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The Art of Interpreting

“I don’t know how you do it!” My fellow interpreters may at times have heard this comment from appreciative clients. “Ask a neuroscientist” is my answer, because I am completely oblivious as to what is involved in the process, which is known to be a highly complex cognitive activity.

What I am doing is comprehending, analysing and converting a verbal source system into a verbal target system fully and accurately in nanoseconds as well as maintaining body posture and composure, and a constant awareness of the code of ethics, and ensuring the participants almost forget I am there.

Though I seem to lack the inclination to deepen my understanding of the highly complex cognitive activity that enables me to do my job right, I constantly strive to create the best conditions for this wonderful and mysterious creative activity to take place.

The goal of achieving communication between the parties by switching effortlessly from language A to language to B, and immaculately rendering the intention of speaker A to speaker B, is akin, in my view, to surfing the mighty waves of the ocean on a stormy day.

The surfer needs a quality surfboard, just as the interpreter needs the base of good training.
Just as the surfer requires detailed knowledge of the sea, the professional interpreter unfailingly prepares ahead of an assignment in the knowledge that the alternative to understanding the environmental and cultural aspects, is drowning.

The surfer and the interpreter both, rely on empathy as the vital force within that invigorates mind and muscles, thus enhancing alertness, balance, sustained focus, and pointed listening respectively. Both know that the more receptive and relaxed you are, the better the results.

To understand and then consecutively or simultaneously communicate successfully an idea born in someone else’s mind expressed by means of voice, other sounds and gestures requires you to forget yourself, and to follow others. Ask the surfer, and he will tell you that the way to ride ever changing waves that are powerful beyond measure is to become empty. Interpreters are conduits of human spoken expression, a fluid and unpredictable endeavour. Isn’t a person’s way of speaking as idiosyncratic as their cultural and emotional make-up, and as highly individual and unique as their DNA?

Tell me how you ride the mighty waves of speech, madam interpreter? How do you manage being an engaging presence between two or more people of mutually incomprehensive languages without being crushed? My answer is to yield like the surfer. Yielding is not about becoming a limp, wet noodle. It is softness with a sense of purpose and steadfast intention. It is the state of mind that I must find to allow my time-honed skills and empathy-based vitality to surface. Once that condition is established, and energy can flow unhindered, I am empowered to deliver.

As the enabler of the communication, I am the most powerful presence between two people of mutually incomprehensible languages. I take this role seriously. I yield to it, and enjoy the wave.

Laura Orsini
Italian Interpreter / Translator
Member of RICOL









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