Interpreting (or interpretation) is an activity that consists of establishing, either simultaneously or consecutively, oral or manual communications between two or more speakers who are not speaking (or signing) the same language.
Note that the words interpreting and interpretation can both be used to refer to this activity, the word interpreting is commonly used in the profession and in the field of translation studies in an attempt to avoid other meanings of the word interpretation.
Although people use the terms interchangeably, interpreting and translation are in fact quite distinct. The distinction is made between translation , which consists of transferring ideas expressed in writing from one language to another, and interpreting, which consists of transferring ideas expressed orally, or by the use of gestures (as in the case of sign language), from one language to another.
There exist several types of interpreting. Sometimes we talk of techniques or modalities (simultaneous, consecutive, liaison, whispered); other times we classify them according to where the interpreting takes place (conference interpreting, public service interpreting, etc.):
In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter will speak while the source-speech speaker is still speaking.
Normally, in simultaneous interpreting the interpreter sits in a sound-proof booth, usually with a clear view of the speaker, at a microphone, listening through headphones to the incoming message in the source language; the interpreter relays the message in the target language into the microphone to whosoever is listening. Simultaneous interpreting is also the most common mode used by sign language interpreters.
Simultaneous interpreting is sometimes referred to as "simultaneous translation" and the interpreter referred to as the "translator". These terms are incorrect, as discussed in the d istinction between interpreting and translation above.
In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter starts speaking after the source-text speaker has finished. (The speech may be divided into sections).
Normally, in consecutive interpreting, the interpreter is alongside the speaker, listening and taking notes as the speech progresses. When the speaker has finished, or comes to a pause, the interpreter reproduces (consecutively) the message in the target language, in its entirety and as though he or she were making the original speech.
Also, consecutive interpreting is offered by some phone companies, with a remotely located interpreter interpreting parts of the conversation on the telephone. For example, Brazil's Embratel offers international calls with interpreters.
In whispered interpreting, the interpreter sits or stands next to the (small) intended audience and whispers the interpretation.
Whispered interpretation is often used in situations when the majority of a group speaks one language, and a limited number of people do not speak that language.
In gestural interpreting a spoken language is interpreted into a visual one (such as ASL, for example) or vice versa.
Conference interpreting is simply interpreting in a conference environment. Conference interpreting may be simultaneous or consecutive.
In escort interpreting, an interpreter accompanies a person or a delegation on a tour, on a visit, or to a meeting or interview. An interpreter in this role is called an escort interpreter or an escorting interpreter.
Also called community interpreting, this is the mode of interpreting which covers legal, health and local government services, social services, housing, environmental health, and education welfare. This modality of interpreting must not be confused with volunteer interpreting, and is done by professional interpreters. In community interpreting, there appear factors which are determinant and affect production, such as emotional content, hostile or polarized surroundings, created stress, the power relationship between the participants, and the degree of responsibility of the interpreter — in many cases more than extreme; even the life of the other person depending, in many cases, on the interpreter's work. Some legal and medical interpreting practices may be included in public service interpreting.
Legal interpreting, or court or judicial interpreting, takes place in courts of justice or administrative tribunals and wherever a legal proceeding is held (such as a conference room for a deposition or the location of a sworn statement). Legal interpreting can take the form of consecutive interpreting of witnesses' statements, for example, or simultaneous interpreting of the entire proceedings by electronic means for one or more of the people in attendance.
Depending on the regulations and standards adhered to per state and venue, court interpreters usually work alone when providing consecutive interpreting services, or as a team when simultaneous interpreting is required. In addition to mastery of the source and target languages, an excellent knowledge of law and court procedure is required of court interpreters.
Medical interpreting consists of communication between a medical caregiver and a patient and/or family members, facilitated by one qualified to provide such a service. Often, the interpreter is a native speaker of the target language, though this is not always the case. The interpreter must have a strong knowledge of medicine, common procedures, the patient interview and exam process, and the day-to-day workings of the hospital or clinic, in order to be able to serve both the patient and the caregiver. Medical interpreters often act as cultural liaisons for those who are not familiar with, or particularly comfortable in, a hospital setting.
The majority of professional full-time conference interpreters work for international organizations like the United Nations, the European Union, or the African Union.
The world's largest employer of interpreters is currently the European Commission, which employs hundreds of staff and freelance interpreters working into the official languages of the European Union. The European Union's other institutions (the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice) have smaller interpreting services.
The United Nations employs interpreters at almost all its sites throughout the world. Because it has only six official languages, however, it is a smaller employer than the European Union.
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