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Some conference interpreters I know bend over backwards to analyse what the speaker is saying/trying to say, whilst others appear to be happy to just follow the speaker's thought process, however convoluted.

Would you say that a consumate conference interpreter needs to have an analytical mindset?

asked 16 Oct '11, 19:50

silvia-c's gravatar image


edited 16 Oct '11, 23:56

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

I don't really think that this is an either-or choice. I think that interpreters with an analytical mindset will use an analytical approach to figure out what the speaker's message is, whereas those interpreters who are more intuitive by nature will use that approach to get into the speaker's head.

One way or the other, you need to figure out where the speaker is coming from and what their message is, or you won't be able to do the job properly. Often, there are a lot of factors at play here - your own analytical/intuitive approach, your familiarity with the speaker's culture/background/political leanings/technical expertise etc., having followed the thread of the discussion up to that point, previous comments the speaker may have made on the same topic ... It all helps.

Usually it works out just fine. Only very rarely do I turn off the mike and say to myself or to my colleague, "What was that person on about?". Usually it's in cases where the discussion is very technical and/or they go off on a tangent and you have to stick to them like glue to make sure it's all there. The most gratifying thing is when I have a moment like that and then the UK delegate (or someone else who was listening to me) takes the floor and says, "I know exactly what you mean!". Phew, at least somebody did ...

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answered 25 Oct '11, 17:01

Michelle's gravatar image


I fully agree with Michelle! However for me the issue is more in how quickly one can build up a mental map of what is being said. You can do it intuitively or analytically, and it is possible with any topic, but may take longer if the topic is less familiar or more technical, or the arguments are more abstruse. In something of this nature, I stick like glue to the speaker (which is neither analytical or intuitive, just pure survival!) until that moment of clarity when something clicks and suddenly the entire speech fits into my understanding like a jigsaw puzzle piece, and suddenly my brain and posture both relax and I can follow wherever the speaker leads. The moment may come sooner, later, or never, but everything should still feed into the mental map, so that the next speaker reaches the moment of clarity just that little bit sooner.

In fact, the more I teach, the more I realize it is not the student's linguistic ability that is the sole make or break point in whether or not that particular student can interpret (and here I do not include all of the other skills necessary to make it on the market). It is the way the student sees and understands the world and how it works. If an interpreter is forced to constantly stick to the speaker like glue, doing a form of word substitution, and never really understanding what they are interpreting, that interpreter will likely be exhausted at the end of each shift, a puddle on the floor at the end of each day, and most probably burned out at the end of a year or two. If the interpreter already has a mental construct of how, for example, international relations work, then they will go into a meeting knowing already much of the psychology, philosophy, history of what will be said without having to do a lot of research, and can really focus on understanding the speakers.

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answered 22 Dec '14, 10:07

JuliaP's gravatar image


You absolutely must have analytical mind but the secret is to analyze only to the degree when it does not begin to alter the speaker's message and words.

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answered 03 Dec '15, 23:38

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

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question asked: 16 Oct '11, 19:50

question was seen: 10,753 times

last updated: 03 Dec '15, 23:38 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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