The Interpreter’s profession

The interpreter’s profession is regarded as one of the most strenuous that there is with similar levels of stress to those endured by pilots, doctors and teachers. Routine is of little help as interpreters are called upon in all areas of life from appointments with the notary public or registrar’s office, technical conferences, e.g. on agricultural or financial subjects to political discussions such as take place in meetings of the UN or EU. Although they are always in the background, global economic and political collaboration would not be possible without interpreters.

To work as an interpreter requires much more than a talent for languages although that too is an essential prerequisite. An interpreter conveys much more than the spoken word; they also have to reflect the facial expression, gestures and the tone of voice of the speaker. A degree of acting talent is therefore essential. Good general knowledge is important as well as the ability to quickly familiarise themselves with a wide variety of specialist subjects. The importance of in-depth knowledge of the country must not be underestimated as being aware of cultural customs can keep participants in the discussion from committing behavioural faux-pas.

Stress resistance, ability to concentrate hard and good analytical skills constitute further professional requirements for interpreters. This is especially true for simultaneous interpreters who have to translate what is said simultaneously into the target language. As this is an extremely tiring activity, simultaneous translators normally swap over every half-hour or so. In the case of consecutive interpreting the speaker’s words are taken down in shorthand initially and only translated into the target language after several minutes which reduces the stress factor somewhat.

An interpreter always endeavours to remain in the shadows. They provide a service where they try not to be noticed and to give the participants the feeling of communicating directly. This striving for invisibility means that inconspicuousness and reticence constitute essential traits in an interpreter. An interpreter may not practice any censorship or allow any value judgement of their own to colour their words. When you consider the explosive nature of many events or the importance of those taking part, professionalism and confidentiality go without saying in the interpreting field.

In Germany the job title of simultaneous translator is not protected in law which means that it is possible to practice the profession with no relevant training or qualification. However there are some titles which vary from

Federal Land to Federal Land and which are acquired through certain training, examinations or certifications such as Interpreter with Diploma, Specialist Interpreter with Diploma, sworn and legally certified interpreter or publicly appointed and sworn interpreter. The International Federation of Conference Interpreters (aiic) with its head office in Geneva is also regarded as a seal of quality for good interpreting.

In spite of their life in the shadows, consecutive interpreters play an important part in today’s global society. Interpreters convey more than words, they mediate between mindsets and different cultures thereby contributing to the success of political and economic ties between people from every nation.