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Hi, I've been assigned a job in a few months time and I've already started preparing. I've seen videos of the speaker, and not only does he speak a variation of the language that I'm not so familiar/comfortable with, he speaks fast and not very clearly. Given that I've got a lot of time to prepare, I don't see this as being an issue, but it has lead me to ask people here - what are your thoughts on and experiences with asking a speaker to slow down?

asked 29 Mar '16, 09:40

Jack%20Taylor's gravatar image

Jack Taylor

You can't ask a speaker to slow down. It does not work that way.

  • If they're fast, it's either their nature and/or because they're nervous. In that case, asking them to slow down will make them go even faster.
  • If they will be reading out a written speech, make sure you've go the text.

Note that if you tell the participants listening to you in translation that they should ask the speaker to slow down, some will probably turn around to try and locate you in the room, but no-one will stand up and ask the speaker to slow down. And why should they? It's your job to know how to cope with fast speakers.

I've seen videos of the speaker, and not only does he speak a variation of the language that I'm not so familiar/comfortable with, he speaks fast and not very clearly. Given that I've got a lot of time to prepare, I don't see this as being an issue

I would not be so sure. You can certainly research the topic and listening to the speaker ahead of time is always a good idea.

But chances are you won't be able to cope with a speaker who is, to you, uncomfortably colloquial or idiosyncratic AND unclear AND fast, however much you prepare.

You should make sure you have enough experience under your belt before you take on such assignments.

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answered 29 Mar '16, 11:01

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

edited 29 Mar '16, 11:02


Not knowing any of the specifics of your job, the speaker, etc., I'd like to give a few general guidelines.

Both Vincent and MSR are right, as "fast" is a relative term. What is fast for you as an interpreter may not be fast for me; and what you consider fast for the speaker, s/he might find ter-ri-bly ter-ri-bly slow. It is also incredibly difficult to monitor yourself for speed if you haven't had training, so the speaker will agree, but not know what to do, and then forget within the next two minutes.

Moreover, if you are asking the speaker to slow down when everyone in the room thinks s/he is speaking at a perfectly normal pace, this could damage the entire profession, as it will make everyone think that interpreters can't handle the job unless people speak unnaturally slowly. If you are a new-ish interpreter, it might be worth your while to ask another more experienced interpreter if they think the speaker is fast too, so you know what is professionally difficult or unreasonable.

Also, there is the issue of speed vs. density. The speaker may not be hugely fast, but every word matters, so is very dense. This can be perceived as speed by the interpreter who cannot throw anything out, and is hanging on to the words tooth and nail, trying to reformulate as quickly as possible.

One tip that has worked for me and others in the past - if you get a chance to talk to the speaker, which isn't always a possibility - ask them to breathe between sentences. This is quantifiable, it's specific, and it means that the speaker knows exactly what to do, instead of basing themselves on an undefined, amorphous word like "fast."

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answered 29 Mar '16, 13:58

JuliaP's gravatar image

3.0k249 Vincent very rightly says, asking a speaker to slow down rarely if ever produces results, even less those expected :-) - certainly not when by lesser mortals than the chair, and even then...

However, there is such a thing as too fast, at least for the kind of work we believe we should be delivering: my personal coping strategies - and mind you, I'm more often thrown by intonation than by speed > some SP speakers being my nemesis for the latter ;-) - involve telling my audience over the mike that the speaker is too fast for proper SI (because otherwise I'll "blame" myself, I need the audio reminder to stave off those ulcers!) and if it really gets too much I'll further tell them that I'm forced to resort to a sort of running commentary, as opposed to proper Sim and proceed to do so, keeping them abreast of as much of the general gist as my feeble powers allow for.

Seeing as how you've been able to establish that speaker's "charming quirck" beforehand, you may consider approaching her on the spot (if feasible; if not, try going through the organiser) and attempt to raise her awareness in advance: just remember never to gripe about how difficult your life will be but wax lyrical on how thrilled you'd be to be allowed to do your bit towards ensuring that her imortal words will reach all of her audience, for which some self-discipline will be needed... who knows, you might make an impression :-), namely if you'll hand/forward something like this out - my region had it printed in credit card plastic format. Good luck!

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answered 29 Mar '16, 11:47

msr's gravatar image


what are your thoughts on and experiences with asking a speaker to slow down?

Slippery slope... Why should the speaker slow down? The client will have paid roughly a 1,000€ for the booth rental and a bit more for the team of two interpreters, plus he's already annoyed because you have forced them to schedule a 90 minutes lunch break.

And on top of that, you'd like the speaker to adapt to your needs? From a clients perspective, you might just give the impression that you are somewhat incompetent and unable to do the job you were hired for. A C language being a C language, you are expected to be able to handle it, even if it has some elements of slang and regional expressions.

Some rare configurations will allow you to educate your clients and users somewhat, in which case make sure that you do adopt msr's approach. You'd only want to give them advice so that the communication goes smoothly, because the success of their event is your number one priority. Don't mention your discomfort or exhaustion after a half hour spent in hell. Mentioning it would be like having the janitor complaining to me about his back pain and the fact that he needs to empty the trash after me at the end of business. That comes with the job.

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answered 29 Mar '16, 13:58

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Even if I don't agree 100% and it clearly depends on the setting, here is an extract of the AIIC Practical guide for professional conference interpreters:

The pre-conference briefing may also be a good opportunity to remind speakers of the need to provide to the interpreters a copy of any text that is to be read out during the conference, and to demonstrate the appropriate reading speed for high-quality interpretation of a recited written text. This is best handled by the chief interpreter or team leader. [...] If you have not understood something essential, say so over the microphone. Your delegates can then decide whether they want to ask the speaker to repeat it. Likewise, if a speaker is reading at breakneck speed from a written text that you haven’t received a copy of, making it impossible to provide a complete and accurate interpretation, say so over the microphone. You may inform your delegates of the problem and indicate that you will try to provide a summary. If necessary, you may state that you regret that you will have to stop interpreting until reliable interpretation becomes possible again. Turning off your microphone is of course an extreme tactic, but when no interpretation is better than the best interpretation possible under the circumstances, it is undoubtedly the ethical thing to do.

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answered 15 Apr '16, 04:34

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

edited 15 Apr '16, 04:36

I never ask a client to slow down.

1) They may slow down too much and interpreting slow speech is much harder than fast. 2) It may not work in the long run because after some time they will speed up again.
3) Dealing with fast speech is what I am paid for. 4) It is a great exercise in summarizing and information prioritization 5) I think such request would sound unprofessional and in some degree may be perceived as an interpreter's "failure", therefore undermine credibility.

You need to remember though that some texts are too fast for interpretation for example fast paced promotional videos but it is another story.

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answered 07 May '16, 14:41

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

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question asked: 29 Mar '16, 09:40

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