CLAS Standard 7: Competence of interpreters – Providing effective and accurate communication between individuals and providers

To be able to accomplish this, memory skills are essential! An interpreter must be able to let the speakers express two or three sentences at a time. Why? Because people need to be able to express a coherent thought without interruption to be able to communicate effectively.

How can we do this?

In consecutive interpreting (turn-taking), taking notes is essential to be able to keep track of the details of the conversation. However, we do not take notes of everything that is said! We take notes of just what we need to keep the picture together. We might write down phone numbers, spell names, draw simple sketches, or use abbreviations. Whatever strategy we use, the goal is the same: to be able to express what the speaker said accurately and completely.

(See this post on the use of notepads)

How about in simultaneous interpreting? Do we still need a good memory to be able to interpret simultaneously?

Certainly! Interpreting isn’t just taking words from one language and repeating them in another language! Each language has its own word order, its own structure, which may be totally backwards from each other depending on the message being transmitted. We often delay our start significantly to accommodate for this! However, just yesterday I was speaking with a colleague who was asking me how she could explain this to a judge… How often do we, as interpreters, just go ahead and get started, and do a lower quality job, because of the pressure to perform in a way that the English speaker understands? But I digress…

To be able to restructure a sentence in a second language, we have to listen, analyze the content, structure it in a way that sounds smooth in the other language, speak it in the other language, and continue to listen to the material in the source language at the same time. In some ways, it’s like singing a round without knowing the music ahead of time. This is why we work with a partner! Simultaneous interpreting requires taking turns every 20 minutes or so to avoid losing too much quality. This applies to the very best interpreters in the world!

See this article, which is a report on an article by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, on the subject.