Have you seen the sweet story of Alexia Sloane who lost her sight at the age of two but who has been developing a strong gift for languages? Thanks to MEP Sturdy she was allowed into the European Parliament to try interpreting. Here she is on a video when she is reading from one of her own texts that won her an award. And here is a little longer article about her.
Now how’s that for an unprofessional or natural interpreter?
How many languages do you know and how/why do you know them? Do you recommend to concentrate on one language (other than your first language) or learn more languages which would give more work offers I guess.
I just got this question from a student wishing to pursue studies in interpreting. This is probably the most common question from students. And the answer is not as straightforward as the question (what else?). First of all you need to know your mother tongue very well. It seems obvious, but speaking a language and interpreting into a language are two very different things. When you interpret into a language you need to master all domains, all registers, and all nuances. It is so much more than just speaking your mother tongue or being fluent in a language.
How well you have to master your other languages and how many languages you “need” depend on where you aim to work. Interpreters can be “bi-active”, meaning that you master two languages equally well and work to and from both languages. In that case you have two mother tongues or you are very near native in your foreign language (an A or B-language for interpreters). Bi-active interpreters work for NATO, for courts, as conference interpreters or as community interpreters. It is more or less impossible to be bi-active in more than two languages.
Most interpreters who work for larger institutions such as EU or UN work only into their mother tongue and from at least two, but often three or more languages. The languages you work from are languages you comprehend fully, but which you do not master as mother tongue. In interpreting lingo these languages are called C-languages.
So, you cannot say that its better to focus only on one language or several. It depends on what you would like to focus on. And it also depends on whether you have a second mother tongue or a language in which you are near native. So more languages does not necessarily mean more work offers either. However, a language combination with very high demand in your region will most likely give you more work offers. Also, if you are the only one with two very rare languages you will probably have a stable market.
Personally, I work from English, French and Danish into Swedish. I work to and from English in court but not in conferences. The reason for my language combination is that I only have one first/ A/ mother tongue language and I work mostly for the EU. I am almost near native in English and therefore I work in court to and from English, I have not developed my English into conference use. You can read more about me and my languages here.
The interesting thing in interpreting training is that all your teachers are professional interpreters. This means that if you make it through interpreting school, your former teachers will be your colleagues. It’s like being trained into a medieval guild. And somehow after a couple of years in the business your former teachers grow into being just colleagues. Basically you stop being afraid of them.
There are horror stories going around about teachers whose only goal seemed to be to make at least one student crying every lesson. I’ve understood as I started teaching interpreting that the difficult thing about it is that (often unintentionally) you criticize personal things like voice, word choice and so forth. Therefore your students may perceive you as harsher than you actually are or want to be.
So much for general comments on interpreting teachers and then to the teachers I remember. Most teachers I had were great. Without my Danish consecutive teacher I would not have passed my exam. She gave me extra classes at her place, just like that. Taking of her own free time for nothing, just to help me pass. I did not have enormous problems with Danish, but consecutive technique took some time to master.
At my interpreting school, staff interpreters came on Friday mornings every week and Saturday mornings once a month to give interpreting classes. On top of that we had interpreting classes with other teachers as well. I don’t remember that my interpreting was ever “cut to pieces” by teachers, but I remember occasions when we laughed real hard at what I produced. The worst comment I have ever got was actually a little later when I had been practicing working into English from my mother tongue. Then a teacher told me he never wanted to hear me utter another word in English ever again. I told you it’s tough from time to time.
But in general, thank you to all my teachers. You were devoted, inspiring, tough and most of all determined teach us interpreting. And you made me an interpreter!
This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can see the whole list here.
The total opposite of structural language theories (such as Saussure) are functional language theories. Here represented first and foremost by Michael Halliday. Halliday is the father of SFL, systemic functional linguistics, from which genre pedagogy (see for instance Pauline Gibbons) seeks its roots. SFL seeks to analyze language from both structure and words in order to establish three metafunctions namely ideational, interpersonal and the textual. I haven’t seen any interpreting research using SFL (absolutely not a guarantee that there isn’t any), but guts feeling says it should fit well. There are some translation research done with SFL as one analysis model though. Apparently the problem with SFL as tool (only as hearsay as I haven’t tested it) is that it is descriptive, but does not really lead you any further. A bit like DTS, Descriptive Translation Studies. DTS was founded by Guideon Toury and became a revolutionary change in direction in translation studes, which up until then was almost solely prescriptive.
I teach from a book by Jan Svennevig “Språklig Samhandling” and the post is only my interpretation of his book in particular and of systemic functional linguistics in general.