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Male interpreters for male speakers - female interpreters for female speakers => What is your opinion on this?

And what do our clients think (i.e. did you ever work in a situation where the client specifically requested this)?

asked 06 Feb '12, 15:23

Tanja's gravatar image


edited 06 Feb '12, 17:17

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that at least for me personally there are but few exceptions where "gender casting" appears to be warranted. One of them being several speakers on a panel (or on a TV show). Where timing is of the essence/several people might end up talking over each other, it might be easier for listeners if there are alternating male and female voices.

(20 Feb '12, 00:05) Tanja

As we know, this profession has more women than men (a ratio of 3 to 1, I believe). The increased use of webstreaming and webcasting may be a threat for female interpreters, as speakers are mostly men. When a conference is webcast, organizers tend to request gender casting, as they confuse interpreting with dubbing. For their shareholders’ meeting for example, because it is webcast to several countries, they want their CEO (a man) to sound like a man in all languages, and do not want female interpreters. I usually accept to provide male interpreters, if available, when I cannot convince the client otherwise.

However, if a particular prospect asks, for no obvious specific reason, to be “sent” a female interpreter, I usually ask quite bluntly: “and would you like a blond or a brunette?” … They usually get the message ;-)

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answered 08 Apr '12, 16:32

Danielle's gravatar image


What about "gingers" ;-)?

(09 Apr '12, 07:56) Marta Piera ...

We are much, much rarer in the profession. Rarer even than men.

(09 Jan '14, 15:08) William White

In Canada, government interpreters are majorily female. Ottawa uses sort of a pool of staff interpreters to cover everything from parliament sessions to jurisprudence to public consultations and spur-of-the moment street interviews---which furthermore are being broadcasted on live television directly from the interpreting booths. It is not abnormal to see a Québec businessman dubbed with a Torontonian Anglophone woman's voice, or a Newfoundland housewife dubbed in a New Brunswick male Francophone voice. It's all about supply and demand and should be solely about the quality of interpretation that the interpreter provides. Gender is merely a surface feature.

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answered 10 Apr '12, 15:07

jdecamillis's gravatar image


edited 10 Apr '12, 16:15

This issue has come up in two different ways in my work. Once I was contacted by a colleague to work for a feminist organization, and I requested that the client be asked if they would prefer a woman interpreter. The answer was that they would accept a qualified male, and I took the job. At the end of the meeting the head organizer came to express her appreciation for my work, which she deemed to have been good, but added that she wished she had asked for only women interpreters.

Another time I was working at a large conference of women's organizations and one day was assigned to a working group. The chair of the group came to the booth and requested that the men use feminine forms when interpreting into Spanish (e.g. "nosotras" rather than "nosotros" in sentences such as "We (nosotras) must remain unified"). Again the team was thanked and no mention was made of their gender.

In 30 years of interpreting I have never encountered a situation when a specific request was made for male/female interpreters for male/female speakers, which is not to say that it never happens or won't sometime in my own future. I can see instances in which it might be warranted, such as TV programs for which the producers might prefer gender voice matching (though I used to work on several live TV programs and never heard such a request). Obviously any such request should be made prior to hiring the interpreters so that team composition and distribution of work can be adequately planned.

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answered 06 Feb '12, 16:37

Luigi's gravatar image


This is policy at the Franco-German TV network Arte, where with precious few exceptions interpreters will always be cast by gender. Most of the time, each guest on a show will also be assigned one and only one interpreter working live into French and/or German.

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answered 06 Feb '12, 17:16

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Thank you for the TV network example because I think this might well be changing the role of gender in interpreting. And without getting up on a soapbox: But I can't understand the eventual feedback of Luigi's client: How can women expect to get the same treatment as men if they are not prepared to offer it themselves?

My own experience with gender casting:

  1. The first time I cam across "gender casting" was about 15 years ago and it was in cultural context. I was still a fresher at uni, sideline job: escort interpreting for a local PCB manufacturer as part of an offshoring team. The PCB manufacturer had actually wanted a male interpreter since they were expecting a delegation from Iran. My boss at the agency said no: „They want to do business with us Germans, they had better get used to seeing women around.“ Which of course was a very commendable attitude. But it did not make me feel any better when I went there early in the morning, - just to be greeted by a group of extremely laid back and very westernised Iranians, one of them a female engineer without a headscarf. That much for cultural misconceptions.
  2. Second time: Pseudo-media context (I am calling it this, because I think this decision may have been shaped by the increasing influence of TV interpreting) More than 10 years later, American software company. Two day conference. Sometimes we only had a few power points but it all went rather well. Apparently me and my (female) colleague did a good job, at least this is the feedback we got from the organisers. There was internet streaming going on. Halfway through the conference one of Berlin's former Mayors is on the Agenda. Suddenly the Americans get all excited and decide that this big moment should of course be interpreted - but by a male voice. So a colleague is called in for the afternoon where he waits patiently for this 30 minute presentation. He is given the full speech beforehand which he prepares meticulously whilst we plough through the business/IT conference. And of course he did an excellent simultaneous interpretation/sight translation job (Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him his 15 minutes of fame).
    By the way during his term in office as the Mayor of Berlin AFAIK this politician usually spoke through a female interpreter. My guess is that the Americans just wanted to get this special "blingbling“ effect like on TV when the stars speak through an interpreter and gender casting seems to be a common practice here.
  3. Initially I was not too bothered. But then last year a client rang me and wanted a male voice for an internet streamcast of a gala event for a project I had been working on for the past year. It was supposed to be the presentation of some engineering world championship award (plus, maybe, a female voice, should there be any questions from the audience "but this would be highly unlikely, hence only standby for the female part“) This was the first time I began to think twice and thought it might be worthwhile to ask other colleagues about their experience.
  4. As an afterthought: Another example, also last year. This time it was the other way round. I had been looking for an "equivalent replacement" for a one day conference at a political foundation and ended up recommending a very good (male) colleague. The consultant interpreter claimed that he was not an adequate replacement because one of the (6) speakers was this lady from Cambodia and since my other colleague was already male she would have preferred a mixed gender team. Again, I had difficulties in comprehending the rationale behind this. For me, the hallmark of a good interpreter is "invisibility". IMHO that does not depend on gender but on quality.

I am still undecided whether gender casting is an issue or not. Maybe we most women just don’t want to sound unrelaxed or bitchy. Or perhaps it is just anecdotal evidence/I am just being too sensitive here and it was simply bad luck. I mean: 4 times in 15 years isn't bad - then again, those are only the times I noticed and I can be a bit slow on the uptake in this respect;) Anyway. My apologies for this long post. Still wondering:)

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answered 09 Feb '12, 16:39

Tanja's gravatar image


edited 10 Feb '12, 07:06

...well do I remember, pour la petite histoire, a meeting of European prostitutes (95% women) in the hallowed halls of the European Parliament, where they asked for the team to be all female, only to be told by Franco Prete,our peerless Chief Interpreter, that they would get a normal team, with as many men as the luck of the draw would have it... knowing anyway that our profession too has more women than men :-). TV channels do ask for gender matching, if you ask me because in this too they underestimate their audiences!

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answered 11 Feb '12, 11:23

msr's gravatar image


I find it morally repugnant. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, consider this: should I have the right to call up and request a non-Jewish plumber to come and fix my taps?

I don't get many gender-specific requests, thankfully. Those I do get are from people who don't really understand or respect our profession.

In employment law it is of course illegal in most places to advertise a vacancy for (eg) female applicants only. Why should we collude with the same type of practice?

There aren't that many parallels with stage acting (would you try and find a colleague with an extremely deep voice to interpret Henry Kissinger?) but for the record, Asian and other minority actors, at least on the Anglophone stage, find it to be one of the last bastions of racism ... "this is a part for a white person". In the mid-1990s directors in London were just beginning to experiment with casting women in male (lead) roles and vice versa - this is becoming slightly more common.

We're a long way ahead of the theatre. Let's keep it that way.

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answered 15 Jan '14, 02:10

William%20White's gravatar image

William White

(15 Jan '14, 02:48) William White

I have been asked to set up a team with a male partner when I had to interpret the wedding of Prince Edward live. There were two BBC anchors: a man and a woman and we were asked to intepret depending on who spoke. These situations are very difficult because there is a lag in simultaneous intepretation and your colleague cannot start until you are finished, which meant that we had to rush at the end of each sentence for our voices not to overlap.

On another ocassion, a client of mine (a farm owner) said he wanted a male interpreter because they had to go out into the field, walk long distances in the sun, etc. I did not mind at all. I had been on combines and oil drilling platforms many times before. But I have learned that we are not to argue with clients, sometimes it is only a question of feeling more comfortable with people of the same gender for whatever reason, and we should respect that.

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answered 19 Feb '12, 18:59

Vero's gravatar image


Yes, I guess you are right: It is very difficult to argue with customers (in German we have the saying: "Der Kunde ist König."). Then again, I once was having dinner with a colleague (only met her once so I don't know the context that well) who told us about one of the first jobs where she was asked to organize the team. The client asked her not to send any South Americans. Her reply as a young and budding interpreter was something along the lines of: "Oh, so you're a racist, are you?" Then again, not everybody has these - pardon the pun - balls/I certainly don't (but it is beginning to make me feel slightly sheepish). In reference to another female colleague, a former lecturer of mine once said: "Sie hat halt Grübchen aus Stahl" (Don't know, whether it translates that well: She has steel dimples:)

(19 Feb '12, 23:52) Tanja

You could also describe it simply as professional solidarity.

(15 Jan '14, 02:04) William White

Yes, it seems to become an issue these days. Whereas until recently gender casting was only experienced in the context of TV assignments (quite understandably) we now tend to get more and more requests for male interpreters for example to cover a male CEO and male board members during shareholders' meetings etc. So much so that last year a client was prepared to pay considerably more to have a team of 2 male interpreters and only one female interpreter although he could have had three qualified female locals.

Rumour has it that in one such case in another part of Germany a female colleague was eventually accepted because she has a rather deep voice.

Frankly speaking, I don't think we should or could argue with the client - who calls the tune, unless there are no male colleagues available or qualified for a given assignment. Eventually there will be more female board members, politicians, CEOs etc.

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answered 14 Jan '14, 17:59

AlmuteL's gravatar image


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question asked: 06 Feb '12, 15:23

question was seen: 19,835 times

last updated: 15 Jan '14, 03:08

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