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FAQ's

What is the history of interpreting?

Interpreting is as old as human language. Wherever two or more people cannot understand each other, bilinguals find that their skills are in demand. History's famous interpreters have included: Sacajawea (USA), La Malinche (Mexico), St. Jerome, Paul Mantoux (Paris Peace Conference at the close of World War I) and Jean Herbert (first Chief Interpreter of the United Nations).

Simultaneous interpretation as we know it today, which could not be attempted until the proper sound equipment had been developed, was first used from 1945 to 1946 at the Nuremburg Trials. Shortly thereafter, with the founding of the United Nations, Jean Herbert undertook the task of creating the world's first dedicated multi-lingual corps of professional interpreters.

What is the difference between interpretation and translation?

This is a question we hear often, and the answer is very simple. Interpreted messages are expressed orally; translated messages are conveyed in writing. Interpreters work with their voices, while translators work with the proverbial pen.

Does CR Interpreters offer translation as well as interpretation?

Not all interpreters translate, nor do all translators interpret. The two activities call for quite different skills and generally appeal to different people. Nevertheless, some practitioners have developed both professions, finding that translation makes them better interpreters, and interpretation makes them better translators. The group of CR Interpreters includes professionals who translate in the following combinations:
Aren't some concepts so culture-bound that they cannot be expressed in another language?

Even ideas for which no specific word is available in the target language can be described clearly by a skillful interpreter. Neither translators nor interpreters work with individual words, but with whole ideas and concepts, expressed within a given context. They take the message from a round jar and pour it into a square one; although the new vessel may be shaped very differently from the original, the content is the same.

Do interpreters specialize in one subject?

All professional interpreters need to be well-educated people with a broad store of general knowledge. They conscientiously keep abreast of the news and read about every conceivable subject. This provides them with the intellectual tools they need to develop at least a passing knowledge of the most varied subjects on very short notice. In addition, most interpreters have several areas in which they have developed particular expertise. Indeed, a few become so specialized that they decide to limit their interpretation work to one domain only.

Can anyone be an interpreter?

This question has been widely disputed, along with the matter of whether interpretation should be considered an art or a science, a skill or a gift, a craft or a vocation. Not surprisingly, it is a little bit of all these things. As a science or skill, it consists of a number of specific techniques that can be taught, learned and practiced successfully by a person who has a thorough knowledge and mastery of two languages. However, anyone who has had the opportunity to listen to a truly masterful interpretation understands that in its best form, interpretation calls for much more than mere technique. The art or gift lies in the ability to gain an intuitive understanding of what the speaker is trying to convey, manage to express that same message in an entirely different language that has different cultural traditions, and do so eloquently, gracefully and with a minimum of distortion.

How do simultaneous interpreters listen and speak at the same time?

As mentioned in the previous question, this is a topic of debate. In fact, neuroscientists and physiolinguists are still trying to figure out how interpreters do what they do: listen, analyze, understand, switch linguistic codes, express, monitor output and correct themselves when necessary. Scientists have studied interpreters at work in hopes of understanding more about the functioning of the human brain. Even interpreters themselves are hard-pressed to explain how they do it.

What natural abilities are needed to be a successful interpreter?

First, aspiring interpreters need to have a thorough knowledge of at least two languages and their accompanying cultures. This usually means having spent prolonged periods living in a country where the languages are spoken, reading literature and history in those languages, and staying constantly up to date.

However, language mastery is only the beginning. Interpreters need to have quick minds. One of the originators of the theory of emotional intelligence, Howard Gardner, defined seven distinct intelligences, one of which he described as the linguistic intelligence found in simultaneous interpreters. They need to be resourceful, analytical and intuitive, have good interpersonal skills, feel comfortable with public speaking, know that they always have more to learn, know how to express themselves articulately, and be blessed with an insatiable curiosity.

How can I learn to be an interpreter?

Many very good interpreters have learned their craft simply by exposure and experience. These "booth-trained" interpreters were offered the opportunity to try it out, and through much hard work and hard knocks, succeeded in developing highly advanced skills. Another route is also available: there are a number of good schools that offer academic degrees in translation and interpretation, some at the graduate level and others as undergraduate studies; many are listed on this Website under Useful Links. Academically trained interpreters learn the profession much more quickly. They have the benefit of being shaped and guided by older, more experienced professionals and they take a more systematic approach to learning the diverse skills that come together in a good interpreter. They learn what techniques are right and why, what methods are best avoided, how to analyze the source message effectively, and systematic approaches to reformulating ideas in the target language.

Are there professional organizations of interpreters?

The most long-established international organization of interpreters is AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, headquartered in Geneva. National-level organizations exist in many countries, including the ATA, or American Translators Association and TAALS, The American Association of Language Specialists, both in the United States; many are affiliated with the FIT, or International Federation of Translators.

What makes an interpreter's hair turn gray?