About Interpreting


Interpreting is not just a matter of saying, "Tell him this." It is important to understand how it works.

Interpreting vs. Translating

nterpreting is not translating.

What's the difference?

Interpreting involves transmitting speech from one language to another orally whereas translation involves changing written documents from one language to another.


First Person

Trained interpreters use first person, and speaking parties should do the same. Interpreters repeat each side as if they are the speakers. It saves time and is standard practice.

Ex. The Spanish speaker might say, "Soy un hombre alto." The interpreter then says in English, "I am a tall man". The interpreter does not say, "he says that he is a tall man."


Meaning for Meaning

Interpreters interpret for meaning rather than word for word. This is because word-for-word interpreting would not make sense. Each language has its own rules for the order of words in a sentence or usage of expressions. Also, some words in either language require two or more in the other.

Ex. "Casa blanca" when translated word for word is "house white." But it means "white house". It would not make sense in English to say, "I live in a house white."


Modes of Interpreting

There are three modes of interpreting: simultaneous, consecutive and sight translation.

Simultaneous Interpreting
The interpreter speaks at the same time as the person for whom he or she is interpreting. The interpreter is a few words behind the speaker in order to hear enough words to correctly interpret the speaker. This mode is used when the listener is not part of the conversation.

Ex. An attorney examines an English speaking witness while a non-English speaking defendant sits at the defense table listening. Or, a doctor speaks to a nurse in front of a non-English speaking patient.

Consecutive Interpreting
The interpreter waits until the speaker finishes to begin interpreting. This requires memory skills and note taking to make sure that everything is recalled and interpreted. This is used when the listener is also an active part of the conversation, perhaps answering questions.

Naturally, each side pauses to hear the other's response and gives the interpreter time to interpret. When a response is long, the interpreter may request more pausing to interpret what's been said before forgetting.

Sight Translation
The interpreter receives a document in one language and reads it aloud another. This is a hybrid mode of interpreting. It is half translation because it involves a document and half interpretation because the result is rendered orally. This form is pretty rare.