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Spotlight On Valuable Work Of Simultaneous Interpreters

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What is the job of simultaneous interpreters? Simultaneous interpretation provides real-time translation of a spoken message. Due to the inherent challenges of the work, simultaneous interpreting involves a complex array of training, experiences, and abilities. As a professional simultaneous interpreter, an individual must manage responses in the midst of stressful situations. Simultaneous interpreters, also known as conference interpreters, often spend years preparing for the field. They spend additional time honing their craft so that they can provide real-time interpretation to an audience without pausing. Simultaneous interpreting proves such a complex activity that neural imaging of the brain shows the hard work involved. These unique skills and experiences set simultaneous interpreters apart from other interpreters and translators.

Simultaneous interpretation, while it shares many similarities with other types of interpreting, is a much more complex activity than merely rendering information in a new language. Simultaneous interpreters often serve in vital roles with state, national, and international organizations. These interpreters serve with the United Nations, providing simultaneous interpreting during meetings, conferences, and other events. Such high pressure positions necessitate that the interpreters spend considerable time in preparation for their role. They also have to continue training throughout their careers. In addition to maintaining fluency in more than one language, simultaneous interpreters further their education and training all the time. Every new assignment requires that they prepare for the challenges involved with this unique type of interpreting.

What Training Looks Like For Simultaneous Interpreters

To become a simultaneous interpreter, an individual must already have considerable experience as an interpreter. The interpreter will then need to complete an additional two or more years of professional training to prepare for the intense and varied nature of the work. This training includes increasing overall vocabulary and mastering new skills. Once a professional interpreter has finished training, that person will also have to prepare for individual assignments. They will need to conduct extensive research about the topic to be discussed. Sometimes an interpreter may even decide to create a glossary ahead of time to use during the event. Interpreters often refer to extensive notes during an event when needed.

Simultaneous interpreters face many challenges on the job
Simultaneous interpreters face many challenges on the job, including providing detailed translation for highly-dense and often-lengthy technical discussions. Photo by 祝 鹤槐 from Pexels

Simultaneous interpreters often work before thousands of people in high-pressured settings, like at a United Nations General Assembly or a United Nations Security Council. In these settings, interpreters must learn how to manage their emotions and the stressful pace of the situation. Careful preparation and extensive training helps with handling unexpected or difficult situations. Interpreters learn to respond quickly to situations that arise and to keep their emotions in check until after the assignment is completed. In addition to handling high pressured situations, professional simultaneous interpreters often provide interpreting during long, detailed discussions. They may, for example, have to translate highly technical or dense topics, such as agricultural or marine regulations. In these situations, interpreters must remain alert throughout the assignment.

Why Simultaneous Interpreters Often Work In Teams

One of the most challenging aspects of simultaneous interpretation is that the interpretation has to happen in real time. Because of the intensive nature of this work, simultaneous interpreters often work in pairs. Serving as an interpretive team helps to better ensure the accuracy of translations. After a half hour, an individual’s brain can become fatigued to the point that errors are much more likely to occur. These errors may not be noticed by the interpreter. To protect against such mistakes from occurring, simultaneous interpreting will often happen in 30-minute shifts. In fact, interpreters for the United Nations are required to take turns roughly every 20 minutes. During these shifts, the first interpreter will offer support to their partner by referencing notes, responding to messages, or tracking down information.

Simultaneous interpreters provide support during assignments
When taking turns on an assignment, one simultaneous interpreter will often offer support to another one by way of referencing notes or tracking down necessary information. Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Simultaneous interpreters face a wide variety of pressures and challenges with their work. Different languages rely on different word order to convey meaning and that sometimes causes confusion in the midst of real-time interpreting. Another challenge relates to how quickly a person shares a message. Sometimes an interpreter may need to ask the speaker to speak more slowly. At times, interpreters may encounter challenging speakers and have to exercise patience during the interpreting session. As a result, experienced simultaneous interpreters become very adept at adapting to a given situation. In fact, scientific studies of brain imaging during simultaneous interpreting sessions indicate that experienced interpreters use a variety of strategies, all of which point to flexible neural networks in their brains.

How Simultaneous Interpreting Impacts Neural Pathways

TED-Ed provides fascinating insight into the complexities surrounding simultaneous interpretation and its impact on neural pathways. In this highly specialized field, interpreters often work in sound booths and wear headphones. This equipment helps them to quickly and accurately provide real-time interpretation to a live audience. In his TED-Ed video, Ewandro Magalhaes illustrates the complex process of simultaneous interpretation. This discussion details the incredibly hard work that is done by the interpreter, whether that individual works for the United Nations or for a local government. The task of simultaneous interpreting impacts multiple regions of the brain and influences the way interpreters process information.

YouTube video

Ewandro explains that an interpreter devotes considerable time and effort to gain mastery of a language. In addition to mastering a language, though, an interpreter must also gain an understanding of a subject. Over time, this work of translating highly-complex information impacts how the interpreter’s brain works. That is, during simultaneous interpretation, multiple regions of the brain contribute to the overall task of real-time translation. So the work of simultaneous interpreting actually changes neural pathways in the interpreter’s brain. These changes help the individual to interpret with greater speed and accuracy. Interpreters become so adept at their task they can translate and engage in other activities, like knitting.

Support for Linguistic Diversity Through Interpreting and Translation

AFLS understands the power and importance of language. As a result, we seek to support the unique linguistic diversity of the world by providing bilingual language interpreting and translation in over 400 different languages, from Afaan Oromoo and Afar to Zulu and Zuni. Do we have your language? Take a look at our language list to find out! And contact us today for a free quote!

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