Does an interpreter doing a consecutive interpretation or a simultaneous interpretation have a right to express emotions? Or maybe the interpreter should forfeit expressing emotions entirely while interpreting? Some situations, which warrant the use of an interpreter, can be quite overwhelming. So, in what ways should they behave in these situations?

Interpretation of difficult and oftentimes dramatic events can often be troublesome to the interpreter. In essence, they also have to live through this event along with the person that is being interpreted when they are interpreting. It can even be claimed that the interpreter has to live through the event twice, first by hearing what they have to translate, and then by constructing
a statement in the target language. There is even a likelihood that the interpreter’s voice might crack or they can even be at the edge of tears while Interpreting statements of witnesses in a courtroom, someone’s final goodbyes or other touching testimonies.

Of course interpreters are educated in how to handle these types of emotionally intense situations, but we need to remember that their work is closely affected ‘in the heat of the moment’. Even when they have the opportunity to read a speech or testimony ahead of it being officially presented, during the actual presentation they may become influenced by the emotions of the speaker.

It is also worth noting that an interpreter must not only interpret the spoken words alone. They must also mimic body language, the speaker’s tone of voice, and how the words are accented. Besides the speaker’s sentences, the interpreter must also include all the other corresponding values of the communication. Every gesture which the speaker utilises should be dutifully reflected by the interpreter so as to express the message as coherently as possible.

Does that mean that the interpreter can express their own thoughts and beliefs through the interpretation? Absolutely not. And even though they should not be completely invisible while on stage, they must abstain from expressing their beliefs and interpret in accordance with the speakers message.

Last of all, we would like to remind you how important the concept of localization is to an interpreter. During one of Lech Walesa’s speeches in Japan, Walesa’s interpreter, Witold Skowroński, had to interpret a popular comparison in Poland that communists are like radishes: red on the outside and white on the inside . However, a radish in Japan looks completely different! It is white on the inside and outside. So how did the interpreter tackle this problem? He changed the radishes into… prawns! This seafood is very popular in Japan and is in fact white on the inside and red on the outside. And that is exactly how a conference interpreter should function. They must be vigilant, they should know the culture of the country whose language they operate in, and they must also have a quick reaction time!

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