First-time posters: please review the site's moderation policy

Talking to senior colleagues, it sounds like interpreters are born, not made.

Is this another example of a great generational divide?

asked 12 Oct '11, 22:10

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Perhaps that is indeed another example of a generational divide. I've certainly seen many a conference interpreter being made during training programmes, and am one such myself. Without proper training I'd probably either never had the courage to go into a booth or would have had a nervous breakdown after the first five minutes! I'd say the truth is probably somewhere between the two - as is the case in most other professions, it takes both innate talent and acquired skills to become a conference interpreter. The less talented will just have to work a little harder to make it. Then again, some people are just not cut out to be interpreters, and no matter how hard they train, they will never pass muster.

permanent link

answered 13 Oct '11, 00:26

Sirpa's gravatar image


Mm, interesting comments. But what is this X-factor then that make it or break it for budding interpreters? I believe more in nurture than nature. But every interpreter seems to believe that there is something more than just training. Clearly there is a set of skills or personal traits that combined will make an interpreter, but is there an x-factor too? And what about those that never make it - why?

About the lady who knits. That's not about interpreting skill, in my opinion, but about professionalism. Presumably she can convey the message well, but she will not give a very professional impression.

permanent link

answered 04 Apr '12, 01:25

tulkur's gravatar image


@KarenB has a great answer about the soft skills that are a good predictor of professional success as an interpreter.

(04 Apr '12, 05:24) Vincent Buck

Yes, I read that and agree that it is indeed a great post, but I'm still curious about the x-factor's existence or not.

(04 Apr '12, 07:24) tulkur

@tulkur. Sounds like you should be asking the x-factor question on ii then!

(04 Apr '12, 07:42) Vincent Buck

Conference interpretation, to the best of my knowledge, requires both technical training/technique and a set of inherent qualities. Aside a degree in interpreting, one needs to lead an international life of sorts in order to truly understand the cultural undertones behind the languages they interpret. You have to be extremely curious, a natural diplomat, well read, social, sensitive yet neutral.. competetive... and even then, one can combine that with interpreting education and still back out of interpreting early on in life...

The above noted, interpreters do come from all backgrounds. Some have PhDs in interpreting or languages, others happen to only have a high school education yet world experience beyond a great many. I knew one in fact who stumbled into the profession through volunteering... and 50 years later has developed enough skill that she can knit while she interprets.

I am a translator myself. I attempted interpreting multiple times and couldn't stand it... I wanted to hide in my books and be a writer. I lack the social skill to handle interpreting even though I'm very trilingual in English, Arabic, and French.

If you want a good reference, read Francesca Galbia's "The Origins of Simultaneous Interpretation - The Nuremberg Trial" (University of Ottawa).

permanent link

answered 30 Mar '12, 21:05

jdecamillis's gravatar image


edited 04 Apr '12, 00:17

This is not so much an answer to the question as a comment to a previous answer by Jacob de Camillis. I am sorry, but I do not believe that someone who knits while interpreting can be labeled as a good interpreter. I cannot speak about her rendition since I have not had the pleasure to work with or listen to this person, but I find it extremely unprofessional to do anything else than interpreting while interpreting. Would you trust your fiscal advisor if she were doing her manicure while explaining the latest changes in the tax regime? Would you find it acceptable if your doctor were doing a crosswordpuzzle while you tell her about your recurrent headache? I do not think so and I do not believe interpreters are an exception. They can all be very capable professionals, but looking like it is part of the job.

Regading the question, I totally agree with Sirpa. I think interpreting can be compared with modeling. Only a few people are born with the perfect body and can become top models without any effort; some others can make it if they put in all they energy; some others will only make it to feet models or hand models or leg models; and finally there are others than can try as hard as they want, but there is just no way they get there. I think the same applies to interpreting. Out to the gym!

permanent link

answered 01 Apr '12, 06:01

AnaP's gravatar image


edited 01 Apr '12, 07:51

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Your answer
toggle preview

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text]( "title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported

Question tags:


question asked: 12 Oct '11, 22:10

question was seen: 6,067 times

last updated: 04 Apr '12, 07:42 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

about | faq | terms of use | privacy policy | content policy | disclaimer | contact us

This collaborative website is sponsored and hosted by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters.