Interpreting, like translation, aims to translate or transpose a text or message from one code to another; that is, from one language to another. The particular characteristic that differentiates translation from interpreting and makes these two activities very different is the fact that the latter involves oral translation. Interpreters use their voice, and not writing, to transform the source text into a new text, which it would be better to call a target discourse or message.
There are different types of interpreting:
– Simultaneous interpreting: the interpreter translates the message into the target language as quickly as possible following the source language, while the speaker of that language continues speaking. To carry out this work, interpreters sit in a soundproof booth from which they can see the speaker, to whom they listen through headphones. To transmit their message, interpreters have a microphone. The recipients of the target language message listen to the translation through headphones. Simultaneous interpreting is often carried out in booths in which interpreters work in pairs who share the same language combination.
– Consecutive interpreting: the interpreter begins speaking after the speaker of the source language has finished their speech. The speech is divided into sections and the interpreter sits or stands near to the speaker to listen to them and take notes on what they are saying. When the speaker pauses or finishes speaking, the interpreter transmits the message in the target language. As for the notes, it must be pointed out that there are no fixed rules that establish an adequate way of taking them. In reality, each interpreter has to develop their own method according to what they find easiest.
For example, there are interpreters who take lots of notes and others who write down only a few words or symbols. It must be emphasised that behind the technique of note-taking for consecutive interpreting is the concept of translating not every word, but rather the meaning of these words and especially the meaning of the speech being listened to. When the interpreter listens to a section of the speech, they have to understand above all what the speaker means and make notes in the form of words or symbols that will later allow them to remember what was said and transmit it.
The translation does not need to be identical to the source message; what is necessary is to translate the meaning, the message, and that can also be done using different words, words chosen by the interpreter. Notes are often quite organised, in a diagonal format, where the subject is written first on the left, then the verb in the middle, and then the object at the end, on the right.
Consecutive interpreters often draw a line after each utterance or sentence, so that they can remember how the speech was structured. Both simultaneous and consecutive interpreting require short-term memory skills and the ability to quickly deliver messages and find effective solutions. Skills that translators also have, but do not have to develop quickly; rather, translators have time available to look for a word and think of a possible translation. In this sense, more accuracy is asked of translators, something which is more difficult for interpreters to achieve, due to the environment in which they work.
– Whispered interpreting: the interpreter sits next to a small audience whilst simultaneously whispering the translation of what is being said. Whispered interpreting is used in situations where the majority of the audience speaks the source language and only a minority does not.
– Liaison interpreting: involves transmitting what is being said in a conversation between two or more people. A team of interpreters is not required; the interpreter often takes some notes but not like in consecutive interpreting because in this type of interpreting the messages are often shorter.
– Sight translation: the interpreter reads aloud a document written in the source language as if it were written in the target language. Personally this type of interpreting has had and continues to have special importance in my interpreter training. At many universities, sight translation is, in fact, the first step to getting involved in interpreting, especially simultaneous interpreting. Sight translation may seem easier compared to the others, but it in fact requires many skills, including maintaining maximum fluency; greater accuracy since the text is available; and the ability to read with one eye on what is to come to structure sentences coherently. Doing lots of sight translation really helps at the beginning because you get used to quickly finding a translation for each word and quickly finding a solution in cases where you don’t know the word or you don’t entirely understand the meaning of the sentence.
As you can see, there are significant differences between translation and interpreting, but the objective is still the same: efficient communication that is as faithful as possible to the original. What happens is that different tools and time frames are used. Interpreting also requires greater advance preparation of the subject matter than translation. Translators are often more specialised in some areas, but in any case they have time to research and to consult sources to translate the text. Interpreters need to know before they speak, and once they start the speech, they do not have as much time to look for something if they have doubts.
A good translator does not always make a good interpreter as well; it is a completely different way of understanding translation. Translation is more painstaking and meticulous; interpreting is more about finding the most effective and efficient way of saying something. And the same can be said the other way round; many interpreters are not able to achieve the accuracy required in a written translation. This explains the fact that many universities offer different degrees for translation and interpreting. In my case I can say that, during my interpreting studies, I have also spent time doing written translation, since interpreters often translate as well.
Debora Tasca, translator and interpreter