If you think that anyone who speaks a second language (to a level where they are comfortable going on holiday) can be a good interpreter, it’s time to think again.
In a business situation, you might ask a colleague who has a reasonable level of competence in a second language to interpret for a meeting for example. Some people might demonstrate a reasonable level of skill for a short meeting, where they really know well the subject matter being discussed. However many will struggle and either give up or provide such poor interpretation that the meeting may have been compromised.
So what makes a professional interpreter worth the money?
Let’s look first of all at what kinds of situations an interpreter may be called upon to deal with.
The most common situation is perhaps a business meeting with a couple of people round a table, trying to come to some agreement about a particular project or potential sale.
The interpreter has responsibilities to both parties, to ensure the conversation flows smoothly and accurately, that any cultural differences are taken into consideration and to ensure that their presence, although vital to the success of the meeting, is kept in the background.
They must be familiar with the subject being discussed, which could range from legal translation, to technical translation even within the same sentence. A good interpreter will have specialist knowledge in a variety of fields and will also be excellent at researching and preparing before the assignment.
Their language skills will allow them to think, speak and listen all at the same time if they are providing whispering interpreting to one or two delegates (also known as chuchotage). If they are providing consecutive interpreting they will make notes and provide a succinct, paraphrased version of what has just been said when the speaker stops. They need to have fluency in both of the languages being used and know all the relevant terminology in both languages.
They need to speak in the same tone as the main speaker, conveying the message accurately and explaining for the listener anything which may not be immediately apparent (for example cultural references or jokes).
Particular skills come to the fore for court interpreters, who also need qualifications and training in how the legal system works in both of their languages. They need to correctly represent the words of their client to the court and know how to ensure the client receives unbiased, accurate information on what the court is asking of them. They need to know how to behave in a courtroom, what effect any poor translations may have and what they may need to explain to a court about the culture that their client comes from. All court interpreters supplied by MTT have NRPSI qualifications and have significant court experience.
Interpreters for medical situations need to have excellent medical knowledge, diplomacy and sensitivity. Political interpreters need to be top class knowing that what they say may in some part change the course of history.
Conference interpreters, for example those employed by the EU, have perhaps the most stressful environment and face the most demanding challenges. Working in pairs or threes in soundproof booths, in stints of just 20 – 30 minutes, they have to listen and speak at the same time, providing real-time translation of a speaker’s words. The speaker may be quick-paced, make jokes which are impossible to translate, drift off subject into an unprepared area, take questions from the floor, make cultural references which need some explanation, or use a language which is not his mother-tongue, all of which can compound the demands made of the interpreters.
The European Parliament uses 24 languages. For a meeting with 24 active and passive languages, 72 interpreters would be needed for a full interpreting team. There are approximately 330 staff interpreters and external accredited linguists are also used for other less common language combinations.
For the interpreters, there’s little or no time to think through what they are going to say; they need to have both languages at their fingertips, with specialist vocabulary researched and learned, ready for use. They have the most amazing opportunities too, being present at some of the most important moments in world affairs, politics or sport and meeting the people in the limelight who are making history.
Training can take many years, and skills are constantly being Interpreting – why use a professional developed.
While a colleague with some language knowledge can help in an emergency, the professional interpreter can be relied on to ensure your meeting goes smoothly, with minimum interruptions and lost time, and with the certainty that nothing will have been lost in translation.
MTT have handled many interpreting projects including telephone interpreting, conferences, board meetings, factory tours, medical assessments, employment tribunals, court cases and police emergencies. We also supply BSL interpreters alongside our spoken language interpreting teams.
We have interpreted for footballers, engineers, lorry drivers, businessmen, conference delegates, journalists, employees and road accident victims.
Everyone should be given a voice and we make sure their message gets heard.