Interview with Sophie Llewellyn Smith

Sophie Llewellyn Smith is a professional conference interpreter working from the French, German and Greek languages at the EU institutions. She is an experienced interpreter trainer and founder of the Speechpool project.

This summer the Lithuanian Association of Conference Interpreters invited Sophie to give an intensive English retour training seminar in Vilnius, which gave us an excellent opportunity to talk with Sophie about her profession, origins of the Speechpool website, the interpreting profession and its future, and daily lives and hobbies of conference interpreters.  

By the Association members Viktorija and Alina  

Viktorija: First of all, could you please tell us about yourself? We know that you are a professional conference interpreter, interpreter trainer, and the founder of the Speechpool project. Could you please tell us a bit more about your profession?

Sophie: That is, how I started?

Viktorija: Yes, how did you start?

Sophie: I grew up bilingual. English-French. And so I always had an interest in languages. My father was a diplomat, so I travelled quite a lot when I was a child. I lived in Paris as a young child; I lived in Moscow until the age of three, but sadly, never remembered any Russian. And I lived in Greece from the ages of 8 to 12. So I always had an interest in languages. I studied German at school, and then I studied Greek at university, Modern Greek.

In my last year at university, during the Easter Holidays, my parents sat me down (they were living in Poland at the time) and said, what are you going to do with your life, Sophie? I didn’t really have a very good idea of what I was going to do with my life, but as someone who was studying languages in the UK, in those days I thought my only options were interpreting, translation or teaching. So I said, rather vaguely, oh, I don’t know, maybe I could be an interpreter because I was studying languages. Of which my father said, I think you should be a journalist or a lawyer, because you are very argumentative. I thought this was charming! But he said, right, if you want to be an interpreter, we know an interpreter, and so you can have tea with her tomorrow.

He set up a meeting between me and this interpreter, who had been a staff member at the Commission. And she told me about the famous interpreting stage, which still existed in those days, and how you could train as an interpreter in Brussels. So I sent in an application form. And I got a response, which was, we are considering your file, which I assumed meant, nothing is going to happen and we are not interested in you. So I made other arrangements to go off and improve my Greek by becoming a walking guide in the Greek mountains. So I was all set up for the year after I had left university.

Just as I was about to go to Athens, in fact, I was already in Athens preparing to teaching English as a foreign language, when I got a phone call from the Commission, calling me for an aptitude test. And so I went off to Brussels, I did the aptitude test, and the rest, as they say, is history. I passed the test, I did the stage, and in those days the deal was that if you pass the last exam of the stage, you got a temporary contract. So that’s how I became a conference interpreter. Since then I’ve alternated between being a staff member at the Commission and being a freelance interpreter based in the UK. And running multiple website projects, such as Speechpool.

Viktorija: Could you tell us a bit more about this project?

Sophie: Speechpool? Well Speechpool is my baby. I love and hate it probably in equal measure. And it came about from the days when I was training students at Leeds University. I’m thinking back now… probably the idea first came to me in 2010 or 2011.

What was happening was that we were encouraging our students to work together outside of the class, which they did, and we had a very committed group that year. And they started preparing speeches for each other in various languages, and recording audio versions and file sharing those audio versions on a free website, so that they could all access the files and work together.

I thought, well, this is a good idea, but what we need is a greater range of source languages because my students need speeches in Portuguese but we don’t have a Portuguese native speaker on the course. Or they need speeches in Greek but we don’t have any Greek A-language students. So what I should do is take this idea and run with it and turn it into a massive, global… you can see I am a bit of a megalomaniac.

So that was the idea I had, and I went and talked to my boss at the time, Svetlana Carsten, about the idea, which she supported in principle but luckily, she also found a way to support it financially. Although I was at the point where I was going to pay myself to have a website built because I really wanted to make it happen. But luckily in that initial stage I had some funding from an organisation in the UK called the National Network for Interpreting. And that allowed us to hire a web developer who built a website. Obviously, I gave him all the input, he wasn’t an interpreter, so I had to explain exactly what I wanted and how I wanted it to work, how the search function should work, the different languages, etc. Looking back on it, there are things that I would certainly change, and I’ll come back to that in a minute. So that’s how the site was built.

I was very fortunate to be able to persuade ex-students of mine, mostly, to translate the text of the website into various languages. So that there’s a Lithuanian page, a German page, a Greek page, etc. And that was all done very kindly on a voluntary basis by mostly ex-students of mine, or acquaintances – I basically twisted their arm. [Laughs]

It is a popular and well-used site. It has strengths and weaknesses, I wish I had more time to address the weaknesses. But Speechpool is something that I do in my free time (if you can call it that) around interpreting, translation, teaching, other web projects and having two young children. So I don’t have a lot of time. [Laughs] So I can never do as much on it as I would like to.

What’s happening this year, is I’m having the whole site overhauled and re-designed specifically to address some of the weaknesses, the things that I dislike about the site, the fact that not many people upload material, the fact that sometimes the quality of the audio is poor because people are just recording themselves on their mobile phones – various issues like that. The fact that there’s video but no audio, whereas some people say, I don’t want my face on the internet but I have audio files that I would be happy to share.

So there are many things that I would like to change and I’ve decided to do that this year, and the whole site is now with the web developer who, again, on my instructions, is making very radical changes to the site. The most radical change is that it won’t be free anymore in the future. Or at least it won’t be free for everybody. And I think that’s the only way I can keep running it because I don’t have a lot of time, and improve its quality, you know, maintain some quality on the site.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I think everybody should be forking out huge amounts of money to use the site, because I developed it for students and I think it’s a valuable resource for students. But I just can’t keep running it on this basis. If you cost my time and my expenses in web hosting, software and web development, I would say Speechpool costs me personally, depending on the year, between two and ten thousand euros a year. And that comes out of my own pocket. [Laughs] Much as I want to support the profession, and I see this as my own contribution to the profession, it’s not very sustainable for me to keep doing that. But rather than closing it down completely, I’ve tried to find a solution that would be reasonably fair to me and to the users. So the way that I thought of doing that is that it would become a membership site, and there will be a membership fee, but there will be ways to get a discount on that fee or not have to pay it.

Specifically, if universities are interested in cooperating with me on Speechpool, by setting an assignment to their students such that the students must upload two speeches to Speechpool and then the tutor checks on that, so that there is a quality control, then all the students and the trainers of that university will be able to have free access to the site. So that is just one example of a way in which people will keep being able to access it for free. I could go on about that Speechpool forever, so I’m deliberately stopping. [Laughs]

Viktorija: It’s very interesting, so please, go on!

Sophie: Well; what else can I tell you? Some of the structure of the site will change. So it won’t be in separate language pages anymore. If it works the way I hope it will work, it will all be through one centralized portal and you will search for speeches by language, by keyword and hopefully also with some other search criteria that I think are very valuable. Whether others will agree with that, remains to be seen.

One of the things I think is very interesting is if you are training a particular skill, whether you are trying to improve your retour or add another language or whatever, is to know what the difficulties in the speech are. You know, do you want to train with fast speeches, do you want something highly technical, so one of the search criteria will be challenges in the speech, and you will be able to search in that way, which I don’t think is a facility that exists in other speech banks. And I think that will be incredibly useful for trainers as well to select the speeches that they want to use in class or set as homework to their students.

Alina: So it’s a really good idea.

Sophie: I’m full of ideas! [Laughs] So in terms of the speech bank itself, there will be some changes like that, which I hope will improve the usability and the value of the speech bank. But the other thing that I want to do with Speechpool is turn it more into a hub for interpreters and trainers. So I want interpreters to be able to go there and look for practice groups in their country, for example, or in their city, or look for interpreter-related events, such as conferences and training days.

Alina: So there’ll be a news section, right?

Sophie: There will be a search function, hopefully based on a map with pins, what is happening in the interpreting world.

Viktorija: Very global!

Sophie: Very global! So you can see, as I said earlier, I am totally megalomaniac, I’m very ambitious with all I want to do with it, and this year I’m spending a huge amount of money on it. But I want to turn it into something quite different from what it is now. So that, I mean, in Lithuania that’s perhaps different because you have one university and one set of [interpreting] students, but in a country like Germany let’s say, where there are several courses, let’s say you are an interpreter who wants to get together with others and practice, you will be able to search for practice groups, for communities of practice and do that kind of thing.

Alina: But to do that, you are dependent on other universities that should cooperate with you, right?

Sophie: To do that search function, I’ll be dependent on people who run such groups, getting in touch and uploading their information to the site and saying, here we are, world. Perhaps you know about the IBPG Group in Brussels, the Interpreters in Brussels Practice Group, which has grown enormously, and is run by, or was started by young graduates who started it to keep working on their skills. Now there’s a thousand members on Facebook, well, I don’t know how many, maybe that’s an exaggeration but, it’s grown tremendously; that’s the kind of group that I would see getting in touch with Speechpool, and I can give them a platform to reach more people because Speechpool’s reach is pretty large. I have users throughout the world from the furthest reaches of Asia to Canada to South Africa. And that’s something that I want to make available, that reach and that platform, I’m not sure how many other platforms are out there that have that.

That’s one thing that I want to put on Speechpool, and another thing that I think would be very useful, but again, it will depend on cooperation and the willingness of the community out there, is to have a private section for trainers on Speechpool that students won’t be able to access. I think that would be a very valuable resource for trainers to find material on there that they’ll know the students haven’t seen and that is perhaps tailored to particular training purposes. And in that training section I’m planning to have a forum, so that the trainers can discuss matters together.

So there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And at the moment the web developer, who is in Greece, is working on all of that. Whether he can make it to come to pass aligned with the vision in my mind is something quite different. To me, it’s extremely clear in my mind, even how I want it to look, and how I want the search functions to look. But with some of those things he said, but we can’t do it like that, or, technically that’s very difficult, or, we can do it but that’s really expensive. So obviously there are compromises to be made as well. But the web building is on the way. Every time I speak to him, he says, it will take two or three months, and it’s already been a year or something. But I think we are getting there.

But with that degree of investment on my part I have no choice but to make it a membership site. Now, the risk is, nobody joins up, nobody pays the money, in that case, what can I say, nobody pays for it now either, so in a way I haven’t lost anything except this big investment that I’m making. But I would rather try it like that, and then I will be able to offer more customer service because at the moment, if there is a problem with the audio – there’s a lot of students who upload duplicate files, for example, because they get the upload process wrong, and then there’s loads of links that don’t work – it’s quite annoying for the user, and all of that will disappear with the new version of Speechpool.

So I’m hoping it will allow me to offer more customer service and more value for the small amounts of money that I am planning to ask. You know, I’m not going to ask people for a hundred euros a month. [Laughs] It will be a price of two coffees or something. I see that as quite reasonable. Now, I also put out a survey and said, how much would you be willing to pay, and plenty of people answered, nothing, I can get the same material elsewhere. Or, I think it would be great if you could continue running it for free for students, to which my only response can be, it looks free to you, but it’s not free at all, it’s just I am the only one paying for it. I’ve had some donations and I am very grateful to them, but basically, it’s not free. I paid. [Laughs]

Alina: You talked about setting up a discussion group or a forum. Would it be that an interpreter working in Canada would get together with an interpreter working in Brussels on this platform and train or provide speeches and feedback on line in real time?

Sophie: No, it’s not, the forum is designed not for training but for discussion, so it will have discussion threads. You know, if you want to talk about a particular aspect of training, etc. But it may well be that apart from a place where interpreters can publicize groups or events, for example, the BarCamp that took place recently in Germany, there was a nice event, it may also be that I make it possible for the people to advertise services as an interpreting coach. So that you could look for a coach.

Alina: So if you train to improve your retour or add another language, it would be great to find somebody on Speechpool to provide speech material or feedback for you.

Sophie: Now that’s something you can already do, to some extent, on InterpretimeBank. I don’t know if you have heard of this initiative. So InterpretimeBank is actually a group of young interpreting graduates who set up this platform, and initially it was a simple thing on Google Hangouts. But there they have also overhauled it and turned it into a proper web site with a membership fee. And the idea is that you can look for a practice partner and swap your time with them. And I’m not proposing to do exactly the same thing. InterpretimeBank has a USP, a unique selling point, which I’m not looking to duplicate.

But certainly on Speechpool I want to make it possible for interpreters just to connect with other interpreters, with someone that they would like to practice with, with a coach. You know, if it works the way I want it to, it could be a real hub for interpreters. We’ll see. [Laughs]

Viktorija: You have mentioned that it will cover criss-crossing Asia to Africa to Canada, so how many languages will there be, all the possible languages in the world?

Sophie: Whatever language you want! And in fact, again, if it works in the long term, it will also have sign language interpreting on there. Because one of the things I’m doing in the overhaul, is opening up to dialogue material in bilingual scenarios. Now, technically that’s difficult to do because how do you manage material in two languages, how do you work out a search function for that, and how do you do the material, to which the answer is, probably the interpreter has to pause. You know, the interpreters working both ways, say English-Lithuanian, they pause after English, they interpret, and then they listen to the Lithuanian, pause it… So technically it’s not completely straightforward but it seems that there is demand for community-style material, or public service interpreting-style material, so I want to make that possible.

Now, how much it will be used in practice or how much material will be uploaded by the interpreters, I can’t predict. In the same way that the sign language interpreting – some sign language interpreters have said to me, we desperately need more material, please make a platform that will host it. And others have said to me, we don’t need that because there are lots of TED talks and we can just use that to practice our interpreting. So it depends who you talk to. But you can see I am being very maximalist in my approach. The approach is, I want to make things possible, and then it’s really up to the people out there to use what I make, and I can’t force them to use it. That’s one of frustrations of Speechpool. There’s a Japanese page on Speechpool, and no Japanese speeches…

Alina: Very few Lithuanian speeches!

Sophie: Very few Lithuanian speeches, and yet almost everybody is going to be training with the retour, or need a retour, therefore almost everybody needs material in Lithuanian in order to practice it, but there doesn’t seem to be that mentality of, I can upload speeches in Lithuanian, and then next year students will use them. And that’s the mentality that I was looking for and hoping for.

But I can see that just hoping is not enough and so there may have to be a bit of carrot and stick with the fee and the fact that if universities set homework to their students that they won’t have to pay the fee, or if students upload two speeches a month, or whatever it is set at, they will also get that month for free. And I’m hoping that that will encourage the good balance between uploads and the people who use it. Because it is used a lot. [Laughs] But it is always the same people who upload.

Alina: But since I am a trainer myself, taking a step further, isn’t you ambition that in the future, for example, interpreters will be self-taught and they will just train using websites and there will be no need for interpreting schools?

Sophie: I don’t think that is my ambition. And much as I appreciate what technology has brought us, I think there’s a real place for a face-to-face training. I certainly don’t think you can learn to interpret from a website that just has text instructions or even that just shows you pictures of examples. Because I think you need the feedback from a real person. Now you could argue that technological platforms could replace face-to-face feedback between you and me as we’ve done today, with Skype practice. So you can get some way towards that. But entirely self-taught interpreters I don’t think will be the norm and I hope won’t be the norm, if you are looking for the highest quality interpreting.

Viktorija: Also, looking at the future of the interpreting profession, what do you think about the current trends in the European Union? We’ve probably observed that with the older booths, that currently they have staff and they probably no longer need as many freelance interpreters. And the same is now happening with the new booths like Lithuanian, they are currently filling in all the positions for the staff, and the demand for the freelances is diminishing drastically. So what do you think about producing new interpreters every year, is that needed?

Sophie: Is it needed, is it sustainable? That’s a very difficult subject. And I get taken to task by colleagues, usually freelance colleagues, who say to me, but why are you training young people? You know, you are saturating the market, they are taking our jobs, why are you doing it? And that’s a very difficult question. I think you also have to bear in mind that you are talking to someone who lives in the UK and who is going through the whole Brexit trauma at the moment. So in two or three years perhaps there will be no prospect of a staff job in the English booth for young graduates. On the plus side, the freelance option will still exist because you can be a freelancer from any nationality. So that isn’t going to disappear, the ability to be a freelancer for the European institutions, even if you’re British. God forbid, you know, the pariahs, the lepers of Europe! [Laughs]

Viktorija: But maybe you will change this decision?

Sophie: We can all hope that we’ll wake up and it will just all have been a dream, like a TV series you watch, where it was all a terrible dream.

On the subject of demand. Look, if I’m completely honest, I think five years or so ago, the institutions got it wrong for certainly us in the UK, for the English booth, because there was a period when they came to all the interpreting schools and said, we desperately desperately need you in Brussels. The streets of Brussels are paved with gold, all our booth is ageing and everyone retires, and we desperately need you, come to Brussels. And for a while, a lot of young graduates did.

But actually, the market did become a bit saturated, with a lot of young people with two languages. And then the number of interpreter days fell, the demand fell, this wave of retirements hasn’t happened yet. And I think it did create a logjam in Brussels, in the English booth.

But from what I hear of the latest trends on interpreter numbers for next year, in our booth, our numbers are picking up a little bit. And also this famous wave of retirements that we heard so much about five years ago, or seven years ago, is actually really happening now. So this year in our booth, I think, five people have just retired, and there are going to be three more next year retiring, people with lots of languages in their language combination because they’ve been around for a long time, and above all, people with German in their language combination. So I think actually the situation is easing a little bit for the English booth next year, which will be welcome news for some.

Now, the other argument for why we keep training, there’s no prospect for young people, etc., is, if we don’t train anybody, in ten years there won’t be anybody. So there’s still an argument, I think, for nurturing talent.

But I think you have to be very careful with two things. From the employer’s side, from the institutions’ side, I think they have to be very clear to these young people about language profiles and how much work they can expect. And I think from the university side, the people who run the courses have to be very transparent with applicants about what the prospects are for work afterwards.

Personally, I’m not a member of staff at any of the universities where I teach, but I think there needs to be a lot of transparency about the fact that today young interpreting graduates have to be more versatile than in the past. Because when I began interpreting, I could make a living just from freelancing in Brussels. Now you can’t really do that. You have to do some translation, or some subtitling, or some teaching, some voice-over work, something else, but especially when you’re starting out, it’s virtually impossible to only make ends meet from freelance interpreting, and certainly if you’ve got French and Spanish or something in the English booth. So I think we need to be really honest with students and say, you’ve got to have other strings to your bow, and certainly if you pass a test for the institutions, you’re going to have to add a third language very quickly if you hope to get the work.

But there are people who are getting the work, who’ve added a third and fourth language very quickly, who’ve worked really hard. I also think today’s graduates are probably more savvy interpreters than we were, better at using technology, better at researching the topics and the meetings, they have access to more material, but they also know that they need to do more on that front because the meetings are more technical than when I started 20 years ago. [Laughs]

Viktorija: And in general, do you think there are any skills that an interpreter has to have at the outset, or is it possible to develop these skills? Or maybe an interpreter needs to have certain personality traits in order to choose this profession?

Sophie: I think interpreting can accommodate many different personality types. I think you can see that in the English booth, and I guess in the Lithuanian booth as well. You know, you might picture interpreters as being outgoing people who are very chatty and communicative. In my experience, that’s not necessarily true. We have colleagues in the English booth who are introverts, who are quite quiet, who are quite nerdy, who are very academic, who… whatever. I think it can accommodate many personality types. And that’s one of the pleasures of interpreting. That you work with lots of different people in the booth and you have a different vibe and a different chemistry in the booth with your different colleagues.

Interpreter skills or aptitudes that an interpreter must have… I think it’s useful to distinguish between the ones that are very valuable but can be acquired or can be improved versus the ones that are almost sine qua non.

If you are going to be able to train as an interpreter quickly, i. e. in England in one year, in most other countries, two years, on a master’s course, for me the biggest one of those is analytical skills. Because if people come on to interpreting courses even with quite weak language skills, you can work on that. Over a period of years even, over two, three, four years you can improve your C-languages. If people come with very poor background knowledge – I was a total ignoramus when I trained as an interpreter aged 22, having studied languages and never having read a newspaper at university. You can work on background knowledge, you can listen to the news, and you can read the papers. If you’re lacking in analytical skills, that is something that I have found very difficult to train in the space of one year. So for me that’s probably the biggest one. And if you are screening students or running interviews or whatever, I would look for that probably as my number one.

Then I’d be looking of use of mother tongue because although you can work on your mother tongue and can improve it, in the space of one year it can be a difficult thing to do. If you don’t have that linguistic awareness in your 20s, that your mother tongue isn’t very impressive, or your register is poor, or your vocabulary is lacking, that can be very difficult to work on in one year. I’m not saying it’s impossible.

But most things are fixable, really. Then it becomes a matter of in what time frame they are fixable. Can you do it in time to pass your end of year exams, can you do it in time to pass the accreditation test?

Viktorija: That’s why you need these resources like Speechpool, to work on your own!

Alina: I have a question about C languages. Of course, we, working in the Lithuanian booth, usually have to pass an accreditation test with a retour, also with a retour and one, English or French, C-language. And then we see colleagues working from 5 or 6 different languages. Do you think it’s really feasible to work properly from 5 or 6 different languages? Or how many languages, do you think, is it feasible to have for an interpreter?

Sophie: How far can you go with it? Yeah, I’ve seen interpreters with 8 or 9 languages.

Alina: And were they all equally good?

Sophie: Well, if they were all equally good, that’s not for me to judge because I don’t have those languages, I have a very modest three languages. And I’ve never had any ambitions to add any more. I’m more interested in adding the retour than in adding more and more languages. Partly, because I like to fill my time with so many other things!

I think the answer is, it is possible to work very well from 5, 6, 7 languages. My guess is, if you ask those interpreters, they would identify one or two that is weaker than the others, not too weak to work from but weaker, and often it’s the last one to be added. But some of our most senior interpreters and the ones that I have the greatest respect for in the English booth have massive language combinations. I admire them tremendously because I know for myself that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Because it takes time and effort to maintain the languages. That’s the trouble for me that I wouldn’t be able to put in that time to maintain 6 or 7 languages. So that’s one of the issues.

I can remember years ago, when I was a young interpreter going on mission with a colleague from the German booth, who I knew was working on her Greek, and Greek is one of the languages in my language combination, so as a way of making small talk, I said to her, and how is your Greek getting on? And she said, fine, I’m doing my three hours homework every night! Literally. So then I thought, okay, this is how she added – I can’t remember if Greek was her fourth or fifth language – and since then she has added at least two or three more, including, I think, Czech and other, difficult, time-consuming Central European languages.

For some people it’s a passion, isn’t it? Languages are their passion and their pastime. I love languages but it’s not my passion in that way, I don’t spend three hours a day working on my languages. So I think it is possible but I think you have to have a particular mindset and passion, not to say obsession, with adding more and more languages. I’d be more likely to bake more and more cakes or build more and more websites or, you know, we all have our thing. And although I love languages, I cannot spend three hours a day.

Viktorija: You’ve mentioned your favourite pastime, so could you tell us a little bit more about your hobby of cooking, making cakes?

Sophie: I’ve had many hobbies over the years. But cooking and baking are probably the most perennial ones because you always need to eat, don’t you? I also love singing. When I can, I take singing lessons and I’ve sung in choirs in my time. I like trekking, and some years ago I trekked the whole length of Greece from North to South. But there are different phases in one’s life, and with young children, hiking for 6 weeks becomes less feasible. So the cooking and baking stays because we have to eat.

Baking, look, I am a traditional English style baker, and I make English style cakes. Chocolate cakes and lemon drizzle cakes and carrot cakes. And at the moment, because my children are young and there’s a lot of school events and village events, I end up baking for those. But I also like fancy cake decoration, which is, I don’t know, maybe something peculiar to the UK and the US. I think in other countries they don’t do this kind of fancy decoration with fondant icing that you make into shapes, or with the different coloured icings, or the way you make a cake look like something else, like a bowl of pasta or a tree stump or something. I mean, other nationalities think we are bonkers to do this. Because they think the cake doesn’t taste good, it’s just all for show, and it’s not actually a nice cake. I always make sure the cake inside tastes good as well.

So I decorate cakes when I have time, which tends to be for my children’s birthdays. And I should say that this is totally self-inflicted. Because years ago, when my son was very little, and his birthday was coming up, I thought, aha, an excuse to make a special cake. And I said, Nicolas, what kind of cake would you like for your birthday? Would you like (he was three at the time), would you like a pirate cake, would you like a dinosaur cake, would you like a train? (I was picturing little sweeties in the train carriages). And he just went, Mummy, I would like a cake that is round! [Laughs] The child has no ambition! I was devastated with this “I want a cake that is round!” I said, you’re sure that you don’t want a something or what’s it, you know. So in the end I made him little round cupcakes because he had asked for a round cake, so I made it like cupcakes, and I made this massive red and white rocket cake inspired by Tintin, the one where Tintin goes to the moon, and I painted the background in edible paints and made this 3D rocket. And that was the end of me, really, because in the years after that he would start saying things like, I want a movable disco light for my birthday, I want fireworks that actually go off for my birthday cake! [Laughs]

So it’s completely self-inflicted. But now, I think, it’s a bit like being a savvy interpreter, I’m a savvier baker because I know what I can do in a relatively short time. Gone are the days where I’d force my husband to stay up till 4 am to help me with a crazy cake. We can’t do that now. So I look for things that I can do, in a few hours.

Viktorija: But you also mentioned earlier that you run a Facebook page devoted to gourmets?

Sophie: I don’t run that page; I am a member of this Facebook page. So if you are a translator, but they very kindly let in interpreters as well, there is a Facebook page called Foodie Translators for foodie interpreters and translators who like good food, who like experimenting with food, who like cooking, and so if you ask to join Foodie Translators, you will see photos of the most delicious concoctions.

And perhaps I should mention while I’m here actually the website Cookbook run by Translators without Borders. Some of you may have worked with that organisation which provides volunteer translations for NGOs that work, for example, with refugees. Anyway, they have a website (, which has recipes contributed by translators. That’s quite fun because some of them are Syrian, some of them are Italian, some of them are French; and mouthwatering photos. You can waste a lot of time looking at all these recipes on line instead of doing your translations!

Alina: And the last question, how do you deal with stress? What would be your tip for future interpreters?

Sophie: There is too much to say! So rather than giving you a roundup of all possible stress-management techniques that you could use, for me, probably the most important thing is to say, ‘know thyself’, which is probably Socrates, it’s one of those ancient Greek philosophers: understand what YOUR triggers are and what makes YOU stressed, and look for the specific solutions that will help YOU. Because I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to stress. There is something that works for one person, it doesn’t work at all for another person.

Viktorija: Thank you so much!

Sophie: Thank you!

(The audio recording transcribed and edited by Viktorija Bylaitė)







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