| by Sierra Abukins

News Stories

Interpretation students
Interpretation students practice their skills on a guided tour of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in fall 2023.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is especially true for aspiring interpreters.

“Translation and interpretation is all about skills,” says interpreter Dmitry Buzadzhi, who co-teaches the Institute’s interpretation practicum course. “There’s an element of knowledge, certain theories, best practices, tricks, and strategies, but a lot of it is building your skills—like playing a musical instrument or playing a sport. Practicum should be the bridge between the classroom and the workplace.”

Each week, second-year translation and interpretation students head out into the field to put their skills to the test at locations all around Monterey such as a chocolate factory, a plant nursery, a film festival, and at countless events.

Student Molly Wu said the Monterey Bay Aquarium was her most memorable experience.

“The visit proved to be an exercise in adaptability as I had to constantly adjust my stance to navigate through the crowds without obstructing the view of others and keeping up with the whole team, all while managing multiple devices,” says Wu. 

Students practice both consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, in person and remote, as well as chuchotage, where the interpreter whispers into the ear of the client. They also do liaison interpreting, which is used when accompanying small groups or delegations.

“This experience is invaluable,” says Wu.

“No matter how prepared you feel for an assignment, there is always something that comes up unexpectedly,” says Emmeline Startt, who graduated in spring 2024. “The class helped us learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable, and how to adapt on our feet.”

Middlebury Institute is wired to provide lots of practice for interpretation students. Besides four interpretation classrooms with booths, three event spaces on campus have interpretation booths. Students also hold Fall Forum every year, which provides all of the scenarios one would encounter at a large conference.

One of Buzadzhi’s favorite practice sites to date was a tour of the waste management district in Marina.

“There’s the fairly technical content of the tour, then you’re in a loud place and need to know where to stand to hear the guide and make sure your delegates can hear,” says Buzadzhi. “You’re in a smelly, dusty place and dealing with distractions.”

The class helped us learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable, and how to adapt on our feet.
— Emmeline Startt

Students practicing in the field quickly learn the dos and don’ts of the business, said Buzadzhi. Comfortable shoes are a must. Large notebooks and unwieldy bags? Leave them at home.

“Part of the experience is learning to work together. Interpreters don’t work alone—they rely on colleagues,” says Buzadzhi.

Interpreters generally switch off every 15 minutes and often jam two people into a very small booth.

“We learned so much about booth etiquette and being a good booth partner,” says Emmeline Smartt and Sarahi Juarez.

The pair had the opportunity to interpret for the International Federation of Translators (FIT) North America NextGen Conference 2023, hosted on campus. Beside interpreting for professional interpreters, they had to use relay, where the interpreter listens to the source language speaker and renders the message into a language common to all the other interpreters.

“There was lots of pressure, but it was also very rewarding, on top of being an interesting and important topic: Indigenous Language Interpreting,” they shared.

The practicum course includes students studying Chinese, Spanish, Russian, French, and Japanese.

“We gained a lot of experience taking relay from other students and working with our classmates from other language programs,” says Juarez.

The ultimate goal is to prepare students for what they will encounter on the job.

“It’s best to have this experience when you’re still learning. By the time you graduate and start going to real assignments, you’ve done this before. It’s not your first time,” says Buzadzhi.

For More Information

Translation and Interpretation