January 31, 2018

A Day in the Life of an Interpreter – An Interview with Agnieszka Teixera-Vaz

Agnieszka teaches Polish at BLS. She is also a Polish-English interpreter, working in various settings: the police, the courts, hospitals, etc.  We caught up with her after a long day in the field to ask her what a typical day looks like for her.

Please tell us a bit about yourself

I am Polish, I have been in the UK for almost 7 years and I am a mum of 2 boys.  I have a BA and MA in Sociology/Social Sciences, an English College Diploma in Translation and Interpreting, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Training and Teaching.

How long have you been a translator/interpreter?

I qualified in 2009 and have worked since then, first translating online and then moving on to interpreting.

What type of translation/interpreting do you do?  What types of situations do you interpret in?

At the moment, I do mainly court work, where I assist a non-English speaking person throughout the court process. Other places include prisons, police stations, probation, social service meetings, hospitals, etc.

Do you work full time as an interpreter or do you combine it with another job?

There is no such thing as “full time” – sometimes you work 60 hours a week, and sometimes you have a few days off….

Do you have to travel to do your job?  What’s the furthest you have had to go?

Yes, I travel to all the courts in South-West England and South Wales. The longest time I had to commute was about 3 hours one-way.

Do you always interpret face-to-face or have you done telephone interpreting too?

I have done telephone interpreting too. But face to face interpreting is much more my cup of tea as I believe a message is conveyed better when you can see somebody’s facial expressions, other body language, and you can hear tone of a voice clearer than on the phone.

How to you keep up-to-date with the fields you are interpreting for and the language related to them?

That is absolutely crucial. I learn every day and update my vocabulary range constantly. This is actually one of the perks of the job – you never stop learning.

Please can you describe a typical day when you have an interpreting assignment?

I normally prepare for my working day the day before – I need to make sure I know where I am going and what is expected of me.  I print out the documents and read any additional documentation.  If it is a hospital appointment I try and refresh the specific vocabulary I might need to use. To check location, I use Google Maps to make sure I know what the building I am going to looks like, to make it easier to find.  I check the time of commute and plan my travel accordingly.  I buy tickets online if I have to catch a train.  In the city, I cycle everywhere so I am independent of traffic, which is amazing in a busy city like Bristol.

Where did you learn to be an interpreter?  How did you get into translation/interpreting?

Having obtained my qualifications in English, I went on to study interpreting and translation. It was a 1-year course which involved lots of practical classes where you train your brain to think quickly, to store long utterances, to remember many details at the same time, etc.  We were also taught some specific techniques for note-taking, common symbols, etc.  I had to pass 4 exams in translating and interpreting both ways (Polish into English and vice versa).

Online translation offers great flexibility – that tempted me in the first place.  I worked as a manager of a busy educational institution but when I got pregnant I knew I would have to slow down. Translation allowed me to work around my child’s routine; I could stay at home with my son while earning and being professionally active.

What do you like best about being an interpreter/translator?

At the moment, with court work, I mostly enjoy knowing that I can help a fellow citizen in difficulty. Interpreting sometimes borders on support work where you are somebody’s first point of reference in a stressful situation.  The job also offers flexibility.

What is your least favourite thing about your job as an interpreter?

Defendants you are supposed to support changing their plea in the first half an hour of a 5-day trial you were booked on. Your whole week gets cancelled and you have to make sure you get other projects quickly to ensure you actually work!

What is your favourite thing to translate?

Scientific publications on subjects related to psychology, sociology, childhood studies, etc. Being personally interested in a subject definitely helps when translating.

Do you have any tips for anyone who is considering a career in translation/interpreting?

Make sure you work with more than one agency to build your calendar – you are technically self-employed and you are responsible for ensuring you have enough work.

Don’t get frustrated when things don’t go as planned – there are a lot of cancellations or, on the other hand, last minute bookings when you are on your day off. Be prepared for that and just accept it as part of your work dynamic. If you get stressed by every cancellation or change, you will not enjoy your professional life.

If you struggle with a specific term, be it in hospital or in court – simply ask for clarification. We are only human, and it is not possible to know everything about everything!  It is much better to admit that we are not familiar with a term and get an explanation than to translate incorrectly!

If you are more interested in written translation, become part of translation boards like ProZ and invest your time in building your profile there – this will result in more job offers.  Always be realistic about the amount of work you can do in specific time-scales – bad quality translation might lead to negative comments on your profile and long-term loss of income.  Make sure your work is proofread if you translate into a foreign language – you might feel the text is perfect, but a native speaker can always “polish it”, making it feel as if it was originally written in the target language.

Invest in good software – it will speed up your work, correct your mistakes, remember all previous projects and so on.  Also, get some training in how to use said software – there is no point in spending hundreds of pounds on a programme that you don’t fully exploit.

How do you relax when you are not working as an interpreter?

I teach Polish! 🙂  And spend time with my family and friends.

What are your ambitions for the future?

To be happy 🙂 And for my boys to be good people 🙂

Thank you!

Agnieszka Teixera-Vaz was interviewed by her student, Suzannah Young

January 24, 2018

Travelling Corner: How to have fun when travelling with kids

Many parents ask me how we organise our travels, so that we all have fun and enjoy them. Well, to be honest with you, I think it’s easier than it sounds and here are some steps we follow:

  1. Prepare! Yes, if you plan your own travels, it’s important to get organised beforehand. If you travel by car, prepare some fun music you can listen to and sing along or games you can play, e.g. word games or curiosity games (e.g. have you seen…?). If you travel by plane, have some books, colouring books, puzzles, hand puppets, so that you and your children can play with them. I have a special basket with travel activities and our daughter doesn’t play with them on a daily basis, but only when we travel. This makes her super interested and engaged. It’s also important to know what your travel destination has in offer, e.g. if there are beaches, walking paths, waterfalls, forests, museums, etc. Having all those details handy, you can decide on a daily basis how you and your family want to spend your time.
  2. Fun for everybody! Yes, we usually plan our travels so that everybody can have fun. For example, if our daughter wants to play in a playground, we try to find one and let her play there for an hour or two. My husband wants to go to the bigger fruit & veg market which is in next town, so we plan a little visit there, too. And I want to find a wild beach I’ve read about in my travel guide, so we start looking for it, too (this one with varying outcomes! ;). Another example: we want to go hiking, so we put our daughter into a sling and then we do some walking. Once we’re back, we go to the beach where our daughter runs and plays with our walking sticks.
  3. Slow pace! Yes, it’s important not to overschedule your days, when you travel with kids. Take it easy and follow your desires. Don’t rush everywhere (unless you want to catch that one train that goes every two hours, then that’s a reasonable excuse for rushing!). Have some agenda you want to follow, but if it doesn’t go according to plan, forget it, play with your children, go for a long swim or get to know your neighbours on the beach or campsite. It doesn’t matter what you should be doing, enjoy your time away the way you and your family want to!
  4. Connect with your loved ones! Yes, travelling is a perfect time to re-connect with your loved ones. I love this time when we spend 24 hours a day together and we learn so much about each other. Enjoy every precious minute of being together!
  5. Enjoy, it’s your travel time!

What are your tips for having fun when travelling with kids? Please let me know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

January 17, 2018

Travelling Corner: Weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona is a city located in Cataluña, Spain. It’s full of tourists, palms, parrots, bilingual signs (in Catalan & Spanish) and beautiful weather! It can be visited the whole year round, but I would recommend late Autumn, Winter or early Spring as the best time to embrace its beauty and colours. It’s a relatively expensive city, so be prepared for slightly higher prices, especially in cafes and shops. But, if you want to experience heaven on Earth and still not to spend all your savings, here are my tips for you!


Oh, the beach! It’s long and sandy. I visited the beach every day in the late afternoon, when the sun was setting and the colours in the sky were changing into pink and purple and the boats were sailing back to the port. People were reading, talking, walking, smiling, laughing, playing, exercising, jogging and of course, swimming. It was an experience in its own, beautiful and peaceful.

Parc de la Ciutadella

A beautiful green area in Barcelona. It’s located not far away from the triumphant Arc de Triomf and has many beautiful trees, palms and ponds, as well as a zoological garden. When the city gets quite busy, it’s a good idea to come here for a lunch break or to relax on the grass.

Catedral de Barcelona

The cathedral is a fine example of gothic style: monumental and impressive. Entrance is not free, but you can always join the religious service (especially when vising on Sunday) to see the beautiful gothic interiors (but photographs are not permitted then).

Barri Gòtic

The Gothic quarter is at the heart of the old town in Barcelona. Narrow streets and very high buildings (with flowers on the balconies), tiny squares with fountains, cafes & restaurants, galleries & museums, tiny shops & bakeries. It’s a very eclectic combination of the old and new which gives you a unique flavour of the old town. I had a very medieval feeling when I walked those tiny streets, especially after dark.

Caj Chai

As you know (if you read this blog), I rarely go out to eat when travelling. The only exception I make is (obviously) a tea break. When visiting Barcelona, I went to a tea room called Caj Chai. It’s located in the Gothic quarter and is a specialised tea room which serves various types of tea: white, green, back or herbal. For me, it was a wonderful experience, slow and aromatic.

What are your memories from Barcelona? Let me know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

January 10, 2018

Language teaching: What teaching resources are available for British Business English?

When I used to work as an English teacher, I always had a problem finding good teaching resources for my lessons in British English for business. The textbooks I had were written in American English which didn’t make my work any easier 😉

I recently came across the following titles: Market Leader series for A1-C2 levels (with Financial Times content as advertised on their website) and Business Benchmark (Cambridge University Press) which is a three-level Business English course for business exams or for general business English courses. There are also many articles, press releases, reports, blog posts or online brochures available on the website of London Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Do you teach business English or English for specific purposes? What teaching resources do you use? Please let me know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

January 3, 2018

Old and New: Reflections on 2017 and Resolutions for 2018!

And January arrived, the time when we think of what we achieved in 2017 and want to change or improve in our life in 2018. I personally find it mentally healthy to make this old-new review, as it helps me to stay focused, appreciate my achievements, reflect on mistakes and draw on big goals I want to accomplish in the coming year.

Let’s start with 2017. We created a lot of content for you, as every Wednesday throughout 2017 a new blog post was with you! We visited some amazing parts of the world, gave you advice on learning and teaching languages, reviewed some interesting books and interviewed wonderful individuals whose work involves using foreign languages. We also started recording some videos which are available through our YouTube channel.

What will 2018 bring? Our plan for 2018 is to continue creating weekly blog content, from inspiring travel reports and interesting book reviews to innovative teaching advice and smart language learning ideas. There will be some video interviews, too…

BTW, if there are some topics you would like us to explore, let us know in the comments below.

Happy New Year 2018!

Written by Kinga Macalla