Our Posture Matters

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This & That ― Vignettes of a Professional Journey
a column by Ines Bojlesen

Our daily life, whether as translators or interpreters, is extremely demanding on our bodies and minds. We overlook or ignore the strain we put on our systems and only realize it when red flags appear.

In my teen years, I was diagnosed with a back problem that affected my posture, which in turn aggravated the back problem. It was an early wake-up call that told me I needed to be aware about how to live with the condition in a way that it would not slow me down.

Daily physical exercises to strengthen my muscles became as routine as brushing my teeth or showering. I played tennis, but my main exercise was walking to and from school. When I started working, walking was not only a guarantee that I would arrive on time, but especially a way to strengthen my muscles.

I have a degree in Industrial Design. One of the courses I enjoyed most was Ergonomics, or Human Factors Engineering as it is more commonly known in the U.S., which is defined by the Encyclopædia Britannica as “the science dealing with the application of information on physical and psychological characteristics to the design of devices and systems for human use.”

If you work as a translator, whether at home or in an office, the design of your workstation is probably far from helping your physical well-being, starting from the desk and the chair, to the keyboard and mouse, and even where and how your feet are positioned. The distance between your eyes and the monitor as well as the size of the screen can cause extreme fatigue to your eyes.

So many translators and interpreters are always on the go, working with mobile devices. How many hours do you spend with your head bent, your arms hanging, your hands sustained on a small keyboard and that irritating touch pad?

I find that editing jobs are particularly exhausting and demand good posture and frequent breaks. I tend to just hold the mouse or touchpad to scroll down the document, with few interruptions to move my hand from the mouse to the keyboard. By the end of a long editing job, my neck, shoulders, index finger and back hurt.

There are quite a few applications, some free, that you can install and program to remind you to take breaks, do some relaxing exercises, get up from your chair, or sit down and rest your feet. It is worth checking out the different kinds of apps and try ones that best fit your circumstances.

Posture matters just as much to interpreters confined in tiny booths, using poor quality headsets, bending to reach the microphone and straining their eyes to look at a monitor that shows the conference happening in another room, building or city. Did you know that sign language interpreters are also at a high risk of repetitive stress injury (RSI)? This article discusses this risk for sign language interpreters and mentions NAJIT’s position on team interpreting.

I was once called for a three-day interpreting assignment at a local university. I had to interpret for only one person, so in a MacGyver-like improvisation, I bought an amplified transmitter/receiver, along with a headset for the person for whom I was interpreting. It saved me from resorting to whispered interpreting (chuchotage) during those three days. But the cord that connected us was not very long, making it impossible to change position as often as I should. At the end of each day, even my jaw hurt from interpreting non-stop for so many hours. (Yes, I made a big mistake by accepting the job without explaining the need for two interpreters.)

During my telephone interpreting days, strain occurred on every part of my body: on my ears by wearing the headset for long periods of time; on my back from bending over the desk taking notes or reaching for my resources; and moving as little as possible to avoid unacceptable noises.

In this short blog, I cannot provide solutions or expert advice. There are many sites that you can visit about this topic, with suggestions of exercises and equipment to avoid RSI and other physical conditions. But I do want to call your attention to the fact that using equipment and devices that fit your body and movements will help your productivity while reducing the risk of injuries.

Now that you finished reading this, take a break and don’t forget: Mens sana in corpore sano.

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