A Day in the Life of… Michelle Hof

Welcome back! This month’s #ADayInTheLifeof features friend and colleague Michelle. This month, we jump into a high-profile interpreter’s life – that’s why it spans over a WEEK! Find Michelle on Twitter or check her blog here.

First of all, thanks Valeria for the valuable little peek behind the scenes you’re giving us with #ADayInTheLifeOf series! And thanks for promptly invitingme to do some sharing of my own.

MONDAY – A typical day at home

7:00 – Crawl out of bed, get the kids up, eat breakfast (which means café con leche, no solid food this early in the morning, please!) and head out the door.

8:30 – Drop the kids off at school, grab a croissant and another coffee, then head up the road to campus to hole myself up for a while in the university library. This morning’s project: flesh out some of the modules of a professional development course I am working on. I have a lot of work ahead of me, and the deadline is looming, so I had better get down to it. It’s mostly right-brain work, so I need to use my most productive morning hours for it.

13:30 – Look up from my laptop and realize I haven’t moved since breakfast. Head downstairs to grab a quick bite at the university canteen. While shoveling in the day’s special (arroz a la cubana, which counts as vegetarian if you ask them to leave off the sausage), I catch up on my Twitter timeline from my phone, call the secretary at AIB about a team we’re putting together for a job in Italy, and approve a few new blog comments.

14:00 – Back upstairs to the library. Right brain is brain-dead, so time to switch hemispheres. This afternoon’s project: Finish revising an academic paper for one of my university clients. The closet perfectionist in me is in for a real treat today, as I get to spend the next two hours dealing with comma splices and rearranging subordinate clauses to my heart’s content.

16:15 – Whoops, time got away on me again. A quick cortado and off to pick up the kids.

20:30 – After basketball, ballet, swim, supper, teeth, books, it’s the kids’ bedtime. Have used time in the car (as a passenger, obviously, not the driver) between all these things to reply to a few emails and tweet the day’s news. There is a post of mine due to come out in the AIIC blog this week and while most of the details were wrapped up last week, it still needs finalizing, so I have squeezed that in from the passenger’s seat, too.

21:30 – Guilty pleasure time: I am an addicted to The Mentalist and it’s on La Sexta tonight. Good night!

TUESDAY – A day on the road

7:00 – Alarm, kids, coffee, school.

8:15 – Today’s a travel day. Good news: the airport is near my kids’ school. Not so good news: we only have one car (a soccer-mom Dacia minivan owned by the bank), so I have to get dropped off at 8:15 for an 11:15 flight. Oh, well… Once I’ve arrived at the airport, I step into what I call my “travel bubble”, sit down for a second coffee at the airport café, pull out my laptop, and get to work. No free wifi, but my phone can act as a tether in a pinch. To do today: write up the month’s invoices, sketch out some interpreting class activities, contact those interpreters in Italy about that option, and prepare tomorrow’s interpreting assignment.

11:15 – Hello, Iberia! Keep working away at that to-do list at 30,000 feet.

15:00 – Back on terra firma and it’s time for some more waiting. Iberia, in all its downsizing wisdom, has decided to cut several flights between Madrid and my destination, leaving me with a six-hour layover in Barajas Terminal 4. Oh, well, at least their workers are not on strike this week! Lunch is some overpriced food in an airport café. Happy to report that the travel bubble remains intact and I am still feeling zen.

In between flights, I finish reviewing the documents for tomorrow’s meeting. It’s a regular client, so I know their business pretty much inside out, but still need to prepare. I also make a few more calls to the AIB secretary about Italy, BBM with my better half and send some silly emoticons to my kids as they head to music lessons.

21:45 – Board my final flight for the day. Too tired to do any more work, so I read El País while in the air. Realize I had breakfast, lunch and dinner in an airport today. Yum!

23:00 – Finally arrive at my hotel. It’s basic but acceptable, and to be honest, at this hour I am hardly in a condition to notice how many stars it has over the door. Collapse into bed. Big work day tomorrow.

WEDNESDAY – A day in the booth

7:00 – Early start today. The client has asked us to be on site for a briefing at 8:00 am, so I grab a quick coffee, hop into a cab with a couple of colleagues, and off we go to work.

8:00 – Arrive at our client’s office for the pre-meeting briefing. Sort out the booth logistics and day’s schedule and compare documents with the client to make sure we’ve got the most recent version. There’s just enough time for another coffee and a bit of breakfast between the briefing and the meeting’s start.

9:30 – Into the booth we go!

13:00 – Time for lunch. The office canteen does a nice veggie pizza, so that’s what I’m going for today.

14:30 – Back into the booth. There’s been plenty of German to keep me busy today, so I am happy. I get stuck for a second on einstweilige Verfügung, and am kicking myself because it’s an in-house term I hear all the time, but I come up with a decent solution just in time. I blame the lapse on the postprandial effect and move on.

18:00 – Back at the hotel. A quick Skype chat with the kids and then I spend a while surfing the hotel news channels while I check my Twitter feed.

20:30 – Off to have dinner with a good friend of mine who lives in town. I’m feeling tired after a long day and wishing we could have arranged to meet earlier, but restaurants don’t open before 20:30 in this part of Spain! Still, I am looking forward to some tapas and a good chinwag…

THURSDAY – Interpreting day 2

8:00 – Out of bed, coffee, taxi.

8:45 – Grab a second coffee and some breakfast before disappearing back into the booth.

13:00 – What a nice surprise: they have got through their agenda early and have given us the afternoon off! Quick, what is the most useful thing I can do with the unexpected free time? Get a haircut, of course! A quick WhatsApp exchange with a friend who knows every salon in town and I am off to get coiffed.

17:00 Back at the hotel and sporting my new “do”, I see I have some time before a Webex conference scheduled for later tonight, so I decide to tackle that to-do list. I do some online banking, catch up on my tweeting, read some blog posts (too brain-dead to draft a post for my own blog), and answer some emails. I even venture onto Facebook for one of my rare visits to that increasingly bewildering land of cat videos and clever memes. Got the hotel TV on in the background, listening with one ear to the headlines. BBM with the better half and get the day’s news from the kids.

20:30 – Run out to grab a falafel before I hit Webex.

21:00 – Tune in for a teleconference with AIIC’s Social Media team. Nice to see so many familiar faces, if only virtually. The team members are based all over the world, so there are many I have never met in person. Still, I feel like I know them well, as we are in constant virtual contact.

FRIDAY – On the road again

8:00 – Feeling a bit TGIF as I pull myself out of bed for a third day in the booth. Looking forward to the flight back to Tenerife later, even though I won’t make it home until the kids are in bed. The agenda for today’s meeting shows it will be the toughest of the three, so no chance of an easy ride today.

9:00 – Into the booth again. Sigh as I look at the agenda. Very glad I am spending this week with a trusted team from AIB. It makes life so much easier – especially on the tough days – when you know your colleagues well and have a familiar routine to follow.

13:00 – Lunch at the office canteen. Will try the veggie special today.

14:30 – Final stretch in the booth. Things heat up a bit in the meeting, with delegates disagreeing on a key point. I appreciate the resulting adrenaline rush, since there’s no better way to stay alert during the dreaded after-lunch shift (and did I mention it was Friday?).

16:30 – Meeting over! My work here is done. Rush off to the airport in the hope I will have time to swing by the gift shop before boarding (this is one of the few airports I frequent with a well-stocked section of kids’ books in English).

17:45 – Hello, Iberia! I’ve managed to pick up the books for my kids, as well as an Economist and a Scientific American for me. I settle back into my travel bubble for the trip home.

22:00 – Five hours, two flights, and a mad dash in T4 later, the taxi drops me off at my doorstep. The kids are in bed, as I expected, but at least their dad has stayed up to welcome me home. Let the weekend begin!


THIS WILL GIVE YOU ENOUGH FOOD FOR THOUGHTS! And don’t misi my #ITIConf13 talk tomorrow, Saturday, at 15.15 – join me for more interpreting stories – all-but-serious and with a funny twist!

– V.

Same old ‘New year, new you’? Maybe, but you should try as hard as you can.

I know it’s a cliché, but… Happy New Year! We managed to survive to all apocalypse-like Mayan curses about the end of the world as we know it and here we go. Back on track after the so longed-for break.

Last year I drafted a short list of resolutions – or at least, good intentions as I like to call them – and it’s time to draw some conclusions. Did I make it? Or did I blatantly fail?

  • Read more – and not only the files I’m translating! – if 50 Shades of Grey does not count, I think I can do better! I certainly have read plently of blogs and articles, so if not books, this gets a pass.
  • Listen better (sorry to those who I unwillingly cut off and overlap with my voice! I do not mean it!) – I have tried to listen more if not better. I still interrupt people half way sometimes, but I’m working on it.
  • Travel more – and not only to improve language skills or attend a tweet-up (even though the latter is fun!) – Scored! I went to Paris, Bilbao, Logrono, Vienna, Newcastle, Birmingham, New York, Stockholm, Malaga, Thailand and not only for work!
  • Have a tidy-ish office – and maybe try harder to be minimal. << work still to be done on this one. I don’t have enough time! But in the end, I did managed to reduce the number of paper by reading magazines on iPad only.
  • Go to the gym – this was my major change of 2012. I not only started going regularly, but I’d dare say very often! I see a trainer and I feel so empowered (plus lots of trousers fit better, once again!)
  • Stay in touch with those who count – I have to say, Facebook does help me with contacts. I hope I’m being there for those who need me and love me. If not, just tell me off!
  • Be positive – I do get my ups and downs but overall, I am doing my best.
  • Eat well – I am trying. For now, no Coke and less pasta are improving things!
  • Give more time to me time – I have tried to switch off even though I realised I cannot do a complete, raw, cold-turkey digital detox ie. leaving laptops and phones at home when away etc. I try to not be obsessed, but I still do love my techie gadgets.
  • Update my status – The gloom and doom is still there – and after a short trip to Italy, I see that in my face – but really, everyone has to choose what to be and go be it.

Any new ideas for this year we have just rang in? Mais oui:

  • Kiss (excess) carbs & refined sugars good bye – I’m partially already doing it as I went cold-turkey with Coke but I realised that most of my uneasiness and tiredness is due to sugars and too much pasta and pizza. So, moderation!
  • Keep on exercising mens sana in corpore sano. Trust me, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but even though I still don’t entirely *enjoy* exercising, my body requires it. And i feel energised!
  • Travel even more – having short breaks helps me relaxing, as long ones totally mess up with my routine. My next plans involve Spain again (networking is amaze there!) and Copenhagen. Then, anything else clients and life throw in!
  • Speak at more seminars and events – I LOVE talking of my experience and showing others what they can do to improve. I loved the event with ITI at Westminster Uni back in October and the Language Show too. Hey, not a guru or anything here, but I’m happy when I can transfer some tips to others. And they give me good feedback!
  • Blog more – I know, I’ve neglected this space a bit but November and December have been crazy! I promise more posts, more articles and events.
  • Create a regular meeting network in London – we’re almost there! Translators and Interpreters in London is a thriving group! Join us in Jan.
  • Save for a pension – I know, all grown-up and stuff but we do have to start from somewhere, esp. as we are freelancers. Plus, it does not have to be a massive effort to start with. Another cliché? I’m not getting any younger.
  • Learn or improve a language (and work with it) – I’m a massive supporter of diversification and what’s best than learning a new language and make it an asset? I’d love to go ahead with Japanese but it’s a long shot. So I’d probably refresh my spoken French and maybe learn Polish or Portuguese, which I’ve both done a bit in the past.

I know many try hard and yet do not succeed – at least not entirely. But don’t despair: sometimes a fresh start can really make the difference – but you have to put it into a bigger picture. Set a goal and go for it, put your back into it and think pink!


So what about you? I’d love to hear YOUR resolutions! (In the meantime, this is the song I listen to to feel empowered. It works!)

The Importance of Being an Interpreter (aka: life is tough)

Sometimes life is tough. We all know it so I won’t spend a long time talking about the twists and turns that sometimes really take the toll on us. What I want to say is, that life is tough and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. Recently, I had an enquiry for an interpreting assignment in support of an Italian citizen. Straightforward request: a solicitors’ meeting and an Italian speaker who needed assistance to make sure the message was transferred. The client in question had had an accident two years before, in the workplace and badly injured his hip and leg. After all that time, he still was in pain, therefore, they needed me to explain him the legal procedures of his case (he was going to file a claim and also ask for a compensation for the loss of profit he had suffered while he was at home in sickness leave). I had a lot to read about him: age, general info, family status, list of aches and pains, circumstances of the accident, medical treatments… to cut the story short: this man was in acute pain and the company owing him a compensation wouldn’t believe him. As I said, life can be very tough. But moreover my client was also angry. Angry at the system, angry at his wife for leaving him, angry for not being listened to and also so angry that he fell into depression. On top of this, as an Italian in the UK for over 35 years, his language was an amorphous mix of extremely broken, learnt-by-listening English and poor, grammar-less Itanglish, in a way so far from comprehensible that I’d never come across before. It took me at least half an hour to fine-tune to his speech style and made sure he replied to me (or to the solicitors, directly) in Italian and NOT in English, so that I could ensure some degree of civilised communication. Plus, not only was he very much in pain, but also tended to lose his temper extremely easily: all we witnessed – in my total dismay – was a man shouting in a very typically Italian or in any case Latin way, with lots of hands waving, high-pitched voice outbursts and mild swearing, alternated to sudden cries for pity. The solicitors, the man and I met in several occasions, as a second medical report was requested. Most of the work was done to really try and calm down the client, explaining that if the second report would also turn out irrelevant, he may not get the compensation he was hoping for.

Thankfully, sometimes all goes for the better. In the very last meeting with specialist in hips and accidents, the doctor managed to understand that the real problem underlying the whole issue may have been a different one compared to what had been previously diagnosed.

Several months passed and one day the postman brought me this:


with this note:


I have told you this more serious and real-life story today because I would like to stress the way-too-often underestimated importance of being an interpreter, especially in the medical area. Patients are stressed, sometimes lonely and angry, and above all, very much in pain. The interpreter is the voice, the key to express this pain and their will to be helped. The interpreter can really make the difference and of course has to be highly qualified and very patient, too. Most times I found myself trying to calm down the patient of this anecdote, but looking back I will definitely say it was worth it. He regained his cool, managed to focus and together we succeeded in conveying the right message to a knowledgeable doctor. Maybe it’s not my style, but I have to say that I like this picture very much after alland even though it looks like it has my own signature rather than a dedication to me O_o I’ll keep it as a reminder of a job proudly done ended with the best of outcomes.

Long live the interpreters! (and may they never be ill, either!)

THE INTERPRETING WARS (or 7 ‘wartime’ survival tips for the booth)

Ok, the title may be a bit on the provocative side, but let’s face it: interpreting is tough. And as in wartime, being prepared is everything.

After the long-talked issue of Westminster University interpreting course being closed (see something more here and here) and as I went to a conference just very recently, I thought it may be of interest to share my experience on interpreting with you.


(That’s me, in the red circle and above, in the foregound, with colleague Claudia Salamone).

Here’s my 7-tip survival guide to conference interpreting.


First and foremost, regardless you are being hired by a direct client or a translation agency/LSP, you should ask the person in charge to provide you with as much information as possible – beforehand, that is. For conference interpreting, in particular, you are aiming at :

number of participants;
how many of those would be actively needing your interpreting;
how many of those would be speaking or may be expected to do so;
programme: make sure you get it, with all the latest updates;
the SLIDES. Certainly the hardest part, but you definitely need those or any reference material on previous events, on the speakers, on the participant associations , on the topic. Ideally, slides/presentations would be available a couple of weeks – if not more – in advance and you should be given them asap to allow for a suitable research and preparation.

In any case (or in the meantime) I always try to find out as much as I can about the speakers e.g. association they work/worked for, whether they have already given a speech on a similar topic, even looking up YouTube for videos may help (esp. if the speakers are kind of VIPs in their industry/sector). The latter may turn out very handy to work out *where* they are from. Indeed, a name alone can be mischievous sometimes. I once met a Tom Green who, honestly, with such a general name, could come from any of the ex-Commonwealth countries on earth and surprise you with an unknown (at least to your ears) accent.
Note: in the end, guess what? He was Scottish O_o

If you work in pairs with the same colleague most of the time, it may be useful to discuss the schedule with her/him beforehand and decide – not arbitrarily, but rather as a guideline – ‘who does what‘. This is my code for: ‘I’d rather interpret the German speaker because I am comfortable with that kind of inflection’ or ‘I’d be happy to deal with all speakers from the US as I’ve lived there and I can handle the accent’ and so on. Especially if you are not an English mother tongue speaker, accents can be both your croce e delizia ie. a curse and a delight. Regardless how good your knowledge and understanding of the source language may be, it’s likely that a given accent gives you a hard time.

2. EXPLORE THE BATTLE FIELD (and send a mole if you can)

Of course most of the time you cannot really expect to know much more than an address of the venue you are going to work at. But a bit of research can help, especially if nobody told you any detail. Chances are a colleague has worked there already (your mole). But if you’re out of luck, check the hotel/conference venue’s website for info on how big the room is, what’s the capacity, whether the booths are there or not. This very last detail may seem obvious (how are they not going to be there!) BUT it is crucial. First of all, built-in booths are much sturdier and usually more comfortable than booths installed for the occasion; of course, the first are likely to be older, but at least you are sure you have room for work.
Why? Well, at the last event I worked at, the booth… was simply NOT there!

In short: there had been a teeny tiny misunderstanding between the organiser (my client) and the hotel conference manager. One had not been clear on the need for booths (to be installed by an external provider) while the other could not be ‘bothered’ to double-check, so when I got there at 9am (the event due to start at 9.30am) the only available space was a ‘closet-like’ room, basically a small warehouse for cables and the audio systems for the hall. It was indeed a ‘room with a view’ as it technically had a window, but… I’ll let you figure out my reaction. When you go in, make sure you see the speakers’ desk well (NOT like below)


and locate the presentation screen / panel, because you may want to watch the speech on there (especially if the speaker changes them on the go).


Provided that the booth is there (with all headphones and cables, phew!), I would never face the enemy without the following kit with me in the booth:

your colleague – always helps! 🙂

the above-mentioned slides – duly printed AND available on e-format;

a note pad – or two;

a few pens – I usually go for at least 3, the perfect number. I’d suggest to avoid feather and roll-ball pens, as they can easily smudge. Literally all over you. And you do not want your hands to be all dirty and stained in case you have to meet somebody and shake hands…

a netbook – I’ve used notebooks so far simply because they are small (usually 10” or 11”) and perfectly fit the ridiculously tiny table in the booth


Tablets are also handy, of course. My iPad works very well for this purpose but bear in mind it does not have a USB port to import data. I’m told that other models (such as the Iconia Tablet by Acer) do, but I am a Mac fanatic so I won’t go into that territory and will let you choose savvily…

an empty memory stick (or at least with half the space available) at the ready. In my experience, there is always someone naughty enough to have finished his/her slides in the hotel the night before. So, as soon as you identify them, go and get their presentation – to use it on the netbook.

Of course, a netbook is great, especially with all the dictionaries you can use. But sometimes, dictionaries do not help or are not updated. You need your weapons but also bullets. That’s why you need to ask the host/the hotel/the technician etc. for the Wi-Fi code and password. Google is always a great ally in battles like these…
P.S.: good conference venues do have Wi-Fi. Bad ones have it AND they want you to pay for it. Nevertheless, it should be free for attendees, so why shouldn’t you be counted as one? Try to bypass the problem and ask your client. How to get out of this conudrum? Just bring your own Wi-Fi dongle (I have a PAYG Mi-Fi from 3) but beware: sometimes there’s no coverage in the booth…

the technician: there must be one around somewhere. Find him/her and make sure s/he is aware of *you* in the booth. If the mike does not work or the speaker’s volume is too low, that’s the person you need to talk to – and quickly!


I’m sure the wise Romans went to war with jars of oil, wine and other nice soon-to-be-known&loved-worldwide specialties. Well, I would steer clear from alcohol (even if the buffet lunch may have some nice one, depending on the country you are in) but every good conference/hotel manager should make sure the booth is regularly getting a top-up of water bottles (see pics, bottom of the post). Usually conference staff would remove the empties over breaks but as sometimes the venue is not that organised, it cannot hurt to bring a small bottle with you, just in case.
If you tend to get hungry (I do!), chocolate is great to help you go the extra mile and get energy-high. For a coffee fanatic like me though, here’s the real Holy Graal: Pocket Coffee.


Avoid crunchy food as it can be heard in the mike and really disturb your colleague (and the audience!). If you really are ‘nut for nuts’ or fancy crackers and the likes, pop out of the booth and eat them away from the crowds.


I usually prefer to be slightly over- than under-dressed. If you are concerned, it’s always best to ask your source if there’s a dress code. To stay on the safe side, I’d go for an understated, yet smart-casual look. So, no jeans or trainers for men and no flashy jewellery and red lipsticks for women. Caesar would have said in medio stat virtus (Latin for: virtue stands in the middle), after all! Jewellery can also be fairly uncomfortable as it may get easily stuck in the headphones and again, make funny noises and twinkling. Not professional.
Another tip is: try to dress like an ‘onion‘ = wear layers to make sure you can cover up when cold, take clothes off when hot. And trust me, those cubicles can get up to truly boiling points!
I still would wear low-to-medium heels but that’s entirely up to how comfortable you feel in them, so flats are totally OK too. (P.S.:I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while and I will keep you updated…)

6. BITS AND PIECES (or Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say)

I would always carry a large (but stylish!) bag and pack:

handkerchiefs – the cold is always ready to catch you unprepared;

hand sanitizer – you never know, really! I once managed to spill the liquid coffee of the above-mentioned Holy Graal all over the booth;

pair of tights – laddered tights are beyond horrible and make you feel uncomfortable every step you take. Been there, done that;

lots of business cards – you never know who you may bump into;

mobile phone charger – for that important business call you will have to turn down otherwise;

adapter – especially if your laptop – like mine – has a different plug to the country you are working in;

cash, not only cards – if the venue is in the middle of nowhere and you are hungry (once the host did *not* provide lunch for the interpreters…) or if you need to grab a taxi, there’s not time to look for an ATM.

A little note on make-up (for the ladies, of course! But boys, feel free to try some if you wish!): I would bring a small sample of perfume and pressed powder to touch up. May be trivial for some, but it may help feel better and refreshed!


You can plan the attack, send a probe to the field and study the enemy for a long time, but you always should expect the unexpected. Always! The last event (see above) I worked at had to be interpreted in whispered mode until 11am, because the booth was just not ready yet. Again, a broken headphone, a crashing pen drive, a corrupted PowerPoint file, even a lecturer who all of a sudden changes the language of his speech (because decided that his/her English is not good enough and prefers to carry on, say, in French…).

Well, having said this: I ❤ conference interpreting and I cannot have enough of it, ever!
Even though this guide is by no means comprehensive (let me know if you have more tips to add), I hope you now are feeling even more prepared and eager to go into the booth. And remember, when in Rome… drink espresso.

P.S.: below a little gallery of real booth pictures of some of my recent assignments. Low quality for obvious reasons, but I hope you enjoy them nonetheless.


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