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I was doing simultaneous the other day and the chairman got totally confused at the end of the meeting. I guess she was tired.

Thankfully I could correct quite a few or her slips either from context or prior knowledge, having interpreted for the same group a number of times already.

Now, what's the accepted standard among conference interpreters? Should it be garbage in, garbage out, or are we supposed to correct what we know to be glaring mistakes?

asked 16 Oct '11, 20:30

silvia-c's gravatar image


edited 16 Oct '11, 23:25

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Hi Silvia,

I think it depends on the setting and mode of interpretation (simultaneous or consecutive). Let me explain this by using two examples:

1) Imagine you're interpreting a German minister in a (formal) press conference in the Spanish city of Seville. Imagine that the minister get confused (he's being travelling for a couple of days) and starts his speech thanking the counterpart and praising this great and beautiful city of "Lyon". Oops! In this case, you'll be doing your minister a favour if you say the right city "Seville" and not "Lyon". Indeed, this is a clear mistake that could be embarrassing for everybody.

2) Let's assume now that you're interpreting simultaneously in an international conference with 6 or 7 working languages. Imaging that the Spanish speaker you're interpreting talks in English and says that the current unemployment rate in Spain is 2% (in fact, it is now 20%). You may think to correct him straight away because it is clear that this is a slip of the tongue. Nevertheless, imagine that the next speaker makes a funny comment on this error. If you have corrected him, you won't be able to refer to this slip. And if other interpreters took relais from you during the speech of the first speaker (who made the mistake), the confusion will be even greater.

Summing up, I think one should consider in every single situation if it is safe and convenient to correct the speaker. In case of doubt, I would always interpret literally.

Hope this helps.

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answered 18 Oct '11, 18:04

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

edited 14 Nov '11, 08:33


The interpreter corrects the mistake and replaces the name of the city. Those in the audience, who understood the Minister because they speak his language, will laugh. Those you are interpreting for won’t. They will be very confused.

(10 Apr '12, 12:59) Shoam

I once saw a press conference with Yeltsin, who named all the states with nuclear weapons and included Germany. The interpreter was doing consec and corrected the Presidentm i.e. excluded Germany in his interpretation. I imagine that this was an absolutely no win situation for the interpreter, because obviously it was all over the news that Yeltsin believed Germany to have nuclear weapons (the news desks have their own interpreters and translators), but I believe after having seen it that the interpreter would have been much worse off had he not corrected the President.

After this anecdote I would like to add that I agree that you must adapt to the situation when you decide whether to correct or not, and obviously you would never correct the speaker in a court room, or in a hospital. But in those cases you can of course always double check with the speaker; "the interpreter would like to double check - did you say X". A strategy not available in simultaneous of course.

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answered 11 Apr '12, 17:14

tulkur's gravatar image


A follow-up on Michelle: In a situation as described in the 1st example, i.e. the minister says "Lyon" instead of "Seville" or similar lapsi, you might want to try "intentional hesitation" and wait a second (if possible), before interpreting, because (again: depending on the context) his/her mistake might trigger reactions (laughter, protest from the floor ...). So you wait a second and then continue with the right name/place/number, and you add like: "The minister first said "Lyon", so that your listeners know, why everybody else is laughing.

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answered 12 Nov '11, 13:29

LiA's gravatar image


...if I might add my tuppenceworth, one would do well to remember that some mistakes are deliberate, for effect or some other reason "above our paygrade"... and if we correct them we spoil the speaker's goal and may have to deal with a very irate speaker/client afterwards. I know I'm not being particularly helpful, but sometimes even the very sound advice given by Michelle, ie "says the speaker" may be an unwelcome red flag... isn't being an interpreter great fun?! :-)

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answered 12 Apr '12, 20:15

msr's gravatar image


I agree with Nacho about using your best judgment, and sticking to the original when in doubt.

There is also a third option, apart from the "correct them/don't correct them" choice, which can work sometimes, depending on the circumstances. This would be where you are interpreting something that you are 99% is sure is an error, as in case 2) described above. If you add the words "says the speaker" after the problematic bit, then you are distancing yourself from the error and making it clear that it really is what the speaker is saying. If you blithely interpret "2%", then if/when someone questions the figure, there's the chance that the speaker will not realize that the mistake was his and decide to accuse the interpreter of screwing up! However, if you say "2% ... says the speaker", then everyone will likely realize what has happened, i.e. that it was a slip of the tongue, and the meeting can go on without unnecessary interruption.

There is another type of occasion where this trick can come in handy: where you think the speaker might be wrong, but are not too sure. Let's say the agenda indicates that the next meeting will be held in mid-October, but the chairman says that he will see everybody in mid-November - a slip of the tongue, or change in scheduling since the agenda was printed out? If you interpret "mid-November .. says the speaker", this alerts listeners to what has been said and allows them to sort it out if necessary. If you correct it to mid-October and it turns out you're wrong, that could obviously cause major problems! If you just interpret it as "mid-November", then listeners might assume you as interpreter have made the slip and might not realize that the chairman actually gave a date other than the one on the agenda.

And so it goes, on and on ...

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answered 18 Oct '11, 23:40

Michelle's gravatar image


Seems like this interpreter opted for the first option: link text

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answered 17 Jun '13, 09:03

Eztizen's gravatar image


..s/he did indeed, as was commented inter alia here and s/he'll have to live with that professional decision, as s/he would have to live with the opposite one, had that been the one that had won the day. ...I did wonder who had hired him/her and what were the hiring party's ex post views about the colleague's decision (the tradition in diplomatic circles is that the interpreter speaks FOR the principal and is thus attached to such principal's party) and I further wonder whether the decision would have been the same, had the hiring party been the other one... but that we will of course never know :-).

(17 Jun '13, 15:09) msr
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question asked: 16 Oct '11, 20:30

question was seen: 10,480 times

last updated: 17 Jun '13, 15:09

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