Interpreting is an essential service in today’s increasingly global market.
Fields as diverse as entertainment and academia are stepping out into the larger world and meeting colleagues from other cultures.
Despite the necessity of interpreting, however, not everyone understands what goes into the profession.
This guide aims to give you an overview on the different aspects of interpreting, and how you can benefit from having an interpreter at your side the next time you meet a colleague from another country.
How Is Interpreting Different from Translation?
Though both translators and interpreters are linguists, and both deal with converting one language into another, their roles are not interchangeable.
Translating deals primarily with text-based materials: printed documents, books, video captions, signs, etc. Translators have a deep knowledge of a language’s grammar rules, vocabulary and linguistic nuances. Specialists in various professional fields — such as medicine, engineering or law — will be familiar with jargon or technical terms, too.
In contrast, interpreting handles the verbal aspect of communication. Vocabulary and linguistic ability are important here as well, but an interpreter’s emphasis is on the interpersonal skills and quick wit needed to be able to interpret languages on the fly, often in the space of a few seconds.
What Are Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting?
Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting are styles of interpreting, each of which is ideal for certain situations.
Consecutive interpreting is the “polite” form, where the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish talking before relaying the message to the listener. This is best for conversations between two people or small groups, and for intimate meetings where the interpreter can stand next to the speaker at the front of the room.
Larger meetings, however, often require simultaneous interpreting. In simultaneous (also known as conference) interpreting, the interpreter provides a running account of the speaker’s message, delivering the interpretation just a few seconds behind the presentation.
Events that use simultaneous interpreting often provide audience members with headsets, earpieces or other audiovisual equipment so that interpreters can perform their jobs while not disturbing other attendees.
Why Do Simultaneous Interpreters Work in Groups?
During a large conference, groups of simultaneous interpreters may need to work together to provide real-time interpreting. This is because the act of interpreting is very taxing, both physically and mentally. An interpreter will often need to alternate duties with a colleague in order to take a breather.
What Should I Expect from an Interpreter?
You should expect your interpreter to be three things: literal, impartial and invisible.
An interpreter’s job is relaying a speaker’s message to an audience. Nothing more, nothing less. If the speaker says something confusing, the interpreter shouldn’t “fix” the message to make sense.
Interpreters should hold themselves apart from a conversation. This is especially important in high-tension situations like negotiations or interrogations, where a miscue can have serious repercussions.
When facilitating a conversation, the interpreter should not be addressed directly. The interpreter is acting as a mouthpiece for both parties, not as an active participant in the discussion.
Though the process may seem intimidating at first glance, finding and working with an interpreter has many short-term and long-term benefits. By taking advantage of professional interpreting, you can educate your peers, facilitate business deals and establish lasting relationships with people you wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with.