What does an interpreter do?

by Leslaw Fiutowski

Interpreters convert spoken or sign language statements from one language to another. Interpreting involves listening to, understanding and memorising content in the original 'source' language, then reproducing statements, questions and speeches in a different 'target' language. This is often done in only one direction, normally into the interpreter's native language, but may be on a two-way basis.

Interpreters facilitate effective communication between clients in the following settings:

Typical work activities

Interpreting can be carried out in various ways:

  1. in person, whether in the same room or from a nearby conference booth;
  2. by telephone, when the interpreter is in a different location from the speakers;
  3. via video conferencing and internet-based technologies.

There are several types of interpreting:

Simultaneous interpretation (SI)

Simultaneous interpretation involves working in a team at a conference or large meeting. The interpreter sits in a soundproof booth (there are separate booths for each conference language) and immediately converts what is being said, so listeners hear the interpretation through an earpiece while the speaker is still speaking. A variation of this is whispering, or chuchotage, where the interpreter sits near one person or a small group and whispers the translation as the speaker carries on. Sign language interpreting is also usually simultaneous.

Consecutive interpretation (CI)

Consecutive interpretation is more common in smaller meetings and discussions. The speaker will pause after each sentence or point and wait while the interpreter translates what is being said into the appropriate language.

Liaison interpretation

Liaison interpretation, also known as ad hoc and relay,is a type of two-way interpreting where the interpreter translates every few sentences while the speaker pauses. This is common in telephone interpreting as well as in legal and health situations. The interpreter supports people who are not fluent in the language being used to ensure their understanding.

Sign language interpretation

Sign language interpreters convert spoken statements into sign language and vice versa. Interpreting from one sign language to another is a new area.

The following work activities are likely in any interpreting setting:

More information about what interpreters do

About the writer

Leslaw Fiutowski works for Polish interpreter.


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