When selecting interpreters to staff an event where engineering, medical or technical subject matter will be discussed, we take great care to match the technical background of the interpreters with the specific technical field of the discussion.
Having an educational and professional background in the sciences or engineering, in addition to a background in interpreting, can be critically important for an interpreter’s success at the event and for the success of the event itself! It is important for the interpreter to understand the subject matter of the speeches they are translating.
Lack of this key knowledge is one of the main reasons why Automatic Translation projects, popular since the 1950’s, failed. Translation and interpreting are not a matter of substituting words in one language for words in another. They are a matter of understanding the thought expressed in one language and then explaining it using the resources of another language.
In other words, what an interpreter does is change words into meaning, and then change meaning back into the words—of a different language. Interpreting is basically paraphrasing. Just like you can’t explain to someone a thought if you didn’t fully understand that thought, you can’t translate or interpret something without mastery of the subject matter being relayed. See the section “Why Subject Expertise Matters for Technical Translators” for a more detailed discussion of the importance of subject matter knowledge for technical translators and interpreters.
A good interpreter should possess all of the following skills:
- Knowledge of the general subject and technical field of the material to be interpreted
- Intimate familiarity with both cultures
- Solid general education and extensive vocabulary in both languages
- Ability to express thoughts clearly and concisely in both languages
- Excellent note-taking techniques for consecutive interpreting
- At least 2-3 years of booth experience for simultaneous interpreting