History has seen situations where people had to deal with more than one language. In translation, however, there are often two faces. Just think of the Italian pun “traduttore, tradittore” (‘translator, traitor’).
Yet people still respect and recognize the skills of the translator as something extraordinary. Few realize, however, how difficult it is to understand and interpret something from one language, while producing the same meaning in a second language.
Susan Sontag says: “Translation is the revenge of intellect upon art. Even more! It is the revenge of intellect upon the world.To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world – in order to set up a shadow world of ‘meanings’.”
If you think of it, we can all agree that translators have always been engaged in one of the most important and difficult jobs in the world and definitely deserve respect and recognition for it. Often heard, but rarely seen. Maybe they don’t quite have “a front row seat to history”, but you can guarantee that interpreters are always hidden somewhere in the most significant rooms.
In appreciation of these people who make the remarkable utterly routine, we have compiled a list of four things you might not have known about their lives.
- Your intepretator is (most probably) not a translator
The qualifications are different, and the job descriptions barely match. We’re talking about different qualifications here, even job descriptions. One works alone, at home, with a dictionary; the other gains experience from meeting people face to face. Not only do the skills involved differ, but the kinds of people attracted to each profession may be different too. One of the main misconceptions out there is that mastering multiple languages somehow makes you an all-rounded professional. Mastering multiple languages is the (necessary but insufficient) minimum entry grade for either profession. Much like having two hands is probably a minimum requirement for becoming a concert guitarist; ditto for becoming a car mechanic. And here’s the analogy: someone being a professional translator and a professional interpreter is rather like someone being a premier league footballer and a pro tour golfer at the same time*.
*There are, of course, more people who earn money as translators and interpreters than as footballers and golfers. This is an example to show that these people have a unique set of skills.
- Interpretation is Rich in Content
Different situations call for your interpreters to have a diverse range of skills.
- Simultaneous Interpreting
Simultaneous interpreting occurs at the time of speaking. It is usually performed by a team of two interpreters. Here, any more than a few seconds lag would disrupt the entire event With this kind of instantaneous, real-time transfer, 30 minutes is considered the absolute maximum time any individual can sustain this feat.
- Consecutive Interpreting
With consecutive interpreting, the speaker has to leave gaps at the end of a sentence or a conceptual break in their content. In these breaks, the interpreter renders what has just been said into the target language. Events that use consecutive interpreting can take up to twice as long. Someone doing consecutive interpreting may have a few seconds pause to think.
This type of translation is derived from the French verb “chuchoter “which means “to whisper”. Chuchotage involves the interpreter sitting next to the client and performing simultaneous interpretation in hushed tones. It’s best suited for meetings. Too many people in a room doing this for any length of time might result in progressively raised voices and ultimately chaos. Therefore, it’s best suited for shorter meetings in a narrow circle of people. Strictly speaking, the former don’t need to have any interpersonal skills to do their job, whereas the latter couldn’t survive without them.
- Relay Interpreting
This is an interpretation between two languages via a third one. When a delegate speaks a language that is “unmarked” by the intepreter in the booth, it can be “transferred” (via audio) to another booth which marks the respective language and accepts the function of the active languages booth. The interpreter works via another language without disrupting quality. To understand why relay interpreting is necessary, we just have to imagine the complexity of the situation at the EU. There are 24 official languages, into which every single document must be translated. When it comes to conferences, the same job must be repeated verbally with interpretation. Languages like English and French are far more widely spoken and understood than, say, Maltese and Latvian, and it’s uncontroversial to say that you will have trouble finding many Maltese-Latvian speakers qualified to interpret in either direction. When the delegate from Latvia is to give a presentation about Marine Preservation to a conference, the simplest solution is to find a common language – for example, a Latvian-English interpreter and an English-Maltese interpreter. One will read from Latvian into English for all English speakers. The second one will listen directly to the original speech, but to the rendition provided by the first interpreter. Then the second interpreter will interpret this English version of the speech into Malteese for the Malteese attendees.
Simple, isn’t it?
Except that adding in even another language increases the scale of the challenge, and there are other language-specific obstacles to successful relay interpretation.
- Your Interpreter is a True Artist
Interpreters are hired for events where there are live audiences. The stakes are very high. Every assignment entails an on-the-spot compromise. Part of the performance comes with striking the balance between preservation of tone and transposition of cultural differences. A speech on a serious subject must have its austere tone transmitted; while a lighthearted, funny delivery poses the ultimate interpreter’s nightmare – spontaneous translation of humour into a different language. Interpreters must have a good feel for what may be funny or polite in one language but dull or shocking in another. Similarly, they have to be attuned to all of the clues that make up a linguistic message – including the slightest hints from body language. One of the more important skills this high-stress job requires is the ability to clamber out of a hole. Even the most skilled linguist can find themselves mid-speech having forgotten a pivotal sentence, or being confronted with an unfamiliar word. In such awkward situations your interpreter’s improvization skills will save the day.
- Your Interpreter’s Job is Safe
And as much as people would love to find a way of avoiding the interpreter’s fee, the profession is safe for several reasons.
Firstly, more people than ever may be learning major global languages like English, Spanish and Mandarin…But this doesn’t foreshadow a decline of the language service industry. The amount of time, effort and investment that corporations like Google and Microsoft have lashed into automatic translation software is a testament to the growing demand of the global population have access to foreign language content. But there is no such automatic translator that translates a long speech or a difficult content so that it makes sense.
Machine interpretation relies on the synchronisation of two pre-existing, quite shaky technologies – voice recognition followed by automatic translation. The application of speech synthesis is a further stumbling block. Even with recent advances, the best this field can offer falls well short of acceptable standards in voice tone, emphasis and pronunciation. So, it relies on three collaborating levels of automation in which things regularly go wrong.
So, next time you work with an interpreter, spare a thought for the human being behind the booth, and remember that you haven’t paid for a computer;
If you need professional interpreting services, we will be happy to respond to your request!