Language Interpreter:
Essence of Profession, Skills, and Quality

The special abilities and aptitudes that a language interpreter must have differ from those of a language translator. And though this website is specifically devoted to language translation and translators, it would be unfair not to say a few words about interpreters. At least, because these professions are interrelated. In addition to their primary professional activity, some translators work as interpreters and some interpreters undertake translation assignments.

Professional Skills

Sign-language interpreters convert spoken communication into sign language an vice versa to facilitate communication between people with hearing problems and people who can hear well.
What do language interpreters do? They communicate meaning orally from one language to the other (while translators provide written renditions of written texts). For such instant oral communication of meaning in a given setting, interpreters need certain skills:

  • Fluency in at least two languages
  • In-depth understanding of the subject matter in which they interpret
  • Cross-cultural sensitivity
  • Ability to express thoughts and ideas intelligibly enough while setting aside their personal opinion; attention; good memory; quick wits; analytical skills; and note taking technique

Modes of Interpretation

There are three modes of interpretation:

  1. Consecutive interpretation begins after the speaker has concluded speaking. The speaker pauses periodically to give the language interpreter time to interpret. While listening to the speakers, interpreters often take notes so as not to forget important points of the speaker’s message. Consecutive interpretation is intended to be heard by all participants of an event. It occurs in such settings as informal conversations, meetings, negotiations, and workshops.
  2. Simultaneous interpretation takes place at the same time someone is speaking. No pauses are made. The language interpreter lags about one phrase behind the speaker. Simultaneous interpretation is intended to be heard only by the listening party. So it is either whispered by the interpreter or delivered by the latter using specialized equipment (a soundproof booth, headphones and a microphone). Simultaneous interpretation takes place in such settings as international conferences, courts, and business meetings.
  3. Sight translation requires the interpreter to read a document/text written in one language and then orally render its meaning into the other language. It is used when there is a need for quick access to the information. It may be needed in such settings as courts, health care services, and business meetings.

Telephone interpreting is interpretation via telephone for individuals who do not speak the same language. An interpreter, who is based in a remote location, fist listens to each speaker and then renders the speaker’s words into the other language.
As has been already mentioned, interpreting takes place in various settings: at courts, hospitals and health care facilities, educational institutions, social services, international conferences, by phone, etc. Usually, interpreters are required to travel to the jobsite (except interpreters who work over the telephone).

To handle a specialized subject matter, the language interpreter needs preparation. He/she should get to know the subject matter in advance: to do some research, to familiarize himself/herself with the provided reference materials, to compile a short glossary of terms, etc.

Ethical Principles

The basic principles are accuracy, impartiality, and confidentiality. All other ethical principles are based on and result from them.

Accuracy: Interpreters render the meaning of the original message into the target language in full without any distortions, omissions, explanations or additions.

Impartiality: Interpreters maintain professional distance and remain impartial, while demonstrating respect for all parties.

Confidentiality: Interpreters maintain the confidentiality of information learned during the interpreting.

Quality of Interpretation

Quality that should be expected from the professional language interpreter:

Maximum: Ability to interpret in the required mode (simultaneous, consecutive, and sight) with full and accurate rendition of the meaning. All aspects of the message – cultural context, idiomatic expressions, style, register – are conveyed without any deviations. In-depth knowledge of the specialized subject matter. Flawless interpreting: no pauses, repetitions, hesitations, or corrections. Pleasant voice and good diction.

Minimum: Adequate accuracy of interpretation. The interpreter conveys many cultural nuances, formal and colloquial speech, figurative language, and idiomatic expressions. The interpreter may stammer, may require repetition or clarification in case of the highly specialized subject matter. However, these drawbacks do not hinder successful rendering of the message.

And the quality of interpretation that definitely will not do for us is the one demonstrated by a language interpreter (called "a translator" in the script) from the Lost in Translation movie by Sofia Coppola. Here is an excerpt from this script:

language interpreter, example of poor work

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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