Reflective Practice: Interpreter Mindset, Pre-Interpreting, Technical Skills, Adaptive Skills, and Supervision

Interpreter Mindset, Pre-Interpreting, Technical Skills, Adaptive Skills, and Supervision

Amanda R. Smith

Students of interpreting in the university setting are preparing to become competent, professional interpreters able to navigate novel experiences, topics, settings, and clients with grace. If we think of this as growing to become a mighty oak tree, there are a number of foundational ingredients required. There are mini-steps involved in the growth process, and isolated stages that eventually build up and overlap to serve as nourishment for the strong, towering oak. This section is about several of the little pieces that come together to provide the supportive root system for the working interpreter. To continue this analogy, this means talking about what makes up the process, such as the contents of the soil, the amount and type of watering needed, and the sun intensity required. Interpreting is much more than the sum of its parts and yet those parts need to be mastered in isolation before contributing effectively to the whole.

The building blocks in this section could include:

  • development and exploration of interpreter mindset – what attitudes and beliefs frame an interpreter’s understanding of the world and his/her place in it?
  • pre-interpreting skills including language, communication between parties, and understanding the goals of the settings;
  • technical skill development – how is meaning co-constructed between parties, the steps of the interpreting process and how to assess accuracy and make corrections?
  • adaptive skills development – what do interpreters need to know how to recognize and respond to in their practice – ethically, linguistically, cognitively and behaviorally?
  • supervision – creating the practice of engaging in regular professional supervision to continue honing and aligning one’s skills with the larger community and personal goals.

The objectives of this section are to:

  • Develop and utilize an interpreter mindset along with exploring the mindsets of other individuals, professions, and settings/systems;
  • Practice pre-interpreting skills at discrete levels – practicing, drilling, and honing individual skills, then building to be able to practice, drill, and hone skills in tandem, and so on;
  • Develop the technical skills necessary for competently co-constructing meaning between parties – for example, discourse analysis, working memory, linguistic flexibility, identifying goals, monitoring accuracy, and making corrections as warranted;
  • Develop and practice adaptive skills necessary to, for example, competently navigate interpersonal relationships, respond to unique and novel circumstances, recognize what is occurring in a situation, and identify prioritization and forfeiture of values in a setting;
  • Engage students in intentional reflective practice via supervision of interpreting work whether through case conferencing, thematic supervision, or other forms as warranted.

Definition of terms

There are terms that are used throughout this section that will need to be defined before moving on. This list will continue to grow as more contributions are made to this section over time.           

Reflective practice is the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning (see also Dewey 1933, Schön1983).

Interpreter mindset is used in this section to refer to the established set of attitudes held by interpreters as a collective. The ways in which interpreters take in information, or how they filter stimuli for a purpose, in their surroundings and utilize it in service of their work.

Pre-Interpreting skills – these refer to those skills that are the necessary building blocks for the later development of real-time interpreting work – they may include technical and adaptive skills such as meaning-making, identifying a main point, being able to multi-task.

Technical skills – these are the abilities and knowledge needed to perform specific tasks. (see BEI Handbook)

Adaptive skills require application, utilizing technical skills in a way that is new based on the needs of the current circumstance. This is the ability to respond effectively in a novel environment, despite not having a clear-cut answer or technical response.

Supervision is consultation about the work with professional colleagues.

Demand-control schema Developed by Dean & Pollard (2001), this framework attempts to capture the complexities of the interpreting task by categorizing demands of the job (requirements) and controls that can be employed by the interpreter in response.

DC-S based supervision is professional consultation about the work following a case conferencing structure based on the demand-control schema constructs of demands, controls, consequences, and resulting demands.

Co-construction of meaning is the idea that communication is an active process, not passive, and requires all parties to actively work with the evidence around them to construct meaning. Ideally, that work is done cooperatively, thus co-constructing meaning.

Literature review

Conceptualizing the work of interpreters is an on-going challenge as it primarily happens in the brain of the interpreter and the consumers. Translation and interpreting have been around since the time that cultures and communities started engaging with one another so there is much to read on the subject of human communication and language translation. It is such a complex task that the clarity of it is elusive, but we have many contributions that help us to see it from many angles.

This portion will highlight some of the literature in regard to the technical and adaptive skills as well as the implementation of reflective practice in our professional community.

Over the years of trying to understand the interpreting process, there have been a number of theories and models posited – from cognitive to sociolinguistic and beyond. These get at portions of the process and elements of the process but no one model is sufficient to capture it all (Pochhacker 2016). Wilcox and Shaffer (2005) explore a cognitive model of interpreting that conceptualizes the work in an active versus passive way. This was novel at the time of its publication as interpreting prior to that had been conceptualized as a passive act of transferring words between people who did not share a language. But now there was recognition that meaning was being transmitted – the method may have been words but the words did not house the full meaning in and of itself. The toolmakers paradigm (Reddy as cited outlined in Wilcox and Shaffer (2005) exposes that challenge of communication even within the same language, then adding in a third party and a second language, it is amazing that communication ever happens at all.

In early 2001, Dean and Pollard also shared a framework that revolutionized and captured a larger sense of what interpreting requires, not from a linguistic standpoint but from a holistic standpoint, including the interpersonal, environmental, and intrapersonal aspects of interpreting. This schema also raised the question of how to do this type of work in community and with community support. Palmer (1998) says that a community of practice is an important place for ethical integrity and product improvement and, yet, as interpreters, at that time, we held strongly to the idea of confidentiality as secrecy. Dean and Pollard (2001) challenged us to think of confidentiality as privacy and respect for consumer communication while simultaneously confiding in other professionals about the nature of our work and the choices we, as practitioners, made in order to improve over time.

This led to the development of DC-S based supervision, which was an offshoot of Schön’s (2017) ideas about reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. Demand-control schema provided the structure by which we could engage in meaningful, professional and constructive dialogue to improve the work by reflecting-on-action, which would eventually inform the ability to reflect-in-action.

Technical skills in interpreting include linguistic competence in at least two languages, cultural familiarity to decipher meaning within both languages, attention splitting abilities, among others. The awareness of the technical skills beyond language competence has expanded over the years. The list of skills required grows with each new research project that is completed and published. There are a number of resources available that attempt to focus on aspects of the process from practice workbooks like Patrie’s Effective interpreting series (2000-2018) to theoretical writings in various conference proceedings and journals (see, for example, Janzen 2005, Conference of Interpreter Trainers Proceedings, 1985-20018)

Why this section

The potential for this section includes the discrete practice of individual skills as well as the practice and knowledge sharing of what happens when those parts come together. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts and requires a bit of magic to all come together. Much in the way that researchers and teachers cannot explain how a child learns to read, just that they are exposed to certain stimuli over a period of time and one day they read, it is nearly impossible to explain how one learns to interpret other than providing them with various stimuli from various perspectives and one day it comes together and they understand how to do it.

Once that hurdle is crossed, there is more hard work ahead. Much like the child learned that words carry meaning but now have to explore figurative and literal meanings, contextual analysis, genre, among others, interpreting students now have to understand how skills are transferable to all the varieties and contexts of human communication. This is no easy task. It is not a linear path with clearly marked checkboxes along the way. It is much more like a spiraling whirlpool where you will continue to see similar markers again and again from a deeper and deeper level, expanding your appreciation for the complexities of the task and needing to practice again and again to provide excellence to consumers.


It is exciting to embark on the process of creating a living textbook that will continue to grow and evolve, much like an oak tree, as our understanding of the work continues to grow and evolve. Our hope would be that in the future iterations of this text we continue to curate resources, activities, and research pertaining to the development of whole, healthy interpreters who can serve a wide variety of needs in the communities in which we work and live.


1.3.1 Essential Abilities and Attributes of Nonintermediary or Nondeaf Interpreters. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2019, from Board for Evaluation of Interpreters website:

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2013). The demand control schema: Interpreting as a practice profession. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

Dean, R. K., & Pollard Jr, R. Q. (2001). Application of demand-control theory to sign language interpreting: Implications for stress and interpreter training. Journal of deaf studies and deaf education, 6(1), 1-14.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. DC Heath.

Janzen, T. (Ed.). (2005). Topics in signed language interpreting: Theory and practice (Vol. 63). John Benjamins Publishing.

Palmer, P. (85). J.(1998). The courage to teach.

Patrie, C. (2000). The Effective Interpreting Series.

Pöchhacker, F. (2016). Introducing interpreting studies. Routledge.

Schön, D. A. (2017). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Routledge.

Wilcox, S., & Shaffer, B. (2005). Towards a cognitive model of interpreting. Benjamins Translation Library, 63, 27.


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Integrated and Open Interpreter Education Copyright © 2019 by Amanda R. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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