Conference interpreting

Most people use the terms “translation” and “translator” erroneously — as they refer to written work — instead of the appropriate terms — “interpreting” and “interpreter”. Interpreting refers to the spoken transmission – carried out by an interpreter – of an oral message, from the source language into the target language. There are several forms of interpreting: conference, liaison, simultaneous or consecutive.

It is important however to emphasize that a good interpreter does not “interpret”, i.e. modify, the message to be conveyed. On the contrary, our duty and pride as interpreters is to be as faithful as possible to the original message, to fully convey the author’s intentions and ideas, in the clearest, neatest, most easily comprehensible form. Interpreting, as in its main definition, should always affect form but never content.

A counter-example would be the Italian pun “traduttore, traditore” — “translator, traitor”. This reflects the stake and importance of the role of translation and interpreting, at the crossroad of peoples, nations and civilizations. The quality of this filter can make all the difference, one way or another!

Investing into this type of service is thus a good strategic choice. Indeed, poor quality in the restitution of a message could entail failure: as talented as the speaker can be, his message would remain stuck behind the language barrier, separating him from his audience. The key to the success of any meeting resides in communication, i.e. in being able to convey one’s ideas clearly to the audience.

The role of interpreting is thus a decisive component in the success of any international and cross-linguistic meeting.

In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter uses headphones to convey, almost simultaneously, the speaker’s message. In order for the interpreter’s voice not to disturb those nearby, he works in an isolated booth. Thus, his voice is only heard through headphones, in the target language.

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter expresses the message in the target language after the original message has been actually delivered. Unlike simultaneous interpreting, where the interpreter is heard but not seen, consecutive interpreting requires the interpreter to stand in front of the audience and speak to them directly. This implies a different use of time and space, than with simultaneous interpreting.

The back-and-forth between the speaker and the interpreter makes it easier for the audience to assimilate the message. The length of the sequences in each language must therefore be adjusted: neither too short – in order to avoid interrupting the speaker’s momentum, nor too long – to avoid the audience feeling left out. This subtle balance requires good listening skills, as well as an ongoing interaction and harmony between the speaker and his interpreter.

The interpreter relies on his attention, concentration and memorization skills. Indeed, a mere few seconds of inattention are enough to miss crucial components of what is being expressed.

The interpreter does not only deliver words, but also their flesh – sounds and vibrations: rhythms, melodies, intonations, gestures (in consecutive work), giving an added emotional dimension to the words. A good interpreter thus matches the speaker’s energy, as he is, to some extent, his spokesperson and extension. A good energetic match between them guarantees a certain comfort, high quality communication, a source of harmony and an understanding between all those involved. Such value is priceless.

I was often congratulated on the quality of my work both after consecutive and simultaneous interpreting sessions. Instead of delivering the message mechanically, I tend to clarify it, to make it more lively and easier to understand. As Boileau once said: “What is clearly conceived, will be clearly expressed, and the words to say it will come easily and effortlessly.”

The significance of interpreting in a more and more globalized society is primordial, and should be considered and respected as such.

In compliance with international trade standards of the AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters), interpreters should always iwork in teams of two or more so as to take turns about every 30 minutes, considering the extreme concentration and skills required for this work.