CLAS Standard 7: Competence of interpreters – Ability to communicate in all registers and at varying levels of formality

What is a “register”?

The “register” is the variety of the language we use in a particular social setting or for a particular purpose. For example, we speak differently at a doctor’s office, our friends’ living room, or when we want to express approval, anger, respect, or insults.

This may seem obvious, but some of my students have found it a challenge when they learned that some words they use are actually considered unprofessional in some places, or when we have discussed how to interpret insults. They’ve been frustrated, and wondered how to pick up that register they are missing. It seems such an impossible task! So… we give up and say it can’t be done.

Why bother? As interpreters, we must interpret not just the words, but the words in their cultural context: the linguaculture. The register reflects the cultural aspect, the social and cultural aspect of the encounter. When we alter the level of formality, the level of casualness or even refrain from interpreting insulting language, we are changing the interaction.

To do this, we must read many types of material continually. I read the following types of material:

  • The Merck Manual for Home Health both in English and in our non-English working language
  • Cuban short stories
  • Chilean short stories
  • The newspapers of the countries our patients come from, online

As we develop this variety of registers, the people we interpret for will become more comfortable in the interpreted setting and will be able to express themselves more confidently, knowing we can express their messages accurately.