So what is it like to be a simultaneous interpreter? Well, next time you’re listening to the news on the TV or radio, wait until the announcer has said five or six words and then start repeating every word he says, whilst still continuing to listen to what he’s saying i.e. you should be repeating the speech word for word, but several seconds behind the original speaker. Then imagine that you’re not simply repeating what the speaker on TV or radio is saying, but that somewhere in between a lightning-fast cerebral operation has to take place in order to convert the source language into the target language (often the interpreter’s mother tongue). With German, this can be particularly challenging in that you often don’t discover until the end of the sentence which verb the speaker has used ‘ and, even worse, whether the verb is in the affirmative or the negative! In such cases, the interpreter is often obliged to make an “educated guess” at what the verb is likely to be and whether it’s likely to be prefaced with “not”. As you might imagine, this leaves a certain margin for error, since if the interpreter has not followed the speaker’s train of thought correctly, sometimes he or she might have to add in a quick “aside” to rectify what they’ve just said.
Whisper interpreting: not just for the Chinese!
At smaller meetings where there may be delegates present from two or more countries, “whisper” interpreting is sometimes used in order to avoid a meeting becoming protracted (thanks to each remark made being interpreted into several languages in turn!). This involves a multi-lingual interpreter sitting between two (or three) delegates round the table and literally whispering to them what each speaker is saying as the meeting proceeds.
Consecutive interpreting: how fast is your shorthand?
Good note-taking is the key to good consecutive interpreting, as here the interpreter often has to note down the contents of an entire speech, then stand up and deliver the same speech “consecutively” (hence the name) in the target language. This system can be used where booths and simultaneous facilities are not available and avoids a speech being interrupted every few sentences as would be necessary if the speech were interpreted bit by bit. Note-taking systems used by consecutive interpreters are many and varied ‘ some use short-hand, some rely on symbols and others use a combination of both. For example, the symbol for a country is a small square, the symbol for world is a small square in a circle etc. Obviously it’s not possible to have a symbol for every single word or concept, so abbreviated words are also used. The advantage of using as many symbols as possible, apart from the fact that they’re quicker to write down, is that it avoids the interpreter being “tied” mentally to a particular word in the source language and thus removes one of the mental processes which has to take place when one language is being interpreting into another.