While many bilateral talks, broader meetings and large international conferences could not take place without them, interpreters usually stay out of the spotlight. They boast unique linguistic talents and are trained for years to make sure everyone involved can understand each other.
You will find them both at public speeches and top-secret negotiations conducted behind the scenes. It is thanks to them that attendees know what their international peer or speaker said and the speaker, even if they fluently speak the foreign language, does not have to ponder on finding the right words for subtleties. An experienced interpreter will swiftly get all the details, allusions and cultural references without being misled by the local accent of the speaker, and will be able to convey all the subtleties to be understood by everyone.
Can I take a break?
There are a number of interpreting methods, each serving different purposes. Official speeches, business meetings and procedures in law firms usually require so-called consecutive interpretation. In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter listens and waits until the speaker stops and takes a break, during which the interpreter can interpret what was said.
Still, this is not an easy task when you need to remember and then repeat lengthy passages that may last up to several minutes. In these situations, the interpreter relies on their notes where the key information of the source message is written using various symbols and abbreviations. This means that the source speaker is not repeated word for word in the target language but rather interpreted in terms of the most important facts and concepts.
Interestingly, no official notation system is used for consecutive interpreting. Hence, two interpreters will note down the same sentence in a different, individual manner that will quickly enable each of them to recall specific content. This is why, especially at business meetings that require industry-specific terminology, it is important to give the interpreter an opportunity to learn about the subject matter and prepare accordingly in advance. You should also remember that consecutive interpreting doubles the speaking time.
Same place, same time
Another method, used most often at conferences and public speeches is simultaneous interpreting, which is performed in parallel to the speaker’s words. Interpreters work in soundproof booths and the invitees are provided with wireless headsets which enable them to listen to the speaker in their chosen language.
However, this is not a rule though because during various types of one-to-one business or international talks, we can come across so-called whispered interpretation. Whispered interpretation is a type of simultaneous interpretation but performed without any equipment whatsoever, during which the interpreter sits next to the listener and whispers what the speaker said in his/her ear.
Though this may seem like a simple task, interpreters must have attention divisibility and be extremely resistant to stress. When they work, interpreters must listen to the speaker, analyse the words, process it into the target language and then communicate the message properly to listeners, all at the same time. This is an extremely demanding task, which is why simultaneous interpreters always work in pairs and take turns every 20 to 30 minutes. During one turn, each of them processes 130 to 180 words per minute on average.
The duration of each turn is not haphazard either and has been proven scientifically. Research showed that after 30 minutes of simultaneous interpretation, the number of errors and potential misinterpretations rises significantly. This is caused by mental stress and the impact of continued pressure on the body. For this reason, the profession of simultaneous interpreter, in terms of stress level and concentration intensity, ranks second just after that of a civilian air traffic controller.