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What is interpreting?

Vom 08/01/2019

What does an interpreter actually do, and what are the biggest challenges of the job?

We caught up with our interpreting manager, Karl Fortier, to find out more:

What’s the difference between the different types of interpreting?

There are 4 types of interpreting, each one suits a different situation:

  • Simultaneous interpreting

This is the most common type. As its name suggests, it consists in a simultaneous spoken translation of a speech or presentation. The interpreters use specialist equipment (usually an interpreting booth where they can sit isolated from external noise), listen to the discourse in one language and translate it directly into another. This technique can be very tiring and interpreters often work in pairs to allow them to take turns, switching over every 30 minutes on average to take a break and refocus. Simultaneous interpreting is used for conferences, seminars, work sessions and other events with pre-prepared presentations or speeches.

  • Consecutive interpreting

Another type of interpreting is consecutive interpreting, which is also the oldest form. In this case, the spoken translation is not simultaneous but follows on at the end of a speech (or part of the speech). The interpreter usually stands next to the speaker and translates once the former has finished. In addition to having adequate language skills, the interpreter must also be able to convey emotions and the subtleties of the speech, often making this technique similar to acting. Some interpreters even given better speeches than the speakers themselves! This form of interpreting has the advantage of not needing technical equipment, unlike simultaneous interpreting. On the other hand, it can be more “cumbersome” because it essentially doubles the length of the talk (account taken of the duration of the discourse in the original language plus the additional time required for the translation). It is therefore suited to short events such as official or political speeches, guest speeches and press conferences.

  • “Chuchotage” (whispered interpreting)

Chuchotage is a method of interpreting that is often used at receptions for important guests or politicians. The interpreter accompanies the guest and provides a whispered translation of speeches or words. They also make sure the guest has understood all the necessary information. If the person receiving chuchotage interpretation wishes to speak, they can tell the interpreter what they want to say and the latter will switch to consecutive interpreting to establish a dialogue between the guest and the other people present.

  • Liaison

The final form of interpreting is liaison, which is the most “basic” sort. The aim of this technique is to provide a linguistic “bridge” between people speaking in different languages. It is most often used in informal meetings.


What makes someone a good interpreter?

I believe there are two things to look out for in a good interpreter:

First of all, the linguistic aspect. Although it may seem obvious, having sound linguistic knowledge is essential for being a good interpreter. In addition to simply learning the language, there are a multitude of subtleties, and especially cultural references, which can make all the difference to the quality of an interpretation. Although certificates or diplomas in interpreting can guarantee a certain level of quality, I generally have greater confidence in interpreters who have lived abroad previously because they have had time to practice and hone their language skills with native speakers and learn the expressions and finer points that academic study alone doesn’t necessarily provide.

Secondly, an interpreter must have irreproachable inter-personal skills. Interpreting is a “luxury” service and it is essential that interpreters demonstrate a high level of professionalism (punctual, well-dressed, respectful etc.) and are accommodating (willing to provide support and advice to clients, flexible, adaptable, empathic etc.) Interpreters with these characteristics and who are friendly and approachable are generally highly valued. When an interpreter has made a good impression, it is not uncommon for the client to ask for them again on other occasions.


The Home of Translation proposes a “bespoke” interpreting service. What does that mean and what are the advantages?

The Home of Translation proposes bespoke language services for its clients. This philosophy, which is centred on quality and client satisfaction, perfectly suits the field of interpreting.

When clients contact us to ask for one or several interpreters, we offer advice and provide recommendations based on our experience and according to their needs. Thanks to our many years of experience, we are able to rely on a large network of interpreters specialising in different fields, allowing us to always have a reliable team suitable for the topics covered during events. For us, it is vitally important to offer a bespoke service rather than simply pairing up an interpreter with a client, because a satisfied client is a loyal one! Whatever your needs, our teams are ready and willing to find the best solution for your event. We can also provide equipment for simultaneous interpreting and other extra services (recording, French sign language interpreting, live subtitling for the hearing impaired etc.)


Which types of events need interpreters?

Any event involving different nationalities. We provide interpreting for plenty of different events, including:

- Conferences
- Seminars
- Symposiums
- Round tables
- Multi-language training sessions
- Colloquiums
- Receptions for foreign clients or delegations
- International business meetings
- Press conferences
- Official speeches
- Different kinds of ceremonies
- International trade fairs and forums


What are the biggest challenges you face when organising an interpreting service for an event?

Every event is different and needs to be considered in its own right. From receptions for a foreign delegation lasting one day to large-scale international conferences involving a dozen interpreters over several days, each event must be assessed and analysed in close detail. Interpretation is often a fairly abstract concept for clients. The profession is not much known about by the general public, and interpreters are often thought of as “workers in the shadows”. The biggest challenge is getting a clear understanding of the client’s aim in using an interpreter, so that we can propose the most suitable service in terms of both cost and quality.

The other challenge we often face is anticipating problems. Interpreting is essentially linked to event management, and in this field nothing ever goes exactly as planned. It is not uncommon for technical hitches to occur (sound or video equipment failure etc.), schedules to be changed (conferences brought forward due to setbacks etc.) or information to be miscommunicated (speakers talking in a language that was not planned for etc.). As the clients are already taken up with many the other aspects of their event, my role is to anticipate such eventualities as best as possible in order to be prepared and provide backup solutions. In a way, each event has its own “worst-case scenario”, and it is always necessary to have a contingency plan and make sure that the client, interpreters and technical team are aware of it.

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