• Lina Liu

CHALLENGES Interpreters faced everyday

Interpreting is one of the main components of language services, and there are many challenges interpreters face to promote understanding and facilitate communication. Linguistic and cultural challenges abound, whatever type of project.

Despite being similar to translation, in that they both deal with transposing a source language to a target language, interpreting is more complex than translation.

There are more challenges interpreters face every time they are on the job. Most of these challenges not only affect new interpreters, but even highly seasoned professionals.

1. Difficulty Hearing the Speaker

This is one of the biggest challenges interpreters face and the situation can have two origins. One is that the audio equipment is malfunctioning. The other reason could be a problem with the individual speaker.

This is particularly true when doing consecutive, simultaneous, or face-to-face interpreting. Sometimes, it is unavoidable that the audio equipment the speaker is using suddenly fails, or, the speaker might speak too softly for the interpreter to hear.

Various circumstances could occur during a job, increasing the challenges interpreters face, where they find it difficult to hear the speaker. It could be traced to bad interpreting equipment, a deficient sound system, the ineptitude of the technician, or a bad location of the interpreters' booth.

Still another of the challenges interpreters face is when the speaker speaks too fast, which does not give enough time for the interpreter to comprehend and translate the sentences into another language. Conference speakers who are not well versed in public speaking could also give interpreters a challenging time on the job.

Moreover, another of the challenges interpreters face is caused by the speaker. For instance, the speaker leaves a fixed wired microphone and begins to walk around the stage to speak directly to the attendees.

At times, when holding a handheld microphone, the speaker points it at a different direction away from the mouth, making it impossible for the interpreter to hear what's being said.

A poorly placed lapel microphone, or one that is hindered by clothing can muffle the sound, making it difficult to clearly hear what's being said. Sometimes the speaker also fidgets and ruffles the microphone with his/her hand, distorting the sound and worsening the challenges interpreters face.

It can also happen during court interpreting, when the speaker cannot hear, or understand the plaintiff, witness, judge or attorney. It could be a case of the person speaking too softly or not speaking directly to the microphone.

When interpreters do simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, it is important for them to clearly hear what is being said. They cannot interpret words and sentences that they cannot hear.

2. Knowledge of Local Culture

Being an interpreter is very demanding. Aside from a high level of proficiency in the source and target languages, another of the challenges interpreters face is that they must be highly knowledgeable of the culture of different countries.

Even if one is a native speaker of Spanish, for example, the interpreter has to know the differences in how Spanish is spoken by people from different regions. Speakers will often use local idioms, slang and jargon when they speak, so it is very important for an interpreter to know that.

Cultural awareness is another of the many challenges interpreters face. They will not be able to consult dictionaries and other references. When interpreting, an interpreter listens to the speaker, analyze the message and reconstruct it in the target language immediately.

Interpreters rely not only in their excellent language proficiency but also in their vast knowledge of the different cultures, the cultural connotations of the words spoken, and how the language is expressed in a different culture.

For example, in China, a host usually tells the guests to bear with the poorly prepared dishes. This is a local expression indicating that the host is welcoming the guests and showing an act of modesty.

Although the job of the interpreter is to deliver any phrase, word or sentence in the target language accurately, in this case, it needs to be done differently. The interpreter must not interpret what the host said literally. But idioms are challenges interpreters face, as they must say convey the meaning in a way that makes sense in the target language.

Interpreters act as a bridge for intercultural communications. They have to deliver the source language in the tone of voice that reflects how it normally sounds in the target language.

It is challenging, but interpreters must be quite flexible yet quick in making decisions. Interpreting work encounters many unpredictable situations and it is the job of an interpreter to deliver what's spoken accurately, in the speed required and in an appropriate manner.

3. Lack of Prep Materials

Experienced professional interpreters normally go over conference materials a day or two ahead of schedule. It is to prepare themselves for what will be discussed or tackled during the meetings. Doing so removes some of the stresses that are traditionally part of the job.

It will be a challenge for interpreters when they receive no or very little briefing about the conference and the speakers. One of the greatest challenges interpreters face is going into a situation ill-prepared.

Prep materials coming from the conference hosts allow the interpreters to get familiar with the topics to be presented or discussed, the terminology to be used and the background information about the speakers. It gives them time to do extra research if necessary to fully prepare for the scheduled work.

Preparation matters in enabling interpreters to take on the job with higher confidence level. Thus, it is important for interpreters to ask some basic questions, prior to the acceptance of the job:

  • Subject matter and nature of the meeting

  • Venue and date

  • Technical conditions (equipment, visibility and interpretation booths)

  • Language regime and source and target languages

  • Availability of texts and documents

  • Interpreting mode

  • Team leader, booth mates, team members

4. Challenges Interpreters Face with Humor, Sarcasm and Jokes

So many things can be said about this situation, which can be one of the most difficult challenges interpreters face. It is not easy to interpret humor, sarcasm or jokes, again because this is a cultural thing.

It is difficult to translate a joke into another language as it may lose its meaning or it may prove offensive. In some cases interpreters receive briefings or prep materials, which is quite helpful.

The success in the interpretation is likewise dependent on how well the interpreter understands the purpose of the humorous line or the joke. It gets more difficult if there is liberal use of sarcasm, jokes and humor in the course of the meeting or conversation.

Keeping the message's integrity intact while interpreting a joke or humorous line accurately takes a toll even on the most experienced interpreter and is among the major challenges interpreters face.

It is surmountable when interpreters utilize their years of training and experience. But it could still be a daunting task. In some cases, the interpreter needs to understand the social side of the humor.

Research could be very helpful, if the interpreter has advance notice of what the speaker/s intend to discuss, as some jokes or humorous lines are definitely local.

In the presence of foreigners who have no idea of the things or persons the speaker will be referring to, the interpreter might have to provide background information on the political and social implications of the jokes, humorous lines and impersonations. These are some of the things that an interpreter must include in his or her ''interpreter's notes.''

You can surmise the challenges interpreters face when they are called upon to interpret humor. As most people know, humor is almost untranslatable.

You might have even heard that ''humor does not travel well'' from other interpreters. Even humor in written texts could get lost in translation. In this context, we can say that translators have more time to digest the humorous line and find the best way to transpose it into another language.

This is not a luxury that interpreters have. Time is very important to them. Moreover, what are culturally acceptable jokes in one culture might not be accepted kindly (and humorously) in another culture.

In some cases, interpreters should know how to improvise in order to deliver the joke. Or the interpreter can just let the joke slide and briefly tell the audience what has been said; as there will be times that there is no need to translate the joke. Being tactful is also an essential trait that a professional should exercise in such situations, as this will help overcome these daily challenges interpreters face.

It's definite that there are many challenges interpreters face every day while on the job. It will help if the interpreter prepares fully for the task ahead. It is all right to ask questions about the technical facilities.

It is important to get prep materials, especially if the meeting will include discussions using technical and complex vocabulary. If possible, request to meet with the speakers beforehand.

If you're in need of interpreting services, always see to it that you work with an interpretation company that has well-rounded interpreters with years of experience behind them.

The task is difficult and very demanding, but when you work with professionals, you know that that at least a major part of your conference's success is already assured.

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