Blogging 2.0

After a wonderful learning experience (read: “Oh, WordPress can delete everything just like that?”) over the weekend, previous blog posts are temporarily unavailable. Sorry! We are working hard to get them all back in working order.  Favorites like the Paperless Interpreter Part I will be restored ASAP, with Part II soon to follow.

Thanks for your patience.

The Paperless Interpreter Experiment: Part I

As interpreters, we have a host of tools available to us as we work. On a given day, I might be carrying around interpreting equipment (with multiple sets of headphones and spare batteries), notepads and pens, a laptop, reference materials, water, throat lozenges, smartphone, snacks, on and on.

I’m sure I’m not the only interpreter who has wishfully imagined a single sleek gadget that could replace all these bulky items and fit in her purse.

The other alternative is to hire these guys to carry reference materials for me.

The other alternative is to hire these guys to carry reference materials for me.

Well, I don’t think there’s a way to replace all of those things with a single gadget, but I know many interpreters use tablets to access reference materials. And, judging by the responses to a recent tweet on the subject, many more are interested in using a tablet for notetaking during interpreting.

So here’s Part I of my experiment in replacing some of my paper weight with a tablet, in this case the ubiquitous iPad. First, a summary. Then, the gory details.

Summary:

I realized that my experience using a Wacom digital drawing tablet and pressure-sensitive stylus spoiled me for the iPad stylus experience. Steve Jobs purposely rejected the stylus for iPads: “We’re going to use a pointing device that we’re all born with — born with ten of them. We’re going to use our fingers.” iPads simply aren’t designed for handwriting, the function at the top of my wishlist.

Read on for my method and field notes.

Criteria

Here’s my rubric, in my order of priority, along with the current solution I’m hoping to improve. My grading system is simply pass/fail, because if the device can truly replace my current solution, it passes. If it can’t, then I have to keep doing whatever I’m doing now to resolve the issue, so the device hasn’t served its purpose and fails this test.

 

  • Interpreting notes
  • Interpreting notes, unlike lecture notes, are minimalistic guides to jog my memory two seconds later. So I am mostly looking to note the relationships between the main ideas and important details that my brain might gloss over, like numbers. This involves abbreviations, symbols, and a lot of arrow-drawing.
  • Current solution: Endless bulk packs of legal-rule pads. I like these ones from OfficeMax because they’re recycled, lightweight and have no margin line.
  • Reference materials
  • I like to bring glossaries and any scripts or speaker’s notes to each interpreting job.
  • Current solution: Printed references are filed or gathered in portfolios for recurring topics; I carry Mikkelson’s Interpreter’s Companion mostly as a safety blanket.
  • Work during downtime
  • Interpreting means being out on the road a lot, and I often have breaks of several hours between jobs. I like to take advantage of this time to work on translation and editing jobs, or administrative tasks like invoicing.
  • Current solution: Tote MacBook Pro around whenever I anticipate downtime.
  • Entertainment
  • I’m behind the times here, but I still consume very little video content. I’m just looking to easily read my favorite news sites, Google Reader, and Nook purchases.
  • Current solution: With the exception of Nook books, these functions are handled adequately by my mobile phone, a Droid Razr Maxx with a large screen and excellent battery life. I do sometimes take my Nook around with me.

The Experiment

Hardware: Apple iPad (2nd Gen) and Bamboo Stylus by Wacom

Apps:

  • DocstoGo (paid)
  • Notability (paid)
  • Paper (free)
  • Evernote (free)

Setting:

After testing out and configuring apps, I took the iPad into court during testimony that I would have had to interpret consecutively if the parties were not English speakers. I interpreted silently and tried taking notes as if I were interpreting.

Results

  • Interpreting notes: FAIL
  • Typed notes are a nonstarter, since I need to quickly add symbols and arrows connecting different words. There’s simply not time or brain resources for switching back and forth between keyboard functions.
  • In general, writing with fingertips produces poor results and made my finger tired.
  • Some of the apps have a “palm guard” function that allows you to write in a dedicated frame and ignores your hand touching the rest of the page. I found this to be an ok solution to inadvertent scrolling and stray marks, but my hand can still accidentally hit menu buttons, which interrupts notetaking.
  • I loved Paper’s calligraphy capabilities and beautiful interface, but even with a stylus it requires exaggerated movements to make legible notes. Lovely, but impractical for keeping up with the pace of interpreting.
  • During practice runs the apps sometimes crashed. Beyond losing my notes, I’m worried I’ll lose my mind if I add this extra stress to this job’s critical moments.
  • Reference: PASS
  • I can easily store the electronic version of the Interpreter’s Companion in Evernote for offline reference.
  • Notability allows easy organization to group related materials into folders.
  • I like having the Black’s Law Dictionary app (paid), since that is a very useful reference but the print version is too bulky to bring onsite with me.
  • Work during downtime: FAIL
  • Even with a paid app, trying to edit a Word document with legal citations (requiring special symbols and several formatting changes in each line) made me want to jump out a window. Selecting text for copy/paste or formatting is particularly tedious.
  • It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, but editing on the iPad took way longer than on my laptop.
  • Entertainment: PASS
  • I didn’t have any problems reading what I wanted to read or using social media, though I have yet to find a Twitter app for iOS that totally satisfies me.

Verdict

I’m not ready to trade in my paper notepads yet. There may be better apps out there and it’s also possible that some of my complaints are corrected in the more recent versions of the iPad. I hope the next generation of tablets will offer a better solution to handwritten notes than a stylus that mimics a fingertip.

Soon I’ll post Part II, which was more successful. In the meantime, do you have any apps or devices you’d recommend to other interpreters? Does anyone use an iPad for translation?

 

 

Saying Adiós to 2012 and Setting No Goals for 2013

This little business has me doing fantastically interesting and varied work all over Dallas/Fort Worth and sometimes beyond. And it just keeps getting better. This year was off the charts and I am thankful.

Professional translators improve their skills

Inspired by this article in the Harvard Business Review, rather than specific goals I’m going to look at what I want to spend time on in 2013:

  • Continuing education. From a course on advanced legal editing to a workshop on improving my speaking voice, regular continuing education has been worthwhile both to improve my skills and, best of all, to get to know more people. Interpreting is solitary work most of the time so these relaxed learning days are refreshing and a great way to keep improving my game.
  • Pro bono services. This year I got to provide almost four weeks of conference interpreting and bilingual multimedia services for nonprofit groups.
  • Mentoring. I believe that we are all able to reach back and help someone who is not quite as far down the road as we are. This year I got to help two local interpreters improve their skills and earn higher rates, share advice with a translation student at my alma mater, and continue providing real-world practice for my intern.
  • Criminal cases. Although I’ve interpreted hundreds of hours in administrative courts and almost as many in civil cases, so far I’ve been timid about criminal matters. But the criminal cases I have taken have gone great, with very good feedback from defendants, attorneys, and judges, so for 2013 I’ll stop giving preference to civil cases.
  • Translation. Interpreting is exhilarating but even after extensive preparation you always drive home from an interpreting job thinking about things you could have expressed better. Translating documents, on the other hand, affords me the chance to be a writer, mulling over the best way to phrase a sentence, researching a little more, sleeping on it and tweaking the text till I’m totally satisfied.
  • Non-work. As I ease back from my habitual emphasis on productivity and advancing toward goals, I want to spend more time on spiritual edification and personal interests like photography, guitar, Crossfit, and homemade ice cream.

Does your outlook for 2013 look similar? Is there anything you definitely want to spend more time on this year?

Hat tip to Catherine Christaki, Greek translator, for sharing the Harvard Business Review article on LinkedIn.

Worst Corporate Buzzwords

This week one question on LinkedIn garnered more than 400 responses:

Maybe we should make our marketing copy more customer-centric

What are the corporate buzzwords we’d like to banish?

Buzzwords are fascinating because when they’re fresh, people often use them to signal membership in a social group. But, much like fashion trends, when they become ubiquitous the group considers the word pedestrian and moves on. Never one to overlook the opportunity to do some sociolinguistic analysis, I did a little back-of-the-envelope calculation to find the top ten offenders:

  1. at the end of the day
  2. leverage (as a verb)
  3. socialize (a project or idea to someone)
  4. low-hanging fruit
  5. clear/clearly
  6. going forward
  7. ask (as a noun -”My ask is this…”)
  8. blue sky (as a verb)
  9. strategic/strategize
  10. value-added

Clearly, being out of the corporate world since forever has kept me out of the loop, because I have never heard several of these. I have no idea what it means to blue-sky something to someone, for example, but it came up a lot. And, although it wasn’t in the top ten, productionize struck me as particularly useless. It turns out, though, that it does have a nuance that produce lacks; productionize means to roll out a new product or service after a pilot period.

Any buzzwords you’d like to go ahead and banish?

 

Announcement – 2013 Federal Court Interpreter Exam

 

A few months back, I received the great news that I had passed the Phase One (Written) portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam. Since then, I have been compulsively checking the FCICE web page to see when registration will open for the Phase Two (Oral) Exam. Since the Phase Two exam is only offered in odd-numbered years (2013, 2015, 3001, etc.), I have been eager to set up my study timeline and meet this beast head on in 2013.

So I am thrilled to announce that the wait is over, as the FCICE has announced the registration period:

  • Registration Opens: Monday, March 25, 2013 8:30 A.M. ET
  • Registration Closes: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:00 P.M. ET

No word yet on actual exam dates, but I registered for the Phase One exam in May 2012 (got the last slot in the location most convenient to me, whew!) and all exams were administered within a short period in August 2012. It looks like this year’s timeline may be similar. More details at the FCICE site.

 

What Does “Preciso” Mean?

I’m always interested to look at this site’s analytics to see how people arrive. In addition to people searching for how to say Holly in Spanish, there are also many visitors looking for the meaning or language of the word preciso.

Never one to miss an opportunity to please, here you have it:

  • Preciso is a Spanish word that comes from the Latin word praecīsus according to the Real Academia Española.
  • Preciso‘s most common meaning can be translated into English as precise, accurate, specific, or exact, though in some contexts it can have a different meaning.

I chose it as the name for my translation company because it embodies my goal of getting it exactly right whenever I translate or interpret for my clients.

P.S. While we’re at it, the name Holly comes from the common name for a plant family called Ilex. It has green leaves and small red berries. From what I gather, in Spanish the common name for this type of plant is acebo, so technically that would be the Spanish equivalent of the name Holly. Not nearly as nice as Rose/Rosa or Margarite/Margarita, am I right?

3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Speaking Voice

Have you ever felt a weakness in your throat after a day of presenting or a particularly stressful interpreting job? I’ve had this problem on many occasions, especially when I started out. My vocal cords simply weren’t used to speaking for hours on end under high stress, for example during simultaneous conference interpreting or hostile witness examinations.

Holly Behl & Karla Badillo interpreting for the International Baseball FederationMe and a fabulous interpreting partner, Karla Badillo, at the International Baseball Federation. A good partner eases stress and splitting the work prevents vocal strain.

For interpreters and anyone who makes presentations, your voice is part of your livelihood. So, protecting and improving it is a no-brains investment in your primary business asset—you. And vocal health is not just for interpreters. Translators who make sales presentations, speak with clients on the phone, or lead professional development events can also benefit. A pleasant speaking voice can even lead to a new income stream in thevoiceover market.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to develop a pleasant speaking voice. I’ve taken singing lessons and attended a workshop with a voiceover coach, but allow me to save you a few hundred dollars with three simple strategies for vocal improvement:

1.  Use better posture.

Sit or stand straight to improve clarity. Your instrument is an L-shaped tunnel (throat and mouth) and for the best sound, you want that tunnel to be as wide open as possible. I’ve seen interpreters hunched behind a defendant or leaning forward over their notes, which naturally compresses the throat and muffles articulation.

Try this:

Do interpretation exercises or practice your presentation while standing with your back against the wall. Notice how this body alignment feels and get used to speaking from this position.

2.  Breathe deeply.

Before my singing lessons, I honestly did not know what it feels like to have my lungs full of air. If your lungs are actually full, you feel the lungs pressing against the ribs in your back and down against your stomach. Untrained vocalists breathe shallow breaths, filling only the top half of the lungs. As a result, the vocal cords work harder than they would if there were proper breath support and fatigue faster. With proper breath support, your voice will sound fuller and more pleasant.

Try this:

Take a coffee stirrer (very narrow straw) in your mouth and inhale through it very slowly until you can no longer take in any more air. Hold the air for as long as you can, then remove the stirrer and exhale as slowly as you can (try counting to 10 for each stage). Do this exercise for 5 minutes a day to practice proper breathing and strengthen the muscles that control your lungs.

3. Care for your vocal instrument.

If you’ve read this far, you probably agree that vocal health is important. Consider choosing one or two of the following to protect and heal your vocal system:

  • Limit alcoholic, caffeinated, and carbonated drinks
  • Stop smoking
  • Keep your vocal cords lubricated with plenty of water (cool to warm is much better than icy or hot water)
  • Avoid coughing (yes, it really is possible!)
  • Avoid extended periods of whispering or shouting

Finally, remember to give your voice a rest whenever you start to note signs of vocal strain. Forcing yourself to speak in spite of warning signs like hoarseness or pain can result in polyps and permanent damage to the vocal cords.

These are the strategies that have helped me most. Do let me know if you try these and see any results, and feel free to add any of your own advice in the comments.

 

Presentations: 3 Things I Was Getting Wrong

Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to hear Guy Kawasaki speak on Enchantment to a small group of about 200 people in Dallas, Texas. Guy is so good at getting people to listen, most famously during his time at Apple, that companies like GM send him products like Corvettes hoping he will put in a good word.

Movie theater lighting lights the audience, not the speaker, oops!Guy Kawasaki speaks at the Angelika Theater in Dallas

Click here for a full one-hour video of his Enchantment speech. The fact that Guy gives away the presentation and slides, yet people still pay him to fly in and speak for 30 minutes on the same topic, shows he really practices what he preaches about providing great content and getting people to like you.

During his live chat in Dallas he gave several of tips for presentations. But I also noticed his use of a few presentation techniques that he didn’t mention, but worked extraordinarily well.

What he said was:

  1. No more than 10 slides. Minimum font size is 30 points.
  2. No more than 20 minutes long and number your points so people know how close you are to the end.
  3. Customize the introduction to show that you know where you are. Here in Dallas, he showed up wearing ostrich cowboy boots and told us how much he loved them and would like to see the factory.

But I found a goldmine of subtler techniques underneath the other things he said:

  1. “What the hell does this picture mean?” Everyone knows that high-definition, striking images help people stay engaged and remember your message. But the relationship to your point doesn’t always have to be obvious; at one point Guy pointed to a bizarre image of pantomime artists and asked the question in everyone’s mind – “What the hell?” He made us look forward to his explanation.
  2. “My presentation is not displaying properly. I could go over and fix it right now, but I’m not going to.” I have to admit that I’ve put audiences or classes through those awkward moments that stretch on for eternity while I search for the video that was supposed to play but didn’t. Guy, on the other hand, made a Windows joke and told us what was supposed to be on screen. He didn’t lose the audience’s attention for one second. Total control.
  3. “I have tinnitis in my ear and it’s nearly impossible for me to hear you if there is a lot of other noise. I’m sorry if you try to talk to me and I don’t hear you.” This was Guy’s simple response when the event organizer wanted to cut short the Q&A to move everyone from the quiet theater to the bar area, per the event program. Guy didn’t ask for anything, show one ruffled feather, or create tension. Instead, he gave information and let the organizer decide whether to end the Q&A, knowing this was the last chance for attendees to talk to Guy. Of course, the organizer let the Q&A run over.

Thanks to Social Media Club of Dallas for giving me the chance to learn from watching a true influencer (rare thing indeed) in action.

Note: As part of my Paperless Interpreter experiment, I took handwritten notes for this post using a Bamboo stylus on an iPad 2, using the Notability app. Full report on that part of the experience in a future post.