Time is a Challenge to Interpreters

As an interpreter, I find myself jealous of translators. They have one benefit the interpreter cannot have. The translator can read and re-read a text in question. They review the context, research terminology, and choose the precise wording. Although it is true that an interpreter can seek clarification from the source, they don’t have the luxury to research the perfect word before a rendition.

This reminds me of what a colleague once said.  Translators are like a US 747 airplane; interpreters are like an F-16 fighter jet.

As an interpreter, first I must hear what the speaker is saying in the source language. Second, my memory must retain what the speaker said and ensure my understanding of the message.  Next, I must translate that message in my head, without additions or subtractions.  After that, I must instantly select the most suitable words for the target language and the proper grammar structure.  Finally, a rendition into the target language comes out of my mouth.  This requires quick thinking and commitment.  Once I use that word, I must keep moving on with my rendition without giving much (if any) thought to whether I could have chosen a better one.

My goal is always to render the information accurately. Internally, I am aware that another rendering could have been better, or more accurate. If I had time to research terminology related to the context of what is being said, it would be glorious! I’d be a 747.  Now you understand my translator envy.

Professional interpreters must continually study diligently and learn as much medical terminology as possible ahead of time. This seems much easier to do than it truly is.  The cognitive load is difficult, and it is done almost instantly.

Recently I was at a public event requiring an interpreter. It was easy for me to interpret in my mind and criticize the interpreter for his rendering when I could think of a better word. Then I reflected and asked myself the question if he accurately interpreted correctly. Although he didn’t use the words I would have chosen, the answer was yes, he did indeed do a good job.

It can be easy to criticize an interpreter rendering, but one must remember that what he did was instant. He isn’t a translator and we cannot expect him to produce the same results. And if we were to switch places, I’m sure he could pick apart my rendition.

Please elect to choose certified interpreters who have demonstrated the minimum standards of proficiency and are dedicated to the craft of their profession.

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