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Jan Rausch

In the first of our ITI Profile series, in which we interview members and those working with ITI, we speak to conference and liaison interpreter Jan Rausch.

You started your career in teaching. What are the most important learning points from this you have taken into your later career?

As a teacher, and in particular as a head of department, you need to learn how to cope with stress, how to multi-task and improve your time management. These skills have proven immensely useful after my career change, in terms of keeping on top of the admin, business fluctuations involved in being a self-employed freelancer and in doing a plethora of things at the same time, which is what interpreting is. And the experience of speaking with confidence in front of pupils and parents has also helped me become a good interpreter I believe.

What made you decide to become an interpreter?

Having worked as an MFL teacher for a number of years, I felt like moving on to a career that really challenged me linguistically. I have always loved languages. So I did a one-year MA in interpreting and translating and realised pretty quickly that it was the former that gave me that challenge I was looking for. I just get a buzz out of it and have never looked back.


What types of interpreting do you specialise in?

I interpret work at a variety of conferences and business meetings, but the bulk of my work is in medical conferences. I do a lot of investigator meetings for clinical trials, so I have acquired quite a bit of medical and pharmaceutical knowledge. But I am still squeamish when they show pictures and films of live surgery! Other medical assignments I regularly take on are sales conferences for healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies. In addition, I often interpret at European Works Council meetings. And then there are jobs in other fields as well of course. I would say that about 85% of my interpreting is simultaneous conference interpreting in a booth.

What is your experience of working in a judicial environment?

I sometimes interpret in civil cases and arbitration hearings. I find that the challenge here is that you are often on your own, i.e. without a booth partner, and without a booth anyway. So you have to interpret consecutively for the judge and whisper simultaneously for the claimant or whoever you are next to, with the acoustics often not being great. There can be a lot of waiting involved as well.


What does a good interpreter sound like?

I am fascinated by all the weird and wonderful accents of English spoken in the British Isles. For my MA dissertation I conducted an experiment and did some research on how listeners, end-users of simultaneous interpreting, would react to interpreters with different accents, both native and non-native. The upshot seems to be that there is no one simple answer, but if I were to simplify things I would say an interpreter needs to ensure their pronunciation and intonation do not distract the listener or even make comprehension difficult. As long as that is the case, a mild regional or social accent seems to have no negative effect on the perception of the interpreting. The stress is on the word mild though.

What is the most valuable advice you could give to someone starting out in interpreting?

Be patient, save up some money to cover the first period because it will take time until you get frequent assignments. Network as much as possible. Be curious about the world, practise interpreting online or wherever possible. Record and listen to yourself. Join a professional body and use social media.


From your own experiences and observations, what do you think is the most difficult language for people to grasp – French, German, English?

I don’t think any language is easy. But if you want me to pick one of the three mentioned, I would actually go for English. A lot of people seem to think English is easier than other languages, due to its straightforward morphology and syntax and the fact that allegedly everybody speaks it. But I think that on many other levels English is very complex, obviously also because it is spoken by so many different communities around the world. There is some kind of simplified English that tends to be used at a lot of conferences by non-native speakers. It may be reasonably easy to understand, but I feel a lot of communication gets lost as speakers cannot express as much as they would be able to in their mother tongue. Incidentally, I often see delegates happily listening to speakers presenting in this simplified, international English. But when a native speaker of English takes the floor, they frantically grab their headsets because ‘real English’ is too hard to understand for them.


How important is it to you to keep learning, and what do you do to keep your knowledge up to date?

It is important that you are curious, that reading or watching the news for instance isn’t boring for you. I am interested in linguistics and like looking up the etymology of words or synonyms when I come across new terminology. I think that helps. I browse the news in my three languages on a daily basis. Following the right people on Twitter is also a good idea, because they will often publish very interesting links. And networks can be helpful in this respect as well, such as the ITI Medical & Pharmaceutical Network.


Who is your favourite German author and why?

Erich Kästner. Because I can read his stories with my two children and we all enjoy them.


If you were to take a short break in Germany, where would you go?

Easy. Cologne. To watch my team, 1. FC Köln.

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