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Hello, I have a number of questions, I'm working on my research and I'd like to ask what are according to you the most effective interpreting techniques when dealing with:

  1. fast speakers? would you use compression, anticipation, summarizing or simplification..?
  2. slow speakers? expansion or do you know some better technique?
  3. a speaker with a heavy accent? any particular technique..?
  4. a speaker who uses an obscure way of expressing thoughts? would you go for anticipation?
  5. a speech where an obsene word has popped out? would you omit or 'soften it'?
  6. a speaker who does not finish his thought? any particular technique?

I know I have asked a plenty of questions, but if you could answer at least some of them, it'll be great. Thank you.

asked 13 Mar '13, 08:53

Zee's gravatar image


edited 13 Mar '13, 09:39

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Dear Zee: Thank you for your very interesting list of questions! Could you please try to post them as 3 or 4 separate questions? The answers will be clearer, shorter and easier to read. Thank you for your understanding.

(13 Mar '13, 11:26) Angela

Dear Angela, AlmuteL has already sorted out that for me. :) Zee

(14 Mar '13, 07:57) Zee

Dear Zee, I'll try to answer your questions and will use your numbers so readers might just pick the subject they are most interested in.


I don't think there can be a general rule as to what one should do in case the speaker is really fast. There are fast speakers who are not at all redundant with extremely technical presentations - so none of your suggestions would work without doing a disservice to the speaker. In this case there is only one solution: We must have studied the technical vocabulary well enough to follow the speed of the speaker and omit as little as possible.

If a speaker is really fast and we feel we cannot keep up with the speed for too long - we should definitely hand the microphone to the boothmate after shorter intervals. Sometimes it is better to change after 15 minutes and have two shifts each in a one-hour presentation than going on for too long becoming too exhausted and losing part of the speech.

If the speaker is fast but repetitive or redundant, we can certainly compress or summarize what was said. However, I don't think we should sound too relaxed or too slow lest our listeners get the impression our interpretation is not complete.


Depending on the language they are speaking, slow speakers can be a tremendous challenge because we might have to wait long for the verb, for example. We can try and make the speech sound a little more fluent, we can rephrase some of what has been said to fill some gaps, but in such situations we should not speak much more than the speaker or else our listeners might think there's something wring with the interpretation.

With slow speakers anticipation is a very important tool for interpretation. This requires a lot of practice and deeper knowledge of the subject area in question and/or more familiarity with the speaker (which we might gain from YouTube videos or from reading previous publications written by the speaker).


When faced with a speaker displaying a very heavy accent one possibility is to look at our boothmate and see whether he/she can make out more than we can. In such situations it is sometimes better to have a native speaker interpret into his/her B-language than the other way round. Usually we can understand accent or dialect of our native language better than that of a B- or C-language - although it can still be very difficult for native speakers as well.

If this is no option, we will have to make the best of what we understand. Sometimes we might rephrase what we read in the text or abstract or explain what we see on the slides the speaker is showing. We must use all our senses and not close our eyes to get as much input as possible which we may then turn into our interpretation. If we cannot make sense of anything, I am afraid we must explain the situation to our listeners as politely as possible without discrediting the speaker and switch off the microphone until we can go on confidently.

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answered 13 Mar '13, 20:13

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 14 Mar '13, 18:25


Speakers with obscure ways of expressing their thoughts take some getting used to. So rather than anticipating what they might want to say, we might be better advised to leave more décalage (décalage is the time difference between what the speaker says and its reproduction by the interpreter in the target language) and see whether we can make out what the speaker is aiming at.

If a speaker is known for obscure or convoluted sentences, we might be able to practice by reading his/her texts or watching videos on the internet.


The situation you describe requires some personal judgement on the part of the interpreter.

Watching the speaker's body language may give us a clue as to whether it was an intentional slip (which we should interpret because maybe the speaker wanted to shock the audience) or whether the speaker himself is somewhat shocked by the word that "popped out". In this case we must make a spontaneous decision as to whether the "slip of tongue" might be taken up by someone listening to the original (then we should interpret it, or else our listeners might not understand why part of the audience is murmuring or what the fuss is all about) or not.

Normally we should stay within the register of the speaker, but we must also bear in mind where we are interpreting, who the audience is and what kind of conference, meeting or event we are at.


Most of the time, when speakers don't finish their thoughts, we still have a fairly good idea of what he/she was aiming at and can complete the sentence. This is particularly true if we are well acquainted with the speaker and/or the subject in question.

Should this not be the case, we cannot really finish the thought in the target language and must leave it "dangling in mid-air". We can then only hope that this is also noticed by the audience and that they may want to follow up on what the speaker failed or omitted to say.

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answered 13 Mar '13, 20:40

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 13 Mar '13, 20:47

Dear AlmuteL,

thank you VERY much for your elaborated answers.

You can't even imagine how you have helped me. :) I really appreciate it.


(14 Mar '13, 07:56) Zee
fast speakers? would you use compression, anticipation, summarizing or simplification..?

All of the above depending on situation

slow speakers? expansion or do you know some better technique?

Slow texts are harder than fast. Expansion is the way.

a speaker with a heavy accent? any particular technique..?

Paraphrase, summarize, read these links: (you may need to log in into Linkedin)

Question from an interpreter: “What to do with a speaker who you do not understand in simul?”

a speaker who uses an obscure way of expressing thoughts? would you go for anticipation?

Yes, see more on strategies here:

a speech where an obsene word has popped out? would you omit or 'soften it'?

usually not. Garbage in garbage out. You also need to ask yourself: is the person saying it becasue he does not know better or he means it.

a speaker who does not finish his thought? any particular technique?

Finish how you can by repeating thematic (old, already said) information and anticipating. The problem here is twofold: 1) if you do not finish the sentence listeners will blame you and not the speaker. 2) but you cannot show the speaker is much smarter than he really is, e.e., at a job interview. It will be misrepresenting him or her. In this case i d show person's speaking style by other mans eg intonation.

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answered 06 Nov '16, 23:21

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

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question asked: 13 Mar '13, 08:53

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last updated: 06 Nov '16, 23:21

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