• Twitter
  • LinkedIn

MATTHEW PERRET

 

It’s a huge pleasure to have you with us, Matthew! We are sure that most of our readers know about you already, but we would like to ask you: Who is Matthew Perret, how would you define yourself?

 

I am a conference interpreter, interpreter-trainer and writer-performer of theatre and comedy.

A fun fact about Matthew Perret? 😊

 

My surname is French, but neither of my parents could speak French. An auspicious start for an interpreter.

COFFEE BREAK TIME: 10 QUESTIONS FOR MATTHEW PERRET 

Could you please explain how did your career as an interpreter begin?

I studied French and Spanish at Oxford, and then won a scholarship for literary translation at the University of Granada. I was a book-worm, but also a performer, so interpreting seemed like a fun way to earn a living. ESIT told me to go away and add a third language, so when the chance to be trained in-house at SCIC came around, and the profile was the same, I claimed to have already added Italian and have never looked back! (Legal footnote: I did actually ‘fess up and go and live in Italy before doing my training).

 

What languages do you work with, what is your specialization?

 

I work from French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Galician into English, and from English into Spanish. I still work mainly for the EU, which is perhaps more of a generalisation than a specialisation.  
 

And now, we open the floor to the questions from our Twitter colleagues! The first question was the following: “Should adding a B language be a priority for somebody who is making his/her first steps in the industry?”

 

We interpreter-trainers have this annoying habit of answering every question with “It depends on the context”. In my case this is aggravated by the lazy Oxford motto of “When you don’t know the answer, deconstruct the terms of the question”.

 

So here we go.

 

Should it be a priority?” It depends on the context. The short answer is: it should be if you want to get a lot of work on the private market. The profile of several “C” languages into “A” seems more prevalent at international organisations (such as those I know best).

 

However, if you are “taking your first steps”, then working into “B” is a huge additional burden that might cause you to stumble, take faulty steps, or even fall flat on your face! You are way more exposed working into “B” (compounding any problems caused by lack of professional or lived experience in the language), and you need extra coping skills (retour strategies). 

 

So I would recommend some realistic market analysis of your chosen location, plus a hard-headed assessment of your abilities (with the help of native speakers). There’s no easy answer to this one- but tens of thousands of beginner Chinese earn a living as language professionals with English, so where there’s a demand, there’s a way…. Just tread carefully.

I graduated in a master’s degree in conference interpreting and whereas I was very happy with The training I received, When I graduated I found myself lost because: 

  1. my language combination wasn’t needed in The institutions 

  2. My masters degree didn’t offer me The possibility to do retour so I wasn’t able to work on The private market.

  3. Most of my colleagues have experienced the same situation

  4. What would your advice be in this case?”

 

Here I’m going to be even more annoying and start with that old joke about person A asking directions to a destination, and person B replying “I wouldn’t start from here.” Ideally, we have a medium-term plan based on market analysis before we start choosing language combinations and embarking on training. We can be pragmatic and receive training only in a certain part of our profile, but we do need to have a clear idea of why we are doing the training in terms of possible employers: who is going to want to employ us afterwards (and where)? Of course schools bear some responsibility for guiding students career-wise, and it seems odd that several of you appear to have been trained in profiles for which you have found no demand anywhere. 

 

This can change rapidly, as the needs of institutions change, and it can be hard for schools to keep up. But a solid “B” language is a good insurance policy for getting work on the private market.

 

Still, as I say, professionals have not always received formal training in each aspect of their combination- better a good interpreter with solid skills who can add a language combo to their bow, than a mediocre interpreter shooting in all directions with wobbly skills.

 

And better late than never- the good news is, you have done your market analysis, so now you can ask “Where do I want to be in 5 years’ time?” Once you have a destination in mind, you can plot your path to get there, building upon the core skills you have acquired. 

 

Where in 3 senses:

  1. Which kind of market (bi-active, institutional etc.)?

  2. Which city? (Different local markets require different profiles)

  3. At a conference and/ or interpreting from a home studio/ hub?

 

I had a sort of premonition that a question about RSI might be coming up, so I shoe-horned that in to create the perfect segue.

 

Keep reading! The answers will get shorter as I slowly run out of inspiration, like a car puttering to a halt at the foot of a beautiful mountain. Look at the harebells and pond-lilies! Listen to the giggling goats! Cars ruin the landscape anyway. Relax.

“What is your advice to interpreters doing retour into English, to become better and better and better at what we do?”

 

Thanks for the question, Mum! Sorry, I mean Anonymous Twitter User. You might consider signing up for continuous professional development workshops with an English “A” trainer specialising in retour skills.

Special price until Halloween.

 

Also remember to speak spontaneously to an English-language audience, don’t let all communication be a garbled version of something originating in your mother tongue. Run free through the harebells with your English too!

 

What would you recommend as everyday training for interpreters?”

 

Break down the component skills- do some listening without speaking, and speaking without listening. Some “Not so much a question, it’s more of a comment” IN SMALL DOSES. Observe how communication happens even within one language. Read Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude and dip into Proust- anything which addresses the multiple layers of misinterpretation.

 

Wilfully misunderstand things. Live at cross-purposes. This will bring you closer to the molten core.

 

“Specially in the sphere of RSI, do you think that freelance interpreters will increasingly need to become multi-skilled linguists with added knowledge of language access management, technology and AI trends?”

 

I am a firm believer that interpreting isn’t actually a thing in itself. Like acting, it depends on what it is representing and to whom, and on how it is received. That includes the technical delivery platform.

I live in Berlin and work frequently at (or online, with) Shanghai University, so I have the constant feeling of not having the slightest idea what is going on in Chinese, and only a vague, and possibly misleading, idea of what is going on in German. I find this a very healthy and useful position for an interpreter and trainer to be in. I don’t have to imagine what it’s like not to understand, and to appreciate help.

Interpretation isn’t provided for interpretation’s sake- we need to look at who wants it and why, empathise with our end users, and strategise like them.

So let’s imagine questioner no. 5 is in fact my Chinese fixer. Yes, as the customer for your interpretation, I want you to be multi-skilled and hi-tech because I appreciate flexible and creative solutions in a changing world. If language access management and AI trends help you give me a clear and accurate picture of what’s going on when I am lost, I say Bring It On. Otherwise, I am neutral, or perhaps an Anglican agnostic, like Philip Larkin. I trust you to be up to speed with anything which will help you do your job better, as long as you have the core skills and are not masking mediocre abilities with gadgets. So trust remains at the core- I trust you to be up-to-date with whatever helps you do the job better. 

 

Which leads me smoothly on to…

As a fresh graduate, is it worth investing in top-quality RSI equipment?”

I certainly wouldn’t invest in poor-quality RSI equipment. Sorry, I don’t mean that entirely flippantly- the human voice, ear and brain are beautiful, original and sophisticated, so let’s ensure technology doesn’t compromise our ability to use them- or damage them permanently. Send tabletop podcasting mics to everyone you love. Well, everyone you interpret. I regard that as a solid investment in peace and love.

 

As to the practical question of whether to work-from-home, I return to my 5-year-plan above. Is it your ambition to be working from a home studio in future? Is that sustainable long-term for you? RSI doesn’t have to mean a solo set-up- you can also set up or join a hub with colleagues. 

 

To sum up, I would say that for a fresh graduate not to become stale and jaded very quickly, I would advocate the use of ISO equipment in all circumstances. That may not necessarily mean making a personal investment, but it may mean being demanding of in-person clients too.

 

“What steps would you recommend following in order to start working as a freelancer for the EU institutions or the UN? Thank you!”

 

Here is my infallible 5-point-plan (I may have written it backwards):

5. Be recruitable- an excellent interpreter, with the right language combination in the right place at the right time, and background knowledge of the institution you want to work for.

4. Pass the accreditation test- a piece of cake after (5), not necessarily before.

3. Adjust your academic qualification to your future professional environment: this may mean adding a language combination to your profile, and building upon your solid foundation of core skills. It may mean learning more about institutional procedures. Web-stream and become a jargon nerd. Try to get work on the para-institutional private market, NGOs in their orbit etc. It’s a great introduction to the full-fat version.

2. Get an interpreting MA from a school which is recognised by your future institution. Ideally, they will cooperate too, with study visits and pedagogical assistance. If not, make your own Gonzo Study Visit and peer in through the windows.

1. Take a general interest in your future institution as a non-interpreter: go to Open Days, get involved as a citizen, see what makes it tick. Write to your future head of booth with this 5-point-plan and ask them to scribble on it.

 

"It’s hard to stay patient when you don’t have much clients. Any tricks to accelerate the take off?"

 

I’d love to help you with this one but I can’t. Nonetheless, I think the way I can’t help might be an interesting answer in itself (yup, I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel now, we’d better call it a day after this).

You seem a decent person: intelligent, strong languages, brave floral shirt. I’d love you to replace me at a conference next month- I’m offered more work than I can accept, so, like a smug philanthropist, I want to “give something back”. 

But I can’t. I haven’t actually heard you work in such a context yet. With the best will in the world, I don’t know if I can trust you. It would be reckless and unprofessional for me to send you indiscriminately into a conference as a beginner- and it might well damage my own reputation.

So my answer comes back to trust- win the trust of your potential clients (perhaps starting outside the interpreting field) and above all of your potential colleagues. Bluff just enough for your nerves not to seem a liability; be just intellectually honest enough for your arrogance not to be. Print a t-shirt which says “I won’t be a total liability!” Then don’t wear it, obviously- that would be unprofessional.

The answer also comes back to thinking like the end user: the solvable problem is not “You haven’t got enough work”. Meetings are not organised in order to give you work! A meeting is organised in order to achieve communication, and the problem is that there’s a language barrier. Can you be trusted to be that solution?

 

And here comes our special The Interpreting Boutique one: What piece of advice would you give to junior interpreters?

 

Firstly, remember that there’s no such thing as seniority in interpreting. We either interpret well, or we don’t, in context (a given speaker for a given audience on a given topic on a given day). Experience can obviously help- but give us a completely new language variety, a new generation’s buzzwords, or an unfamiliar topic, and we all revert to beginner status. Ultimately, we live off our curiosity.

We can create hierarchies artificially (be examiners, candidates, report-writers, hirers and firers) but since everything is a role-play, no hat is ever permanent- just as in the classroom, either teacher or student can be speaker, interpreter, listener, pure customer, checker, smiley person who doesn’t know what’s going on but brings everyone tea. For example.

So my main message to new interpreters is: Never stop asking questions!

Right. That’s enough questions.

We are incredibly thankful for your time, trust and patience, Matthew! It has been a huge pleasure to have you in our blog and we take careful note of all your pieces of advice. We really hope to have you back soon and wish you best of luck in the interpreting season!