This blog is not devoted to the analysis of the 15th century practices of interpreting. Sorry!

What comes to your mind when you think about interpreting?

Is it anything connected to literature? English classes in high school? That’s not really what we mean here.

Maybe your brain connected the interlinguistic dots and you remembered some people standing behind or beside politicians? Or the voice appearing from nowhere during foreign interviews on TV? Perfect! However, we don’t know much about these mysterious figures, do we?

Why is that?

In Polish, the problem is rooted deep in the language itself. While English differentiates between the translator and the interpreter, Polish doesn’t. In Polish, there is the one main noun: tłumacz, which encompasses both translators and interpreters, and the distinction is made later on by adding adjective pisemny (written) or ustny (oral). Unfortunately, not everyone wants to devote their precious time to utter the whole phrase tłumacz ustny, and stops at its first part, leaving the distinction unspecified.

There is one more reason why the interpreters are such enigmatic personae. They simply need to be so! A professional interpreter cannot stand out in the crowd. They need to work unnoticeably, as if they were secret agents or ninjas who cannot attract any attention.

First and foremost, the voice

The most important work tool of the interpreter is their voice. The interpreter’s voice must sound good. Not too squeaky or screechy. It cannot be too deep either, in order not to distract the listeners’ attention from the essence of the presentation. The right melody of speech is also crucial. What the speaker puts the emphasis on and their attitude to the subject matter are both conveyed in the intonation and should be appropriately transmitted by the interpreter.

For this reason, interpreters are encouraged to practice their acting skills. An actor, when preparing for the role, has to train his memory, facial expressions and the art of applying the appropriate intonation. And interpreters can benefit from all of these elements.

Secondly, the always-be-prepared rule

An interpreter’s work is not restricted to the countless minutes spent in the booth or the sessions. Preparations are its indispensable part. By preparations I mean becoming an expert in the area to be discussed during the meeting. This is where acting ends and professionalism begins. Agnieszka Nowińska notes that “it is impossible to interpret anything that one does not understand themselves. And it is not just about knowing the words, but about the language subtlety and comprehending how something works.” When she was interpreting a conference about concrete, she needed to be aware of not only the Polish name for concrete but also the technological process of concrete’s production.

What if the right word slips my mind?

Luckily, it’s not the end of the world. The art of interpreting is based on the ability to look beyond the individual words. That fact is clearly presented in the interpreter’s notes. Using symbols, pictures and abbreviations, the interpreter notes down the ideas of the speaker and their main objectives. Hardly ever is there time to write the whole words, never mind the sentences (as shown in the picture below).

Interpreting vs. the pandemic

Any topic discussed in 2020 has been inevitably affected by the Covid thing. Looking at the situation on the bright side, sitting all alone, hearing others in your headphones and communicating only via the mic, you may get the sense of a professional interpreter’s booth. Of course, the illusion only lasts until the children or cats put an end to it.

Anyway, during business meetings conducted by Zoom, Microsoft Lync or Skype Business, the presence of an interpreter is even less noticeable than ever. The interpreter becomes a kind of digital ghost whose voice explains to you the secrets hidden in a foreign language. But there’s no need to worry – it is not in the nature of this ghost to haunt anybody. So do not be afraid to invite an interpreter to accompany you on other occasions too. If you wish to meet your future foreign-language in-laws, or manage some business abroad, feel welcome to contact our office!

(translation E.A.)

Pomożemy w tłumaczeniu.Zadzwoń