Interpreting is a fundamental branch of translation. It acts on what we call “living language,” spoken by people on a daily basis for a wide range of reasons.
Unlike those who translate written texts, interpreters must be able to facilitate real-time communication between individuals or groups of people who do not speak the same language. In many respects, this is a much harder job than written translation because it involves a lot of pressure and performance anxiety.
There are several types of interpreting, each of which responds to certain needs and works best in different situations.
How do you interpret at a conference?
Conferences usually involve a person speaking to an audience. At the end of the talk, members of said audience are given the opportunity to ask questions. Of course, an interpreter’s work (or that of multiple interpreters) comes into play when the speaker gives his or her talk in a language that the audience does not know.
The most effective type of interpreting in this situation is simultaneous interpretation. In this set up, interpreters (usually at least a team of two) listen to the speaker’s speech on headphones and translate it into a microphone in real time. Conference attendees listen to the simultaneous translation through their own set of headphones.
It is such a difficult skill that the number of interpreters required for the job is based on a number of factors, such as the topic’s complexity, the length of the event and the language pair in which the interpreters find themselves working . The advantage of being able to alternate with colleagues allows interpreters to rest between one interpreting session and the next, thereby managing pressure and mental fatigue while maintaining a high level of translation quality.
Good interpretation and business
Consecutive interpretation is mainly reserved for shorter events, such as press conferences or presentations for a small number of participants. In these situations, interpreters work alone and without headphones. After listening to a small portion of the speech, they are asked to interpret, before passing the floor back to the speaker. To avoid forgetting key points in the speech, the interpreter usually writes down the main points in a notebook, using special techniques and symbols.
An interesting – and more complex – variant of consecutive interpreting is liaison interpreting. This technique is mainly used during business meetings between international partners. As with consecutive interpretation, the interpreter is present in the meeting room. They listen to a part of the conversation, write it down and proceed to interpret it. They then listen to the other party’s response, write it down and interpret it.
Alternate interpreting requires a perfect command of two languages, as interpreters must be able to speak their working language with the same ease with which they speak their mother tongue.
Consecutive translation is quite difficult to learn and requires a lot of practice. Fortunately, there are lots of video and audio resources online that feature consecutive translation exercises.
Scroll, the online software developed by the University of Forlì, is a very interesting example. The software allows you to paste text into a box and have it scroll down the screen, so that you can practice “visible interpretation,” which is an excellent tool for getting started with consecutive interpretation.