Preparing for interpreter exams: an interview with Sue Leschen

Sue Leschen is an acclaimed lawyer-linguist and has worked as an independent CIOL DPSI Law mentor for many years and now for the first time brings her experience to a wider audience. She continues to interpret in the civil and criminal courts herself and so is aware of the pitfalls for unprepared interpreters in these venues.

She is an acclaimed speaker and her webinars with eCPD include Preparing for your CIOL DPSI (Law) examination, taking place in September and now open for booking.

Q.1. How did you get into mentoring?

As an experienced lawyer-linguist specialising in legal and business French, I was constantly being approached by colleagues (both new and established interpreters and translators) for legal terminology assistance. Initially I mentored on demand in a rather haphazard way until said demand was so great that I could no longer work like that as it was taking over my life!

Through my own company, “Avocate Legal and Commercial French Interpreting and Translation Services”, I set up a formal (paid) mentoring service. I am also a mentor for CIOL’s (free) mentoring service as I feel it is important to give something back to a profession which has given so much to me! Both Avocate’s and CIOL’s mentoring schemes are flexible in that they can cover (within reason!) whatever the mentee wants them to cover – anything from CV and web site content support to checking understanding of legal terminology for a translation or interpreting assignment.

Unfortunately, when I started out, formal mentoring schemes like these simply didn’t exist. I would have bitten someone’s hand off to have had a mentor like me!

Q 2. What is your experience with DPSI?

I sat my own DPSI exam many moons ago and I have to hold my hands up here and say that I completely underestimated just how difficult it was! I had somewhat naively assumed that because I already had a couple of years Public Service Interpreting (PSI) under my belt and because I was fluent in English and French that I would sail through it! No problem I thought!

Of course, the reality was different! This was no “mickey mouse” type exam! I found myself faced with hours and hours of taught (and self) preparation in order to prepare for what was a very tough exam. In fact, Ofqual (the government’s regulatory body) deems the exam to be the equivalent of first year university level!

Q 3. What is the most important professional advice you’ve ever heard?

Be organised, be prepared, put the hours in!

Q 4. How does your course prepare candidates for the DPSI Law exam?

We cover everything you need to know and do to give yourself a fighting chance of passing the exam:

• The structure of the exam
• Oral (consecutive and simultaneous interpreting) role plays
• Written (translations into and out of English)
• The different Law options: England and Wales: Scotland: Northern Ireland
• Use of dictionaries
• Preparation of own glossaries
• Note-taking in the exam
• Selected past exam papers and their legal terminology explained
• Tips and tricks and timing

Not only are you getting the benefit of an interactive taught course, but this course is taught by a lawyer-linguist – most DPSI law courses are not taught by lawyers, only by lay people.

Q 5. What are the weaknesses of preparing for DPSI Law alone?

This is a huge risk! You might think that you are saving money but the reality is that some people do fail the exam which is a waste of time and money spent on the exam centre fee and the individual exam component fees.

To state the obvious, the DPSI Law exam examines your knowledge (and importantly your understanding) of legal terminology. You may feel supremely confident and be blissfully unaware for example that “robbery” and “burglary” are not the same thing. Also the Law is not set in stone – it is constantly evolving – on your own you may not be up to date and not even realise it; for example you are still referring to “custody” instead of “residence” in family law cases and are unaware of the provisions and terminology in the recent Modern Slavery Act.

It’s up to you if you want to be an independent candidate – but you will literally be flying solo.

So why not sign up for the course, take advantage of the Q and A sessions at the end of each lesson, network with other candidates, ask all the questions you need to ask and drastically increase your chances of passing and then registering on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters.

Q 6. If there is any one thing that you would like the readers to do after reading this, what would it be?

If you are really serious about giving any exam your best shot, prepare as much as you can! Remember it is your responsibility to make sure that you are properly prepared for any exam you choose to take.

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