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The one thing most interpreters, starting their professional career fear is pauses. Especially in the setting of consecutive interpretation, where the target text ideally should be shorter than the original. We don't want to appear incompetent or loose the audiences trust by allowing for pauses. But is that really something we need to fear or is it rather one of the most powerful instruments an interpreter has?!

Does an interpreter also have to interpret the pauses of the speaker? Were they made deliberately, out of uncertainty or to stress an aspect of the speech?

During consecutive interpretation I often wonder, how long the perfect pause should be and if I can afford them in the first place. What do you think?

Thank you very much in advance.

asked 09 Dec '15, 10:37

Vera's gravatar image


...IMHO you most certainly can afford them, as long as they look like what they are (should be...) ie rhetorical pauses, for effect, or - within reason - a "natural" speaker looking for the best turn of phrase, le mot juste as it were :-). What you should not have are overlong pauses during which either panic visibly sets in your features or your eyes go vacant while you rummage around the nooks and crannies of your grey matter (particularly when aggravated by the creaking door syndrome, perish the thought) ... thus unmistakably signaling to your audience that you're sinking. What then? Well...cut your losses, finish your sentence, settle for the less-than-optimum choice of words, go one level up to signify whatever you cannot come up with at the required level of detail, put those coping strategies you were taught to good use :-).

As to interpreting the speaker's pauses, if deliberate in your judgement, everything that's needed in your target language to convey the original message should be used... but remember that different languages/cultures use different pauses in different places (un/accompanied by specific body/facial language) to signify meaning.

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answered 10 Dec '15, 07:47

msr's gravatar image


edited 10 Dec '15, 09:14

it is a tricky question and much more difficult than it may seem at first.

Here is a small excerpt I recently published on this topic among others:

"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."

Copying speakers pauses may be interpreted as a parody and if done should be done only very subtly to hint at the speaker's style not imitate it. For example, sometimes hesitation expressed in a speaker's pause can be conveyed in the interpretation lexically eg by saying "shall we say..." It will not mimic the speaker blindly and will actually save his face in a way.

Rhetorical pauses however should be fully utilized because they give you time to think and regroup before continuing.

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answered 07 May '16, 15:00

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

edited 07 May '16, 15:10

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question asked: 09 Dec '15, 10:37

question was seen: 6,073 times

last updated: 07 May '16, 15:10 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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