Resources > Interpretation Insights
Interpretation is the process by which a person listens to what is spoken in one
language and relays it to another person or group of people in a different language.
At the UN, you see interpreters working in glass booths. At your plant, they
accompany you and the trade delegation from Poland on the factory floor,
relaying your message to your visitors and their questions back to you. In a
hospital they help ensure that patients get access to the care they need,
whatever their language. And in courts they play an essential role in
ensuring that justice is served.
A professional interpreter is an invaluable resource in any face-to-face negotiation, communicating your meaning and intent to your customer, and vice versa.
Interpreters have nerves of steel.
Interpreters must listen to a message in one language and relay the same
information back in another language, almost instantaneously.
Want to experience the stress yourself?
Take a microphone, turn on your TV and try to rephrase whatever the
newscaster or actor is saying in real time. No lagging behind, you'll
never catch up.
Now imagine you are doing the same thing, but restating the message in a
different language. Don't even think of using a dictionary for words you
don't know; there's no time.
A child's life may depend on you. A million-dollar deal may be in the
balance. Or the success of a company's participation in an international
trade fair may hinge on your interpreting skills. These are just a handful of
situations where a professional interpreter makes all the difference.
Interpreters are bilingual, but that's not all. They know both the words
and the culture behind the words, in two or more languages.
Bilingual? That's like my brother-in-law. He speaks Spanish.
Red Alert! Untrained bilinguals are a major risk in an interpretation
The reason is simple: bilinguals may speak two languages fluently, but
lots of people described as bilingual are not really that fluent or even
accurate. Most importantly, they are not necessarily good at moving
information between two languages, especially when the pressure is on.
And if they identify with one of the speakers, they might take sides, which
can skew a critical exchange.
Professional interpreters bring a different approach and skill-set to the job.
Familiar with different interpreting techniques, they are trained to get your
message across, accurately, smoothly, efficiently, and to let you know
exactly what the other party is saying.
Amateurs & volunteers?
Nine times out of ten, relying on well-meaning but untrained volunteers is a
huge waste of human and financial resources.
In a medical setting, using untrained relatives or staff can have catastrophic
consequences. In police work, improper communication of an individual's
rights can result in reversal of sentence. In courts, innocent people have
been convicted and guilty parties set free due to incompetent interpreting.
Using non-professionals may also be against the law: several states,
among them California and New York, have forbidden the use of children
as interpreters in healthcare situations and in courtrooms.
"In our hospital, we have seen many examples of 'filtering of information'
by well-meaning friends and family members acting as interpreters, with
very bad outcomes for the patient."
- Department head at a large hospital group
Reference: Adapted from "Interpreting: Getting it Right." American Translators Association
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