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Is the interpreter job to truly reproduce the emotions while conveying the message like yelling, laughing, or use a distressed voice or keep always a neutral tone of voice?

asked 23 Mar '12, 13:58

Shoam's gravatar image


edited 23 Mar '12, 14:29

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

It's a good question, and it's likely to attract personal, subjective answers. Here's mine:

I believe it's the interpreter's job to convey the speaker's emotions and it does take a lot of skill to do so while maintaining a clear head and delivery, both of which are essential.

In other words, you certainly do not want to be laughing, let alone start yelling into the mic. But put a smile on your lips and your listeners will immediately connect and inherit the mirth. Make your voice sound deeper and the delivery faster, take the smile off your face and you will sound angry.

As an interpreter you need to be an effective speaker at all times.

There have been a few cases in my career where empathy with the speakers was really essential. Sounding detached would very much have been a total betrayal of the original, however accurate the actual translation, for instance:

  • interpreting mentally disabled teenagers who were overwhelmed at being given a stage for the first time in their lives.
  • interpreting live on television at state funerals
  • interpreting mothers who had just lost their sons in a war

Of course, an interpreter can never reproduce the full range of emotions of the original speaker. Neither should they try to. Don't forget that anyone listening to you will be watching the speaker and immediately understand what emotional state they're in.

What the interpreter needs to be doing is inject just as much emotion into his or her voice and delivery to avoid any disconnect in the mind of the listener between the translated speech and how they perceive the speaker to be.

I wrote a piece for the AIIC webzine the other day discussing media interpreting and what I was writing there applies here as well I believe:

I personally see it as part of the job description for a conference interpreter to be a temporary vehicle for the speaker’s habitus (with exceptions), in addition to the technical work of interpreting one language into another. [...] insight and empathy are probably the single most important skills that an interpreter must have.

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answered 23 Mar '12, 14:26

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

In my case, as a hospital interpreter, the emotions are right there in front of the other person who, although cannot understand the words, can see gestures, facial expressions and hear the tone of voice of the LEP person.

(23 Mar '12, 14:31) Shoam

@shoam. In your context I would probably focus on translating the message as literally and calmly as possible. I expect you will be translating for professionals who will know how to interpret such emotions but need to understand the person's thought process in addition to understanding the message. A certain amount of literalness in your translation would probably help. But it's always a question of context.

(23 Mar '12, 14:37) Vincent Buck

@shoam You would probably do well do keep at least some of the emotion, even if you tone it down. The emotional person will trust you more that way, and you also have the opportunity to "convert" emotional expression in ways that are culturally appropriate.

(28 Mar '12, 05:22) LingoJango

Excellent question! It depends on what kind of interpreting you are performing. In medical/court interpreting cases, the ideal is to just deliver the information, not the emotions- in my opinion. In consecutive for meetings, maybe you can play in your presentation with your voice and face (smile, for example as it has been said) since the audience is seeing you. In the booth...well, I would try to keep a neutral tone as I already have a huge list of things I must concentrate in :D

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answered 29 Mar '12, 07:58

Iciar's gravatar image


I'm wondering if incorporating emotion into the interpreting would unconsciously introduce bias into the interpreting process?

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answered 29 Mar '12, 17:34

Leo%20Saumure's gravatar image

Leo Saumure

This is a short passage from "Improving the Interpreter's Voice" by Cyril Flerov and Michael Jacobs on this topic:

"Ali Darwish distinguishes quite accurately two modes of emotional expression in simultaneous interpretation: what he calls Expository Simultaneous Interpretation (ESI) and Rhetorical Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI).

While ESI is trying to carry “the informative and communicative intentions of the speaker’s utterances without verbal paralinguistic features, such as quality of voice, pitch, speed, interjections, fillers, or vocalizations,” (Page 278) RSI is (as a fellow interpreter said) a “full fat” experience attempting “to reenact the speaker’s utterances with full verbal (and sometimes nonverbal) paralinguistic features.” (Page 279)

Although RSI may be used in a number of situations requiring strong emotional impact, e.g. sermons, missionary lectures etc., students of professional conference interpretation are strongly cautioned against its casual use. There are several reasons to avoid copying speaker’s expression in its entirety. First of all, it is never fully possible, especially considering the degree of cognitive overload in SI. It will always be subjective i.e. open to interpretations and possible dissatisfaction by both the interpreter and the delegate.

Secondly, (especially in face-to-face situations) mimicking the speaker creates an atmosphere of competitiveness between the speaker and the interpreter. Finally, somewhat reserved manner of speaking is a means of “damage control” when you stay slightly detached and therefore less subject to unjustified (or justified) criticism.

Full-fledged emotional expression by an interpreter may draw even more attention to unavoidable mistakes, errors and blunders and emphasize the contrast between the showy manner of expression and the fact that the interpreter is making obvious mistakes.

For more information see:

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answered 06 Nov '16, 23:40

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Cyril Flerov

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question asked: 23 Mar '12, 13:58

question was seen: 8,366 times

last updated: 06 Nov '16, 23:40

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