February 26, 2018
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.