In this blog, we will be looking at the incredibly challenging career of professional interpreting. We’ll be exploring what it’s like to be a professional interpreter. We’ll be learning just how they manage to juggle between multiple languages at once; listening, translating and speaking in an instant.
To truly get into the mind of a professional interpreter, and to recognise the traits and characteristics demanded of someone looking to get into this difficult profession, first we must get a better understanding of interpreting itself. How interpreting developed as a vocation, how it differs from translation and what it takes to become a professional interpreter.
When did professional interpreting begin?
To trace professional interpreting back to its beginnings, we need to travel back to the early 20th century. Professional interpreting was first known to be used at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1927, however it was not until the end of World War II, at the Nuremberg trials, that professional interpreting began to be introduced on a large scale. Interpreting was used to bridge the language barrier in almost every meeting, and to great success. So much so that following the Nuremberg trials, the United Nations established simultaneous interpreting as a permanent service.
How does interpreting differ to translation?
If you’re not familiar with interpreting though, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is essentially just translation, but that is far from the truth.
Translation and interpreting are two separate disciplines but share the same objective: overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers. Nevertheless, there does exist a basic, fundamental difference between them: translators work with written texts while interpreters primarily work through speech. There are also different varieties of interpreting styles: conference interpreting (simultaneous and consecutive) and public service interpreting (in hospitals, trials, etc.).
These are professions that require entirely different skill sets. Translators need to have excellent written skills, the ability to proofread and edit texts and, as technology continues to advance, it’s vital for translators to possess IT skills. Interpreters on the other hand must interact continuously with people, therefore they must possess an entirely different skill set, such as excellent social skills, confidence in public speaking and a good memory to retain the message they hear.
How do interpreters listen, translate and speak all at the same time?
Now that we know these basics of interpreting, it’s time to spill the beans and tell you the most important secret of simultaneous interpreters. They not only listen, translate and speak, but do six different things all at the same time! If you ask any simultaneous interpreter the process of how they work when interpreting, he/she will answer some variation of these six important stages:
- Listen: the stage in which they listen to the message.
- Process: the meaning of the message or what is the speaker trying to communicate.
- Summarise: decide what to say in the target language.
- Output: result of step 3 (speaking).
- Check for errors: while stage 4 is happening, the interpreter is constantly on alert to not make mistakes.
- Coordinate: through steps 1 to 5, staying alert and making sure not to lose track of the speech.
How is it possible, then, that these language professionals can do so many things at once? Well the answer is simple: with a lot of practice and dedication. It takes professional interpreters about two years’ worth of training to master the skills necessary to become a conference interpreter. At first, students just have to shadow the speaker, which means they only have to listen and repeat what the speaker is saying, without translating. The next step is to think about the meaning and how they would translate what the speaker is saying; and then finally, they will try to interpret the language simultaneously.
With time, and after a lot of practice, the interpreter will begin to adapt to the speed of speech, they’ll expand their vocabulary and be able to understand different foreign accents. Also, critically, they will learn how to keep calm in times of tension, like when there is speech that doesn’t have an equivalent in the target language. Interpreters don’t have control of what the speaker is going to say, and so must always keep their guard up!
Under normal circumstances, when you speak, listening to your own voice is essential. Interpreters, however, pay less attention to their own voice so that they can concentrate on the words they are translating. These challenges make simultaneous interpretation exhausting, so on occasion there may be two interpreters present to take turns to rest every half an hour.
Interpreting Today: Telephone Interpreting
Almost a century has passed since interpretation became a profession. The world has changed and developed and continues to do so. Currently, we live in an era of globalisation thanks to the emergence of new and smart technologies. These technological advances require linguists to remain up to date on the very latest tools and advantages available in translation, as its a restless industry that continues to look forward. In the case of interpretation, advancement has taken the form of telephone interpreting.
Nowadays, more and more companies are turning to telephone interpreting and even more interpreters are considering adding it their list of specialisms. This new modality is one which connects the client and linguist via their preferred device – mobile, tablet or desktop. Telephone interpreting allows for either audio or video interpreting and can connect to a professional linguist in an instant.
Amongst telephone interpreting’s many advantages, we can highlight the flexibility in schedules and the cost savings on the part of the costumer. Travel can often be a major hindrance when organising an interpreting service, often proving awkward and costly. With telephone interpreting, these factors are negated and therefore translate into reduced costs for the customer.
In translation, the advancement of technology plays a vital role in forming industry trends. Programs and devices continue to develop to the benefit of consumers, making access to translation services such as interpreting easier than ever before. And I, for one, am certainly looking forward to seeing what the next big breakthrough will be for professional interpreting.
Written by María Gracia, Edited by Geraint Jones