts and uncertainties we all face when beginning a new venture.

What do I need to know?

It is important to understand the new interpreter’s view of the profession and be aware that things will have changed since you started, especially if you have been working many years or are retired. Today there are numerous ways of applying simultaneous interpreting beyond the traditional conference setting, such as videoconferencing, remote interpreting, web streaming, combinations of the different modes…

There is more international contact in the world now, so an interpreter may often work on a team with a wide variety of languages, many of them not used in your part of the world years ago when the world was divided into smaller compartments, usually within a limited group of languages.

The technical skills required by the conference interpreter today will not be the same as the skills needed by interpreters when you started working.

It is important for young interpreters to understand that being an interpreter is more than just interpreting. They also need to acquire skills for running a business.

Where do I start if I want to become a mentor?

If you belong to a professional association, inquire there. The Internet also has plenty of resources, including discussion groups. Colleagues who have experience in mentoring can orient you.

AIIC has information on mentoring available to members and non-members alike. The Vega network is oriented toward young interpreters but also has valuable resources for prospective mentors.

Useful links:

An overview of mentoring

A good place to start to find out more about being a mentor

Similarities between mentoring and coaching

Differences between mentoring and coaching

The mentee’s view

How can a mentor help me?

When young people complete their studies, their thoughts turn to finding employment. A first job is more than just a way to earn a living; it is also a place to learn how to use new skills out in the “real world” and start building a career. Young people also learn on-the-job skills from their companions in the workplace.

Conference interpreting is a profession that has few entry-level jobs to offer new interpreters coming into the marketplace. International organizations are the most obvious source of employment, but they require a level of skill and experience that most beginners don’t have.

In the private market, few businesses feel the need to hire permanent interpreters. They may only occasionally organize activities that require linguistic skills beyond what company staff members have.

Which means that recent graduates find themselves thrust into the role of independent professional, something they may not have expected and may not be prepared for.

What do I want from a mentor?

You need to explain to your prospective mentor what you want him/her to do. Once you start working you will begin to see areas where you could use some advice and assistance, such as:

         Gray areas like linguistic limitations, technical knowledge gaps, what types of assignments to accept or not accept
         Approaching a prospective client
         The business side of your profession: taxes, legal requirements, setting your fees
         Professional ethics
         Relations with other interpreters

How do I find a mentor?

         Older colleagues, including retirees, living in your town or elsewhere.
         Ask other colleagues if they know of someone.
         AIIC can offer assistance to its members in finding a mentor through its Vega network, a world-wide network of professional conference interpreters - all of them members of AIIC - dedicated to helping junior interpreters in pursuing their new career.

How can I be certain of making a good choice?

Like anything in life, there’s no recipe for success. You do your research and step out. If you are not convinced after a first interview or if you’re not satisfied after a while, you needn’t feel obligated to continue.

How do I stay in contact with my mentor?

Ideally, by meeting in person. This may not always be possible since interpreting, especially conference interpretation, requires frequent traveling. However, there are plenty of online communication solutions that can be as satisfying as a personal meeting.

In sum, mentorship can be a valuable resource for young interpreters and a satisfying activity for older interpreters.

Useful links:

Why do I need a mentor?

AIIC’s Vega network

Advice on finding a mentor

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