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  • Writer's pictureBe Moore Interpreting

Conference Interpreting

More and more interpreters are being requested in conference settings. Here's what we've been experiencing.

Over the past few months, our simultaneous interpreting has nearly tripled. As business owners with that kind of growth, we can’t help but wonder what has catalyzed it? Has word of mouth spread on the quality of our services, or is our brand FINALLY a staple in the community?

In our quest to find some answers, we want to share a couple of experiences we’ve had.

Conference interpreting is different from community-interpreting or even medical settings. During conferences, an interpreter is typically sitting in a secluded area, speaking into a headset or microphone. Conference attendees throughout the room listen to the interpretation via headsets. The interpreter usually trails two to three words behind the speaker, trying to capture all the words and conveying them in a manner that retains the context as well as interprets the intent. There is very little room for error and correction. It’s fluid, fast, and concise.

Recently, I interpreted for a Venezuelan speaker who spoke very fast. As a Puerto Rican, I talk fast, too, but she left me in the dust. She and I spoke before the conference and agreed that I would signal if she were going to fast (because she recognized how fast she spoke). Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I couldn’t keep up. I trailed behind by 4-6 words, often wondering if I was doing her message justice. That’s the plight of great interpreters; we question our skills. We fear we may taint the message with our essence and not that of the speaker.

On another occasion, I interpreted for a Venezuelan man. He was slow to speak, precise, and focused. He carried sentences longer than the norm and challenged every thought he made. It was interesting to interpret for him because even though he was methodical, I wondered if I had lost his essence. It wasn’t that he was flying through his presentation, but a question of am I as poignant with this interpretation as he is with his message?

I bet you’re wondering why I am sharing all of this. What does it have to do with conference interpreting? Well, everything and nothing! In conference settings, there is no time for clarification, no interruption, and many times no opportunity to slow the speaker down. Interpreters are provided with slides, discussion points, speaker notes, and other materials to facilitate their preparation. Once the interpreter is in the room, the speaker’s flow is their flow. They go slow; we go slow. When they go fast, we fast. It’s like a fun game of shadow.

If you’re a conference host or speaker, how do you know if the interpreter is doing their job? How do you know if the participants are understanding? Well! That’s easier in some settings than in others but watch for expressions. If the limited English-speaking person (LEP) is not responding like the rest of the audience, there’s a problem. In other words, if everyone has laughed and the LEP has not laughed, the message may be getting lost. Cultural nuances, norms, and jokes, may get lost in interpretation at times, but a good interpreter should find the equivalent in the target language and share it. A puzzling look or confused expression are other ways to tell if they’re understanding.

A successful interpreting session will include head nods, chuckles, engaging body language, and facial expressions, as well as note-taking. Not just by the interpreter, but also by the recipient of the interpretation. The LEP feels a part of the larger picture, and they will communicate that.

Here’s to bridging communication!

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