So, last week a friend talked me into volunteering for a Spanish medical professional’s class to help Spanish speakers in-need get medical assistance. I felt really confident, after all, I spoke English and Spanish fluently, and I had studied translation for four years. It wouldn’t be difficult, would it? We went to a hospital in Harrisburg and helped patients communicate with doctors who only spoke English. However, it was not the same than translating, where you had a deadline with unlimited access to resources, and time to look for terms. In this situation, you had to respond accurately in a limited time span. It was at this point, where I wondered about the difference between being a translator and being this intermediary. In the event there were no intermediaries in this conversation what would happen? Would patients or doctors be able to communicate effectively? What is the importance of this person? What are the specific qualifications a person like this should have?
These intermediaries between the communication processes are called interpreters. I decided to further investigate this topic, and I interviewed an English<> Spanish interpreter who also works as a translator, Silvia Barbuzza de Calderaro. Silvia is also a teacher of English as a second language, and she holds an MA in Educational Technology and ELT.
Agostina: Silvia, how long ago did you become an interpreter?
Silvia: I started interpreting 22 years ago.
Agostina: Did you always want to become an interpreter?
Silvia: Not really. I started liking interpreting when I met the teacher who later on became my mentor in the profession, Prof. Néstor Chiapetta, an experienced interpreter who trained me for many years. Sharing the booth with him, I began to enjoy and love the job. Of course, I´m talking about simultaneous interpretation, which is my passion.
Agostina: What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?
Silvia: Broadly speaking, an interpreter works with spoken language translating orally, while a translator works with either spoken or written text transferring it from one language to another in writing.
Agostina: What skills does an interpreter need to have?
Silvia: Interpreting is fundamentally the art of paraphrasing—the interpreter listens to a speaker in one language, grasps the content of what is being said, and then paraphrases his or her understanding of the meaning using the tools of the target language. An interpreter also needs mastery of the subject matter being relayed. Interpreters have to possess the following skills: Intimate familiarity with both cultures, extensive vocabulary in both languages, an ability to express thoughts clearly, accurately and concisely in both languages, excellent note-taking techniques for consecutive interpreting, and a quick mind and composure for simultaneous interpretation.
Agostina: What are the different modes of interpretation?
Silvia: Broadly speaking, there are two types of interpreting: simultaneous and consecutive. In simultaneous Interpreting, the interpreter sits in a booth wearing a pair of headphones and speaks into a microphone. During consecutive Interpreting the speaker stops every 1–5 minutes (usually at the end of every “paragraph” or complete thought), and the interpreter then steps in to render what was said into the target language.
Silvia: It´s difficult to put into words the excitement of this profession and the feeling of fulfillment one obtains from the job well done. I love the adrenalin and alertness required to perform well and the satisfaction when things go as expected and I leave the booth feeling I completed the job successfully. I enjoy being able to communicate the intended message and helping people connect and understand each other. That´s extremely rewarding!
Agostina: Do you know if the interpreting profession has any credentials in Argentina?
Silvia: Yes. There are different private and state educational institutions in Argentina which offer interpreting training at tertiary and university level.
Agostina: What’s a typical day at work like?
Silvia:Tipically, a simultaneous interpreting day for me starts at 6 a.m. to get ready to be at the site of the event by 7:30, half an hour before the conference starts. Once at the booth, my partner and I test that everything is working fine and settle down. We prepare our laptops, note pads, glossaries, powerpoint presentations, and finally make sure there is water and glasses available. If possible, we also contact the speakers to introduce ourselves before the conference starts. On a regular work day at interpreting, I spend about eight hours in the booth with a few breaks, but it´s an exhausting job. However, I enjoy it deeply.
After this interview with the expert, I had clearer ideas: interpreters are not the same than translators, since they require different skills. Interpreters must have a strong command of the language and culture, and they must respond almost instantly, while translators have a great command of the both languages. I kept on reading articles online, and I found out that there are other types of interpretation. (Click to view).
I still wasn’t sure about what was like to be an interpreter, and so, I kept on looking, and I encountered a great video that describes the dream job of most interpreters: a life of an interpreter in the UN.
Once I volunteered as an interpreter in a basic medical situation, interviewed the experienced interpreter, read about the interpreter’s profession, and watched videos of interpreters’ work, I could grasp what really meant to be an interpreter. What do you think? After reading this blog post, can you tell the difference between a translator and an interpreter?