certification for healthcare interpreters, certification prep, court certification, health care interpreting, Interpreter Training, medical interpreting, oral exam preparation

Oral Exam Prep for Interpreters

get out your red pens, it's test prep time!
Get out your red pens, it’s test prep time!

In this post, I’ll tell you how I prepared my staff interpreters to take their oral exam for certification. This is the method I learned when prepping for my state court oral exam, and then we used this same method in some of my grad school courses. Here’s what you’ll need:

Texts: Dialogues (for consecutive) or monologues (for simultaneous), and audio recordings of the same dialogues (or monologues).

Recording device: You can download one free on your smartphone, or use a digital recorder. You can try http://www.vocaroo.com on your browser, or download Audacity to your computer.

Headphones: The ones that come with your phone are just fine.

Pens: At least two colors. Pencils will work too.

A buddy: Technically you can do this on your own, but you’ll appreciate the help and support of someone going through the same thing as you. One is great, and more than one is even better.

Start with one dialogue. If you can get a text with the audio already recorded, great.  Otherwise, you can take a text and record yourself reading it (or even better, have someone else do it for you). In any event, no matter how you accomplish this, you need text and audio of the same thing.

Here’s what you’re going to do: Pop in your headphones and listen to whatever audio you’ve chosen.  So, maybe you’ve got an audio file or CD on your laptop that you’re listening to. Whatever you’ve got is fine, you just need a separate recording device to record yourself interpreting.

Now that you’ve got your audio and headphones ready, get your recording device ready.  You’re going to play the audio (on the computer, for example), and then you’re going to record your interpretation (on your phone, for example).  So you’ve got two things going at once, playing the audio and recording your interpretation, which is exactly what you’re going to do when you take the exam.

Once you’re done with your interpretation, you’re going to listen to it (the sooner you can get over the initial anguish of hearing your own voice, the better) while you compare it to the written text of the original audio. You’re going to make notes of your errors: anything you omitted, added, or just got wrong. Once you’re finished with that, do it again, with the same material. Use a different colored pen or pencil for the second round, so you can see where you’re making the same mistakes twice. If it’s a particularly challenging piece, do it over again as many times as you need to. Don’t overdo it in one sitting, though. I’ve found that one practice, working for about a half hour a day is my max (or maybe a half hour in the AM and again in the PM for intense prep). Then you can spend some extra time looking up terminology and building your personal glossary.

Set goals: Now that you’ve got a baseline of where your weakness are, you can begin to set goals for yourself when you do this practice. For example, I found that I tend to omit or change the ends of longer sentences (others struggle with the beginning). That’s helpful information. That told me that I needed a strategy to overcome that. I worked on some short term memory strategies, like visualization, and a little note taking practice, which –take it from one who knows–is not something you want to try and develop on the fly in the middle of a test. With certain practice, I find that my terminology is weak. So, I can brush up ahead of time. This is why we practice, so we can discover these weaknesses before we take a test, and not during the test.  You set goals so that you can measure how you met them, rather than just listening to your interpretation and thinking, “That was awful.” That reaction is normal I think, but it’s not productive and it’s not going to help you understand where you need to focus your efforts. With goals, you can move past “That was awful” and get to the real work of improving your interpreting performance.

You can do this with simultaneous and consecutive practice. For materials, I like Holly Mikkelson’s texts (pictured at the top), and that’s just one of many you can find online. Connecting Cultures also has some good ones that I’ve used.

Don’t forget sight translation! Although there’s not much weight to your sight translation score, it’s a great vocabulary builder, and helps you engage some of the same skills you use in consecutive and simultaneous. Also, it’s so easy to find patient information in English online (or snag a brochure from the hospital) and then record yourself sight translating it into your non-English language.

If you do this even once, but especially if you do it over and over again, you will have a very clear idea of what you need to work on. It’s an eye-opening exercise, as it will reveal to you things you’d never know about your interpreting practice, unless you listen to yourself. After the first time, you’ll likely feel energized and want to do more!

Bonus tip: Schedule time each day to practice. Every night before bed, choose the content you’ll work with the next day. Pull everything up that you need on your computer, get out your practice log and your headset, so that it’s all ready for you the next day.

Do you have a favorite resource or method for test prep? Please share with everyone in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Oral Exam Prep for Interpreters”

  1. Thanks for the link – I hope it works. I have gone in circles on the NBCMI website for quite a while. It seems to be broken or in need of serious repair. I finally figured out that the only prep test I could find was a purchase of 30.00 and that 1) It is only the written portion of the exam (they do not make that clear) 2) you have a limit of ten times taking it within six months. Not to be entirely negative, they do offer valuable feedback on your weaknesses.
    I think they should make it clear that what they offer does not contain any dialogue interpretation practice which is precisely what I desperately need. In my opinion the cost is not worth it, IF you are very familiar with Ethics, modes of interpretation, choosing which role to take as an interpreter and anatomy (as I am) this is not helpful especially as there are only thirty questions. However if this type of practice is useful to you, especially if you are an English as second language professional it is worth it. Thanks for this great Blog!

    1. Hi Maria, Thanks for your comment–Glad to know you enjoy the blog! Sorry to hear you’ve been having trouble with NBCMI’s website. As far as practice dialogues, aside from the book I mention in this post, you might check out International Language Services’ books of dialogues. At first glance, they’re pricey, but they take a lot of work to develop and they are excellent–I have a couple myself. And when you consider how much they could help you with test prep, it’s worth it to pass that oral exam on the first try! You can use the dialogues as I suggest in the post–with a practice partner, or you can record them and then play them back and practice by yourself. You can find the books here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/international-language-services/healthcare-interpreting-practice-dialogues-english-spanish/paperback/product-22409870.html

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