Posted by: sbilingual | June 27, 2012

Becoming an efficient conference interpreter

Anyone who has done any type of conference interpreting will immediately agree that there are various hurdles to overcome. Public speaking in and of itself can be a daunting task to many of us, likewise interpreting can become a real challenge considering the following items. First of all there is the distraction issue facing the listeners having to hear two people speaking almost simultaneously. Secondly there is the problem facing the interpreter of having to listen and understand a person who is speaking not to you but to the audience in front. Again it might be added that the mannerisms of the speaker and the interpreter are not exactly on the same level of expressiveness which adds to the aforementioned distractions. Finally there is the hurdle of long sentences, which happens when the speaker, absorbed in his or her topic, easily forgets about the interpreter.

Here are some basic steps a person can take into account to minimize the above mentioned challenges.
1) Before you begin sit down with the speaker and have a nice little chat. Get to know their voice and way of expressing themselves, i.e. many times a foreigner speaking English will have an accent that one needs to adapt to in order to fully understand this person.
2) Specifically ask them to please keep their sentences as short as possible and request them if possible to have a minute of practice with you before the conference begins. Any public speaker knows that if the interpreter is not right on they can easily lose their audience, so most of them are happy to do this. 3) Request an outline of their topic beforehand and become familiarized with the subject as much as possible. There might be terminology that is specific to their topic and not so easily translated, remembering that it does not go over well to be requesting help in the middle of the lecture.
4) Considering the subject matter, it might be added, get excited about it! Enthusiasm goes a long way in motivating listeners so if you are really interested in the topic it will no doubt show through.
5) When interpreting avoid looking over at the speaker constantly, it is quite distracting, keep as close as possible to catch every word but maintain your focus on the audience as a whole when speaking.
6) Then again it is recommendable to follow through with the different body gestures of the speaker, without exaggerating of course; it helps maintain an ongoing flow of communication between speaker and audience. It is a well known fact that physical expressions are part of good public speaking.
7) Finally remember that you are only the interpreter, you cannot improve a poor presentation very much, but you can enhance a good one!

To finish I would like to add a little anecdote about a personal experience I had once in this field of conference interpreting. This took place in Paraguay, South America, and the venue was packed, about 500 people or so had turned out to hear this quite famous American speaker. I was sitting next to him on the front row while he was awaiting his turn to make the presentation, so I took advantage of the moment to familiarize myself with him and his topic. He explained his message briefly and then his strategy of catching the attention of the audience. He told me he would use the sport of baseball as an illustration to begin his speech, therefore we would go out there swinging. Before I could react and tell him that nobody in that country had the slightest clue of what baseball was really about, he got up and headed towards the microphone. As you can imagine, swinging, pretending he had a baseball bat in his hands; I was horrified is only a mild way of saying it. Of course I could do nothing else but follow through and needless to say, those first few moments were a total flop. I learned the hard way that it is important to spend a little more time with the speaker before standing up!

To find out how Bilingual Resources Group can support your interpretation, translation and bilingual staffing needs, please call 504-253-0364 or visit


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