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What is Interpretation?

This is a good moment to clarify exactly what is meant by interpretation.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “interpret” means:

1 : to explain or tell the meaning of : present in understandable terms <interpret dreams> <needed help interpreting the results>
2 : to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance : construe <interpret a contract>
3 : to represent by means of art : bring to realization by performance or direction <interprets a role>

In practice, this is no easy task. Before analyzing the arduous work that an interpreter must perform, let’s consider the three essential pillars of an interpretation: the speaker, the audience, and the interpreter.

The speaker is the person who is using the interpreter’s services in order to ensure that the audience understands the topic being addressed at a particular time. When possible, it is recommended that both the speaker and the interpreter be previously acquainted, even if it simply ten minutes before working together, in order to introduce themselves, hear each other, and, more than anything else, “break the ice”. They will both be part of the team, which means that the most important aspect is that they are willing to help the other.

The audience may be professionals of a certain field (psychologists, physicians, engineers, professors, business men, et al.) or “common” people who are interested in the topic, but it is not necessarily their specialty (e.g. patients or students). The interpreter has to be aware, preferably before beginning the work, what are the demographics of the audience, since this is fundamental in determining the register that will be used when communicating the message.

Finally, Merriam-Webster defines interpreter thusly:

1 : one that interprets: as a : one who translates orally for parties conversing in different languages b : one who explains or expounds
2 a : a machine that prints on punch cards the symbols recorded in them by perforations b : a computer program that executes each of a set of high-level instructions before going to the next instruction

Unlike the base of a translation, the interpreter must not only communicate the message of the original language (the one used by the speaker) to the target language (the one used by the audience), but he or she must also maintain and respect the speaker’s intonation, without speaking in a tone that is flat and boring for the audience.

In a translation, the translator relies on a key ally to resolve linguistic or conceptual problems: the dictionary (in addition to other online resources, books, and colleagues!). The interpreter, on the other hand, is only able to rely on his or her knowledge and intellect. This is why professional interpreters must be well versed in the subject being discussed, up-to-speed on current events, and have general culture.

In the coming weeks, we will talk more specifically about two types of interpretations: simultaneous and consecutive interpretation.

If you are interested in receiving more information on this subject, visit our page on Interpretation.

(Version in Spanish: