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Chuchotage: joys and sorrows of whispered interpreting


Chucotage is one of the oldest, most famous simultaneous interpreting techniques. The name of this technique literally means “whispering” and it involves absolutely no technical tools.

How common is this type of interpreting nowadays, and how useful is it?

All the pros of chuchotage

Chuchotage is one of the cheapest interpreting techniques, since the only cost to be met is the fee due to the interpreter, who interacts directly with his or her interlocutors, operating in their same physical space.

The cost of electronic equipment, a must for other types of interpreting, is zero in chuchotage, and its logistic organisation is much easier from all points of view.

If using chuchotage is a feasible option considering the situation, i.e. if the translation is to be provided for a very small number of people, organising the task of the interpreter specialised in “whispering” will be much simpler than the technical organisation and maintenance required for an in-cabin interpreting session.

To be a chuchoteur, you need a calm, cool head!

Interpreters who operate in cabin, or remotely, are fully isolated from everything going on around them: thanks to their headphones, they are not disturbed by background noise and can concentrate completely on the words pronounced by the speaker for whom they are providing the simultaneous translation service.

As it’s easy to imagine, during chuchotage there is no soundproofing: the interpreter is located precisely in the middle between the speaker and the listener who benefits from the translation.

His or her performance is therefore likely to be “disturbed” by any background noise made during the event (negotiation, TV guest appearance, business deal, etc.), and by the words spoken by the speaker, which will literally “overlap” his or her own.

This means that practising whispered interpreting implies being exposed to disturbances and potential distractions: to succeed, the interpreter must be capable of fully managing the situation, including any small unexpected events, such as not being able to hear what the speaker is saying due to background noise, or not being able to keep up with the speaker due to the difficulty of having to speak over them.

And as if that weren’t difficult enough, each interpreter may also interpret for two people at the same time, sitting slightly behind them, in what is perhaps an even more uncomfortable position.

A useful alternative to avoid the problem of voices talking over one another is consecutive chuchotage interpreting. With this method, the interpreter uses a  particular shorthand system to take notes of everything the speaker is saying for a certain period of time, normally equivalent to a few minutes. Immediately afterwards, he or she proceeds in translating what has been said to his or her customer, using the chuchotage technique.

But unfortunately there’s a downside to this technique: the speaker must wait for the interpreter to complete his or her work before continuing their speech. And as you might imagine, it takes twice as long to express a speech in both languages!

Redazione Eurotrad

March 18, 2021

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