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There have been a few questions here about use of voice, such as this one on tone. But what does it feel like to be the voice of another person? Do you have any memorable experiences of being the speaker's voice that you would like to relate? To get a better idea of what I am taking about, check out this article written by an interpreter: The lady's voice.

I would like to hear more stories about this very communicative element of interpreting. Feel free to share but please respect confidentiality if it applies to the assignment in question.

asked 01 Mar '13, 14:10

Luigi's gravatar image


Thank you so much, Luigi, for this question and for directing us to the Michel Lesseigne's article.

As he so eloquently explains in The lady's voice, there are days in the life of an interpreter where one feels extremely honoured and humble to be somebody else's voice - and this has nothing to do with a true or alleged celebrity status of the speaker.

Let me relate the two most moving moments in my life as and interpreter to you:

Many years ago I was one of a large team of interpreters recruited to interpret the World Congress of Stutterers. We all had prepared ourselves well but were also nervous because we did not quite know what kind of presentations to expect during such a congress.

The first very pleasant surprise was that the speakers during this congress were highly eloquent and - as opposed to speakers we were used to at the time - spoke in a very succinct way, were to the point and did not go on forever or repeat what others had already said. Obviously the fact that they were stutterers and found it even more intimidating to speak in front of a large audience than speakers without a stammer had made them think intensively about what was the most important message they wanted to convey and what was superfluous. Interpreting the speakers was not a problem at all - whenever they stammered, we just waited and went on to interpret whenever they continued to speak.

Then later on in the conference one of the speakers who had not yet addressed the conference came to our booths during a break wanting to speak to us. He thanked us for the work we had done so far but pointed out that he foresaw a problem for us when he was going to deliver his speech. He said that he was very nervous about having to get onto the stage and speak and that this nervousness would most probably make him stammer more than usual. However, he said, he was also going to speak about different types of stammering and that he wanted to demonstrate some of them. In these cases he was going to stammer on purpose. He ended by saying that he did not know how on earth we were to distinguish beween unintentional stammering (which he understood we would not interpret) and intentional stammering which he wanted us to imitate as best as we could.

The mere fact that he had thought about how we were to convey his speech and had sensitised us to the situation was of tremendous help. We were so alerted to the message he wanted to get across that it felt indeed as if we became the speaker - and we could really empathise with the speaker so well that it was no problem to distinguish between unintentional and intentional stammering. We had put ourselves in the shoes of the speaker, and after he had finished there was a truly exceptional feeling of gratitude because he had been so kind to let us know beforehand what he had planned to say and how he had planned to speak.

At the end of the conference we were all asked onto the stage and the conference organisers thanked us for our interpretation and called us "honorary stutterers". We felt as if we had been knighted.


The second experience I shall remember forever occured during a parliamentary hearing on Tibet. Eye-witnesses of the most incredible atrocities against Tibetans related their accounts to the participants of the conference although it must have been so difficult to speak about what they and their families had had to go through. These accounts were - obviously - highly emotional and of course they could not possibly have been interpreted in a matter-of-fact way with a neutral voice. The two colleagues and I took turns of roundabout 10 minutes. None of us could have gone on for longer at a time. I remember I felt tears run down the inside of my throat. But we wanted to do our level best and keep going so the voices of these victims could be heard. In my mind's eye I still see the old Tibetan lady who testified to the most cruel crimes any parent could be made to witness standing with her back towards our booth so we could only see her long braided grey hair.

Once the conference was over, participants came to our booth showing their appreciation for the way in which we had interpreted as faithfully as we could, including the tone of the speeches and the organisers later on sent us each a handwritten letter.

Surely we would have preferred there had never been any reason to convene such a conference - but since it had to be organised and we had been recruited as interpreters we felt it was of utmost importance to keep going and interpret as truthfully as we could no matter how tough it was. It was nothing compared to what the victims had had to go through - and to be the voice of a victim is a truly humbling experience.

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answered 03 Mar '13, 15:25

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 03 Mar '13, 18:52

Almute, thank you for these very moving stories.

(03 Mar '13, 15:31) Luigi
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question asked: 01 Mar '13, 14:10

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last updated: 03 Mar '13, 18:52 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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