To make sense is the interpreter’s foremost and noblest task. If he* fails to help his listeners from abroad to overcome the language barrier, communication will break down, which is the worst possible scenario in an international set-up. The interpreter’s product must be pleasing to the ear and easy to understand even when the original speaker’s thinking is woolly or his presentation is poorly worded.
This is how we see ourselves
The interpreter is producing non-sense if he just shadows the original speaker, generates a stream of disconnected words, or parrots technical jargon he does not understand. In a small meeting, participants may be able to ask the speaker what he means. In a large international conference this is usually impractical, so a speaker may not even realise that he has lost part of his audience because the interpretation is not working, which wastes much of the care and effort he has put into preparing his speech or presentation.
Don’t want this to happen to you? Get in touch with the real Babel experts who know what they are talking about. It is our raison d’être to make sense.
Carpe Dictum – seize (and relish) each utterance!
A good speaker commands your full attention: you hang on his every word. You forget the world around you and remain focussed on his line of argument. If he structures his speech well, you will be able to follow his train of thought easily. You will appreciate the quotations and metaphors with which he liberally sprinkles his speech. At the end, you will take home with you the satisfying experience of a successful instance of human communication that enriches your life. Likewise, such speeches are the zenith of the professional life of an interpreter, who will concentrate one hundred per cent on his input and almost become the original speaker, conveying the full message to his listeners in the target language, including shades of emotional meaning and technical jargon.
In an ideal multilingual conference or conversation, both the original speaker and the interpreter enjoy their communicative roles and make them come alive. Their liveliness infects the listener, who follows with his undivided attention, so that the cost and effort of organising the conference and interpretation pay off. Conversely, it is obvious that the interpreter cannot work to his full potential if he has not been comprehensively briefed. Of course, any professional will also prepare for the conference on his own, but his preparation will be all the more targeted if the client provides him with the most relevant background material. If speeches are reeled off at breakneck speed in the original language or if the sound equipment is not up to scratch, the performance of the interpreter inevitably suffers.
It takes at least two to make the most of “Carpe Dictum”: a good speaker and an attentive listener. It takes three in a multi-language set-up where the professional interpreter will provide the missing link. If he is incompetent or lacklustre in his dedication to the job, (presque) rien ne va plus.
Don’t shoot or underpay the interpreter
For centuries, the lives of interpreters hung by a thread (and they still do in some war-ridden countries). As they were able - and indeed obliged - to move between cultures, they were deemed to be close in spirit to foreigners and their outlandish thinking, making them suspicious. Occasionally, as harbingers of bad news, they were made the culprits and unceremoniously sent to meet their Maker. We are a lot better off today: Interpreters are recognized for their mediating role – which sometimes intersects with that of the diplomat – and are generally appreciated as cross-lingual communication experts. Their professional work is widely acknowledged as providing the communicative lubricant in international contexts.
Most professional interpreters are university graduates. They possess above-average general knowledge and many of them have had some form of voice training. Very few interpreters are dedicated academics such as engineers, lawyers or economists. This means that interpreters have to master the skill of familiarizing themselves with new subjects all the time. They are mind-bogglingly good at it. And they work fast. This allows them to successfully transport highly complex content from one language to another, including the use of the right jargon. Their masterly interpretation skills are the result of many years’ or even decades‘ experience. When a client hires a professional interpreter, he benefits from this experience by purchasing the services of a versatile and knowledgeable communication expert. At language matters we offer more than forty years’ experience.
Do you want to pay a proper price for professional performance? Do you appreciate the contribution good interpreters make to the success of your international event? If so, you should expect them to charge rates that are similar to those of other liberal professions. The interpreter’s preparation time is included in the price you pay, and as such, it is excellent value for money. If you were to skimp on that little extra, you could be jeopardising your entire event.
* Note on gender mainstreaming: For better legibility this text uses the male grammatical form throughout. The authors wish to point out that male pronouns should be understood to cover both sexes. They had better: more than two thirds of professional interpreters are female.
language matters ... so do faces
Born in Stuttgart in 1979
Studies in Edinburgh and Montreal
Graduated from the Heidelberg University Institute of Translation and Interpreting
Member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (aiic)
Born (1958) and brought up in beautiful Hamburg
Education (primary/secondary school and uni) in Hamburg
Assistant Teacher in Northern England
EU Conference Interpreter Course at the Copenhagen Business School and member of aiic