Interpreting sure is a heck of a profession. According to a mysterious study, it‘s apparently more stressful than being a fighter pilot. Interpreters also regularly get blamed for “misunderstandings”. And those of us who have ever worked in an overheated booth know all too well how the greenhouse effect works.
But there‘s one danger that doesn’t get enough attention, given the exposure we get on a daily basis: Sitting.
“Sitting is the new smoking!”
“Every time you sit down, a kitten dies.”
Think about how much you sit, just for a moment. In the booth. At your desk at home. When you travel: bus, train, plane, you name it.
But what exactly makes sitting so bad?
When we sit in an interpreting booth all day, we tend to slouch and hunch forward. We want to be closer to the mic, for example. Also, it’s natural for humans (which most of us are) to want to move towards the person we are communicating with – that could be the speaker, it could be the listeners. We also lean forward to increase attention.
And it can be the same in consecutive. Very often, you’ll be sitting at a conference table of sorts, slouching over your notepad, frantically scribbling notes, leaning forward so you can hear the speaker a little bit better.
All in all, it rarely takes more than 15 minutes for your body to lose good posture and start slouching again. And you know what you look like when you do that? A ski jumper!
Don’t. Be. A. Ski. Jumper.
Because if you’re a ski jumper for a longer amount of time, your shoulders will go forward and downward. that can lead to neck pain and, eventually, headaches.
Let’s move further down: to your hips. They become tight, and limited in their movement as you sit in that chair all day.
Your lower back becomes tense and the pressure on your spine increases. So give those spinal discs a bit of workout from time to time.
Keeping your knees bent for long stretches of time shortens the patella tendons, which, again, can become painful.
Sitting also slows down your digestion, especially after lunch. So keep your food intake light and healthy. Avoid big portions. And for the love of God, avoid the cookies during coffee breaks!
And as if all that wasn’t bad enough already, sitting can also impact your professional performance! That’s because speech and breath are intimately connected. If you don’t breathe properly, you can’t speak properly. If you start slouching and hunching forward, that constricts the muscles in your neck and upwards; 7they need to work harder to keep your head up.
But all that work restricts the larynx, which – as you know – takes care of the breathing thing for you. So: keep up that good posture and breathe properly!
What you can do about it
- Be aware of the issue. Remind yourself to maintain good posture and to breathe properly.
- Renegotiate your relationship with the microphone. You don’t actually need to get too close to it. Or you can pull the console a little closer to you. Another alternative is to use a headset. You’re less tethered to the console, you can move freely, and it’s more pleasant to the listeners, because the mic is always at the same distance from your mouth, keeping the volume even.
- Stand up as often as possible, inside the booth or outside. And if you use a headset, you can even stand while you interpret, not just during breaks.
- Adjust your chair! This is the first thing I day when I come into the booth, every single morning.
- Adjust the height. Your feet should be able to reach the floor. If that’s not possible, find yourself a footrest or some packs of printer paper to support them.
- Adjust the seat cushion. It should tilt slightly forward to put your pelvis in a natural, supportive position.
- Adjust the back rest. It should not be too far away from the seat cushion. Most chairs let you set the resistance for leaning back, if you don’t want to lock the back rest. Use the lumbar support, if your chair has one.
- Now, the arm rests. I personally don’t like them because while they may pretend to give your arms a rest, what they often do instead is push your arms up and stress out your shoulders! So set them up properly or move them out of the way.
- There are some habits you can pick up to further avoid slouching. Your papers? Make a point of picking them up from time to time so you don’t stare down at the table. If there’s a monitor in your booth for video or presentations, make sure it’s adjusted properly in terms of distance from your eyes, angle or height.
- Also: drinking! No, not that drinking. Water drinking! Drink like there’s no tomorrow. There are several benefits to this. Not only does it keep your body hydrated and your voice in proper working order. It also forces you to stand up from time to time to go to the loo and, afterwards, get more water.
- Speaking of standing up: When you go to the loo, or to get coffee for yourself and your booth mate, take a little detour. Take the stairs instead of the lift. You get the idea. You can also step out of the booth for a moment and do some stretching and breathing exercises.
- If you want to, you can use reminders on your phone, or on your wrist, to make sure you don’t forget to move about a little bit.
- Lastly, make sure you get enough physical activity outside your work. Whether it’s yoga, Pilates, jogging, swimming, walking the dog, just. get. moving!
Alexander DRECHSEL (recovering conference interpreter).