The role of a professional interpreter is fairly straightforward — to render speech from one language to another. While it might seem to be a simple job, however, it can sometimes be a tricky task to accomplish.
Elaboration, clarification and neglect are all obstacles in the way of proper interpretation. A professional interpreter should only interpret speech verbatim. If they do otherwise, they’re bound to leave everyone tongue-tied.
Interpreters Open the Lines of Communication
The sole job of a professional interpreter is to enable communication between two or more parties who speak different languages.
To this end, professional interpreters can only interpret the words being spoken. They must always ensure that they communicate every detail of what is being said without a single omission or alteration. During simultaneous interpretation of a seminar, for example, an interpreter should interpret everything a speaker says, even miscues.
When an interpreter strays from what is being said, communication breaks down and this in turn can lead to misunderstanding between all parties involved.
In Virginia, for instance, an interpreter was aiding police in the interrogation of a suspect and did not relay to the detective the suspect’s request for an attorney. As a result, the interrogation and subsequent confession may never make it to a courtroom.
As this story illustrates, when interpreters fail to fulfill the requirements of their role, the consequences can be troublesome. At all times, a professional interpreter must only interpret verbatim and refrain from adding or — as in the case above — omitting information.
Interpreters Are Not Part of the Conversation
Professional interpreters must not color another person’s speech with their own commentary. They cannot offer personal thoughts on an issue or provide a context to what’s being discussed, no matter the situation.
To do otherwise can lead to confusion. In the case of the interpreter mishandling the interrogation, the interpreter gave a personal, misinformed response to the suspect’s request for an attorney. This not only resulted in a misunderstanding, but also called into question the entire legality of the interrogation. And it’s just plain bad interpreting to boot.
Professional interpreters will only interpret verbatim what is said and should barely make their presence known while performing their duties.
Interpretation, Not Clarification
But what happens if one of the parties doesn’t understand what the interpreter has said? For example, during the consecutive interpretation of an interview, an interviewee may not understand an interviewer’s question.
In such situations a professional interpreter should interpret the request for clarification and then interpret the response — no more, no less.
In some cases — such as during legal proceedings — there are even stricter rules regarding how an interpreter indicates that one of the parties needs something clarified.
In these ways an interpreter adds clarification but not mystification. In essence, a professional interpreter’s role is simply to keep the lines of communication clear … which sometimes isn’t so simple at all.