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Halfway Through the Translator Training Program (TTP)
This is my most happy and joyful year at RYI. Three years since starting with the Bachelor Program (BA) I adventured myself into the Translator Training Program (TTP) – a one-year course that trains students to orally interpret from Tibetan into English. The TTP includes:
Ø One course of your choice during the two-month Summer Program.
Ø The Fall Semester and the Spring Semester, where you have classes five days a week from 8am to 4pm.
Ø Six weeks of Translation Seminar (exclusive for TTP students): two weeks during the winter break and four-weeks after the end of the Spring Semester.
During the Summer Program I enrolled into the Advanced Colloquial Tibetan, a course that radically enhanced my capacity to both speak and understand the language.The course was a great support to boost my Tibetan and be comfortable to start the first day of the Fall Semester, where the actual training in interpretation commences.
The first weeks of the Fall Semester were a little bumpy. On the one hand, we had to adjust to a very intense class schedule. On the other, from the first day of the semester we were asked to interpret, from Tibetan to English, a Dharma teaching given by a learned monastic (this Fall semester, Ani Thubten Wangmo.) Sent to the interpreter’s seat, I basically did what I could and, surely, realized all that I could not! I remember asking Ani lato repeat every sentence in slow motion, again and again, and using myriads of synonyms until she targeted the one, probably the only one, that I knew.
Fortunately, together with Ani la and your fellow TTP students, sits a professional, experienced translator that helps you to first, understand what is being taught and, secondly, convey a proper interpretation. The support of the corrector (this year, Anya Zilman, Inka Wolf and Maria Vasylieva) is extremely precious; definitely a gem of the program. Every day, we receive personal feedback regarding what we have specifically (1) misunderstood, (2) omitted and/or, (3) added in our interpretation. On top of that, each week correctors make a list of the unknown vocabulary – that is, the words that Ani la said and we were not able to translate – and, later, quiz us on these words. As a result, every week we memorize between 50 and 100 new words and gradually build a broader vocabulary.
The process of interpreting actually starts to become more manageable as the weeks go by. Slowly, slowly, we become more familiarized with Ani la’s way of teaching; learn how to better prepare for class; and with the support of the Interpreting Methodology class (this year, given by Maria Vasylieva), acquire knowledge on specific techniques (such as note-taking and memory-training) that help overcome the first wave of difficulties.
As for the intense class schedule, during the Fall and the Spring Semesters, a day of the TTP program is generally as follows:
Ø Classes start at 8am with one hour of untranslated Khenpo class (open for TTP and non-TTP students). This year we are studying the Dakpo Targyen (The Jewel Ornament of Liberation) by Gampopa.
Ø Subsequently, there is either:
o Advanced Classical Tibetan master class (open for TTP and non-TTP students) or,
o Advanced Colloquial Tibetan master class (exclusive for TTP students) or,
o Interpreting Methodology class (exclusive for TTP students).
Ø Morning classes end with a one-to-one dharma or colloquial language conversation with a native Tibetan speaker.
Ø After lunch there is a Translation Class, which is the heart of the program. In this class, a learned monastic teaches a Buddhist dharma scripture in Tibetan, students take turns to orally interpret for about 30 minutes each, and each student receives constructive criticism from a corrector.
Ø Three times a week the day closes with another one-to-one colloquial language conversation with a native Tibetan speaker.
Thus, the day brims with opportunities to gain greater familiarization with the language. Yet though one might only be driven to enroll in the TTP for the sake of drastically improving one’s Tibetan knowledge and interpreting skills, there is much more to the TTP than just that. Indeed, the TTP can be a great opportunity for personal growth.
The fact of being corrected in almost every sentence that one utters is the best way to learn, but can be challenging. Since the launch of the TTP program (2008) there are stories of students that, while trying to interpret, burst into tears, suddenly left the room, or just felt angry and frustrated. Though in theory these strong reactions to making small mistakes do not make any sense – especially when being corrected is a necessary element for the learning process and, of course, a great opportunity – our subtle or emotional bodies can still get disturbed and resistant to the feeling of imperfection. Even though we might intellectually understand that all is okay, based on our uncomfortable feeling, our thinking mind takes-off with critical thoughts either about ourselves (how bad we are) or about the program, the correctors, etc. – trying to point to an external source for our anxiety. As such, a certain personality is required to not abandon the program.
Identifying one’s inclination to perfectionism, exaggeration, excessive self-identification, and proliferation of invalid assumptions – like the thought of it being so terrible that even a small mistake will cause one to obsess about it for days – one can then learn how to relax and cultivate a feeling of “okayness;” meaning, qualities of acceptance, openness and tenderness that naturally relieve the unnecessary sense of worry. I am not a good example for success in this area yet I am confident in that the greater our openness and gentleness, the quieter our inner critic’s voice will become.
The act of interpreting in the presence of a corrector also acts as a perfect scenario to recognize how well one understands the Buddhadharma in Tibetan. In fact, as long as one does not clearly understands what is being taught, one is not able to communicate the meaning of it to the audience. It is generally the case that, from the first day of the TTP, students realize the significant gap there is between what they think they understood and what they actually understand. In this way, interpreting can become a means to test one’s understanding of the Buddhist teachings and, more importantly, a way to actually enhance one’s capacity to understand the Buddhadharma – what has a direct impact in how one puts the teachings into practice.
Halfway through the program, I am full of gratitude and appreciation for all that I have experienced. On top of obviously improving my Tibetan and communication skills, I can already see how the TTP is also helping me to unfold a healthier and more grounded sense of being. Just like “drip by drip, a jug gets filled,” I trust that this process will contribute to fully settle the dharma in my mind, and I pray whole-heartedly that all this nourishment may benefit countless beings.
With my TTP family (from left to right): Victor (Brazil); Cecilia (Argentina); Ani Thubten Wangmo (Tibet); and Mimi (Austria).
~ Cecilia Pla
 To read about my experience see, “First Summer Program at RYI” posted on December 10th, 2019.
 In Tibetan, “Ani” (in wylie script, a ni) is a common way to address ordained nuns and adding “la” (lags) at the end is a sign of respect.