The Human Art of Interpreting

The Human Art of Interpreting

Trade, travel and immigration are all in explosive growth around the world, creating the need for language interpreting in tourist centers, hospitals, courtrooms, business conferences and many other venues. But filling that need in every country for every situation is an enormous challenge.

Whereas Machine Translation (MT) has provided real advancements in capacity, speed and accuracy for some types of translated documents, interpreting on the other hand has not benefited as much from this technology. MT must be coordinated with Voice Recognition Software in order to act as an interpreter, and technology born of this combination is in the early stages of development and prone to imperfection.

Even in the largest cities in the world, however, human interpreters with the right combination of languages and skills are not always available, yet the need for them becomes more pronounced the more global our societies become. LSPs are capable of providing talented interpreters for many events, large and small, around the world – specialists who are present on site to translate one language to another outloud.

But for many situations this is not cost-effective and often not even possible. This is where Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) has filled part of the growing need for real-human interpreting solutions, and companies like New York-based Kudo (see provide studios in major metropolitan areas where interpreters can work to facilitate cloud-based connections between speakers. This bridges a gap between clients and LSPs by offering the space outfitted with the necessary technology to reach abroad more effectively, while LSPs provide the human language experts.

“No technology in the world will ever replace the talent, wit and presence of mind of a human interpreter,” says Ewandro Magalhaes, the Vice President of Kudo.*

Talented people remain at the core of every interpreting solution, and they are mentally tough, well-trained professionals who often end up doing their job in intimidating, high-pressure settings where technology assists but also creates higher expectations, along with bringing problems of its own.

High quality interpreters are usually trained and vetted by LSPs, and this training includes heavy practicing and repetition of exact words and phrases in the original language first, followed by practice paraphrasing the words, and finally translating out loud in the target language. This process develops new neural pathways, and the interpreters and their teams and teachers develop tricks to handle rapid speech, accents, and long names. Ahead of any important event an interpreter will build glossaries for the planned subject matter and read as much ahead of time as possible about the subject.*

Interpreters will work in teams of two, one handling the speech, while the other looks up words and nuanced concepts. Then every thirty minutes they switch roles.

The need for simultaneous interpreting in multiple languages at a prominent event first arose during the Nuremburg Trials when it was suspected that keeping up the pace of the trials was important to retaining jury and public comprehension and engagement. At the time professional interpreters, it is said, worried about what this might mean for their industry, for with the introduction of the technology used then, wouldn’t their roles be diminished? But quite the opposite has been true – and today interpreting is valued and requested more and more often.

Some of the best talent in the world is available through Skrivanek.



J. V. McShulskis

*TED talk, Ewandro Magalhaes, How Interpreters juggle two languages