The Art of Interpreting

Kana Tsumoto has just finished her internship with us, translating and recording our maths app into Japanese. In this post, she explains why she’s excited about her chosen career in interpreting.

The other night when I stayed at a youth hostel, I had an uncomfortable conversation with one of my roommates. I told her how I just finished a university course in Translation and Interpreting and how I am about to embark on my new career as a translator/interpreter. Then, in a not so roundabout way, she started to criticise my future profession, describing it as a boring task; merely repeating what has already been stated but in a different language! I shouldn’t have let her get on my nerves, but she did. I endured this for three days, and on the fourth she left. The initial joy felt at her absence soon descended into shame. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been a massive coward! I had failed to stand up for my profession, failed to defend it against a misinformed foe! Since then, I have been composing in my mind a grand speech on how wonderful translating and interpreting is. I would like to take this opportunity to share this speech, and dedicate it to my roommate in 303.

Language dictionaries

Interpreting is, in fact, very exciting and very demanding! You definitely do need an extremely good command of the language you are interpreting into/from, but surprisingly more important are other skills including for example research management skills, communication skills, a sense of conciseness and even drawing skills! I was flabbergasted myself by this when I first started the course. Let me go through some of these skills with you.

Communicating skills: Interpreting belongs to the service industry. So as a service, being able to communicate with your clients is a vital skill. Interpreters need flexible communication skills to survive in many different environments, such as court rooms and their tense atmosphere, to the bonhomie found at sales talks, or the acute technical details found at academic conferences.

Researching: Interpreters spend a significant amount of time on research. This takes place prior to the actual performance. An hour long session of interpreting can require days, even weeks, of research for it to be successful. Research allows the interpreter to familiarise themselves with the terminology and theories that are going to be employed during a speech or conference. Interpretation without research is in some cases impossible. If you don’t know what is being said then how can you translate?! A good interpreter immerses themselves within their particular field, becoming expert in their chosen subject.

Drawing skills: We interpreters are artists when it comes to taking notes. During consecutive interpreting, we usually make quick notes of the speech. But of course we don’t have much time for writing down stuff, nor can we spend much time looking at the notes when performing; we have to talk to the audience, not to our notes! So we take notes through the medium of drawing, or rather, in symbols! The symbols need to be simple enough to scribble down and meaningful enough to allow us to understand the logical flow and the details in just one glance.

Last but definitely not least…

Sense of conciseness: This, I find most difficult to improve (I’m going to have trouble explaining conciseness concisely, oh dear!… But here I go!). The best translation that suits the context and the intention of the speech may not be the translation you find in the dictionary. A good interpreter never burdens the audience with the task of trying to understand the interpretations; they are like a guide on a cruise liner, taking with them passengers for a seaside tour in the greatest of comfort. A bad interpreter however, forces their passengers to balance out the back of the boat on water skis, whilst showing them the same scenery. Exercising the skills of conciseness in the midst of interpreting is not an easy task, and it comes only through lots and lots of practice. It is an art form, and when it is done right it is beautiful!

As you can see, interpreting can be a very demanding job. It comes with everyday hard work. The process of striving for something and then accomplishing it is definitely exciting. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it, my roommate from the hostel! 😉


4 thoughts on “The Art of Interpreting”

  1. Pingback: The Art of Interpreting | EuroTalk Blog | On Interpreting |
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