Are you listening correctly?

“There are many ways of listening to a speech. We may listen to a voice, to its music, its color, consider its beauty or harshness, or else we may single out an accent and try to guess at the origin or cultural background of a speaker”

For interpreting, the type of listening we employ has to be an entirely different one, since it is crucial to extract meaning from the uttered words.

While it sounds perfectly logical, this passage in Danica Seleskovitch’s “Teaching Conference Interpreting”* oddly resonated with me – maybe because it explains a problem I have encountered various times without being able to pinpoint it!

Language-enthusiastic interpreting students might focus too much on HOW something is being said, instead of paying attention to WHAT is being said:

“Students of interpretation have often been trained previously in translating languages; they frequently have a way of listening that is therefore difficult to get rid of: they listen to language, to words, instead of trying to understand what a speaker has in mind when uttering a word sequence.”

Having read this sentence, I wanted to burst into affirmations!

How often have I admired the steady rumble of a broad American accent, traced the delicate, metaphoric loops produced by an Italian native speaker, or listened to Russian proverbs being artistically incorporated into an otherwise mundane discourse: all without paying too much attention to what was being said.

Ideally, the interpreter would wait, pen poised, for the first meaningful unit to be uttered like a predator lurking for prey!


*Seleskovich Danica (1999) The Teaching of Conference Interpretation in the Course of the Last 50 Years. Interpreting 4 (1), 55-66.


Unknown language adventures: Hungarian

“Translators are nomadic figures inhabiting spaces between cultures” – Cronin 2000: 104

The four days I spent in Budapest for my friend’s graduation turned out to be a most memorable multilingual experience.

It was especially interesting to see how much it differed from my Croatian adventure.

Of course, I was equally proud of myself when I mastered the pronunciation of „Köszönom!“ or the much hipper version my friend taught me: „Kös bro!“.

Yet I could not help but feel intimidated by the incredibly long and complicated Hungarian words that had nothing in common with the Germanic, Romance or Slavic word stems I am familiar with.

The seemingly unpronounceable accumulations of letters discouraged me from reading any street signs aloud, (which might have come as a relieve to my travel companions), I only dared to cautiously whisper some of the words that seemed tame: „tej“ (milk), „vìz“ (water), „kávé“ (coffee).

But, as complicated the Hungarian language and its underlying grammar seemed to me, as comfortable did I feel alongside my many multilingual companions. Not only did they make me feel at home immediately in the very special city of Budapest, but they also excelled both as ad hoc interpreters, and as case studies!

Everywhere we went I admired their skillful „natural“ interpretations: at the restaurant, the ticket counter, the grocery store and at various Austro-Hungarian family gatherings.

In a large group of Austrians, Hungarians and Austro-Hungarians, the biliguals definitely were the lucky ones; and the ones we monolinguals were in dire need of!

It was fascinating at which incredible speed they would switch back and forth between Hungarian and perfect German, how casually they veered in and out of conversations, as the „nomadic figures inhabiting spaces between cultures“* they were.

Yet it was almost equally interesting to see how important a certain degree of nonchalance was in this situation:  as one of the monolinguals you don’t have to understand every single word that has been said. Just lean back from time to time, listen to the lively, incomprehensible chatter and enjoy the show!

All in all, there has never been a better motivator to keep improving my working languages in order to become as fluent and comfortable in all of them as my favourite Austro-Hungarian ad-hoc interpreters 🙂


*CRONIN Michael, Across the Lines. Travel, Language and Translation, University Press, Cork 2000, p.104.

Trying something new...

… translating from Portuguese into Italian!

In the course of this month I developed a great interest in the Portuguese language.

I am not only ravished by the similarities between this beautiful language and Italian – it is primarily the pronunciation that intrigues me, as it seems to be the magical combination of French, Spanish and Italian pronunciation patterns.

In order to further nurture my obsession with Portuguese (and to be able to improve my comprehension of the language) I decided to translate this article about the Brazilian portuguese into Italian.

I learnt a lot translating the text into Italian and it makes me very happy to have created the Portuguese version’s congenial sister! 🙂

Check out the Italian version of this post to have a look at my translation!


Second semester wisdom

What has my second semester as an interpreting student taught me so far?

  • Never forget your earphones

Leave your glasses under the bed, run out the door with mismatched socks and leave your precooked lunch in the fridge to ist own destiny – but you cannot forget your earphones.

Be it a podcast, a youtube video, a political speech or a recording of your own voice: as long as you can plug them into your phone, a tablet or computer, earphones are an interpreting student’s best friends as they help you improve on the go and in every little break you might want to use effectively.

  • Acknowledge the essentiality of the notepad

While earphones help you practise and improve, a notepad facilitates you doing your job. More than once have I expected 90 minutes of chuchotage and did not take a notepad with me which turned out as a big mistake when chuchotage turned into classic consecutive. You will always want to note something down: feedback to your fellow students, numbers and figures while interpreting simultaneously, classical consecutive notes or little kitty faces to conquer your nervousness.

  • Ditch the library

Don’t get me wrong, the library is still a good guess if you are looking for me – but as an interpreting student, your voice becomes your most precious asset and it wants to be trained! There has never been an excuse as valid to leave university early … to practise at home, of course! 😉

  • Never stop over-analyzing

As tempting as it may be to interpret text after text after text – it may make more sense to focus on one particular speech, record your interpretation and analyze it. Write down all errors and odd expressions and correct them on paper, then try again and again until you are satisfied with your preformance.

My 5 most effective language exercises

Warning: they are intense (but hard work always pays off!)

In this post I would like to share 5 highly effective exercises with you. Each of them is focused on one or two specific abilities. Have fun!

1. Listening comprehension and immersion:

All you can binge watch

Who would have thought that binge watching a show or youtube channel could be so productive? I have found it is a rather foolproof way to infiltrate your brain with your foreign language of choice. At one point, I might or might not have watched a substantial part of season 1 of The Man in the High Castle in one sitting. Not only did I dream exclusively in English for what remained of the night – my head was positively buzzing with various English and Japanese accents and expressions. I guess I just let my CPE score speak for itself! 🙂

2. Orthography and listening comprehension:

Transcribe a speech/a video/a podcast

It surprises me every time how highly beneficial this exercise is – and you can do it whenever and wherever you have time: hardly any equipment needed! It might seem tedious and exhausting at first, but it is basically a puzzle you try to complete. It will introduce you to new vocabulary, sharpen up your listening comprehension and – at least if you are a Russian learner like me –  make  you question  your knowledge of orthography yet again!

3. Speaking:

Record yourself

This particular exercise is highly effective for various reasons. First off, I feel like the recording part creates just a little bit of tension, which will not only make you more aware of grammatical errors, but also more stress-resistant if you engage in this activity frequently. Secondly, you will be able to improve your pronunciation if you compare the recording to that of a native speaker. Thirdly, you will be able to look back on your recordings in the future and be proud of your progress.

4. Reading comprehension and grammar:


This should probably be my favourite exercise – and I do enjoy it very much indeed! Pick any text in your foreign language you would like to understand extensively and translate it into your native language. Just think of all the amazing new structures, idiomatic expressions and translation strategies you are about to discover. You will understand why translation is called the most thorough way of reading after all!

5. Writing:

Write an essay

This exercise will teach you how to structure your speech, it will transform your passive knowledge into active and will challenge your range of vocabulary. Bonus points if you choose a rather difficult topic: I usually find the initially very challenging essays to be the most beneficial!