Over the last decade, the international language services industry has doubled in size. In 2019, the sector reached a valuation of over 26 billion US dollars.
In our times of constant commercial, cultural and academic exchange between nations, translators, interpreters, and localization professionals play a key role in all industries, in all countries, and at all scales. Interpreting services are both a vital and somehow overlooked discipline. While most of us benefit from the work of interpreters, we’re used to the idea that interpreting is an extension of translation, when it’s actually a very complex discipline that can be (and should be) examined on its own.
With this ultimate guide to interpreting, you’ll find articles that go in-depth into each of the aspects of the interpreting industry, follow this list:
- What is Ad-Hoc Interpreting? The benefits and drawbacks.
- What is Relay Interpreting? The circumstances where this particular type of service is required.
- The Key Features in Medical Interpreting – What you should look for in a company
- All About Legal Interpreting – The importance of a good professional & how to find one
- The World of Business Interpreting – Application, Qualities, and How to Work with a Business Interpreter
- Interpreting Services for News Broadcasting
- 6 Things to Consider When Hiring an Interpreting Company
- Top Interpreting Apps – Access Professionals Instantly
The Importance of Interpreting Services
Merriam Webster defines an interpreter as “one who translates orally for parties conversing in different languages”. Interpreters’ role is rarely examined by the general public because a great interpreter shouldn’t draw attention to themselves. A great interpreter works as a link between a speaker and a receptor without raising alarms, rendering each message perfectly, transmitting each message’s meaning, tone, and intention. Interpreters can translate simultaneously (as the speaker is talking) or consecutively (after the speaker has finished talking).
Business interpreters facilitate negotiations between international companies. In the entertainment industry, interpreters make it possible for audiences across the globe to enjoy foreign events. Interpreters working in diplomacy play a key role in maintaining strong and productive relations between nations and international organizations. Medical interpreters, on the other hand, make it possible for foreign patients to get the quality care they deserve. Interpreters are also very important in judicial settings, transmitting the testimonies of foreign witnesses, victims, and suspects and guaranteeing a fair trial.
Can Anyone Be Interpreter?
Let’s say you’re sitting in a hospital’s waiting room. You’re feeling a little under the weather, nothing serious. But suddenly, a group of distressed nurses and doctors storm in, carrying a patient who appears to be very ill. After he’s taken in for examination, one of the nurses asks if anyone in the room speaks the patient’s language: Spanish. You did great in Spanish classes at school, and you’ve kept relatively fluid conversations with a friend’s Hispanic aunt. So, you think you might be qualified to help. Could any bilingual person serve as an interpreter during an emergency?
Someone who’s not formally trained to be an interpreter but is asked to interpret in an emergency is referred to as an ad-hoc interpreter. Ad-hoc interpreting doesn’t have a good reputation in the medical community, because, in a healthcare setting, a mistranslation can translate into a misdiagnosis. It doesn’t matter if you speak both English and Spanish at a native level. If you don’t have an in-depth knowledge of medical terminology and how to best translate it, you’re at risk of making dangerous interpreting mistakes.
Becoming an interpreter requires years of training. While an ad-hoc interpreter could be of some help, it’s far from the best option. In fact, in this hypothetical situation, the responsible medical professionals are behaving in an unethical (and even illegal) way. Limited English Patients have the right to expert linguistic assistance. The kind of linguistic assistance that, despite their good intentions, someone who’s merely bilingual might be unable to provide. That’s why medical practitioners working in bilingual or multilingual areas should always rely on a reputable interpreting company to guarantee quality care to every patient.
The History of Interpreting Services
Specific academic interest in the history of interpreting is recent, and relevant historical records are quite limited. But we can assume that interpreting is as old as the cultural and commercial exchange between communities.
One of the reasons why some say that interpreters are relegated to the margins of history is the ephemeral nature of their work. Written translations stay, the written word is easier to preserve than the spoken word. When we take a broad look at the history of humanity, we may say that recording technology is fairly recent, so most of the interpreting work that has ever been done served its immediate purpose and then faded away.
On the other hand, the interpreter’s role has always been seen as an auxiliary one. At the end of the day, the interpreter is meant to be an invisible mediator between two parties. But, if we want to recognize two important but very different moments in the history of translation, they might be Cicero’s writings about the dangerous role of the interpreter, and the birth of simultaneous interpreting in 1945, during the Nuremberg Trials.
Roman statesman, lawmaker, writer, and orator Marco Tullius Cicero expressed concern regarding the word-by-word interpretation of Greek and Roman speeches.
Like scholar Siobhán McElduff notes, “The indiserti interpres, supposedly living and working at the level of the word, is represented by Cicero as automatically and inherently incapable of ever translating in any way that really matters, and his translations, whether they were actually literal or not, are to be rejected by those who know and can practice real translation.”
Cicero’s anxiety about poorly trained interpreters has to do with their social origin and consequently insufficient training, but also with their tendency to translate word-by-word instead of, as Cicero proposes, sense-by-sense.
Fast-forwarding to the 20th Century, we can see that the approach that prioritizes meaning over word-by-word precision has become common practice. But there was still something missing.
Before 1945, all interpreting was consecutive. But that wasn’t good enough for the Internationally Military Tribunal, an institution created after World War II with the mission of conducting “fair and expeditious trials” of accused Nazi war criminals. Considering the enormous amount of evidence and testimonies in different languages, and the international nature of the institutions in question, both fairness and expeditiousness were goals that would be hard to meet without a custom interpreting solution. IBM and the United Nations crafted an interpreting system that allowed each interpreter to sit by the relevant party, rendering their words into another language as they spoke. This was the birth of simultaneous interpreting.
The Future of Interpreting
When we observe the historical development of interpreting services, it’s interesting to note how the progress in communication technology has helped make interpreting solutions more accessible and cost-efficient.
Over-the-phone interpreting meant that an interpreter of almost any language pair could be contacted instantly and serve the customer’s language needs without leaving their office.
Over-the-phone interpreting can be greatly useful in emergencies, and it’s less expensive than in-person interpreting.
But there’s something even better: Virtual Interpreting Technology. Virtual Interpreting Technology is the name given to platforms that connect users with pre-vetted, highly trained interpreters through a comfortable and accessible UI. Some argue that this is the modern-day equivalent of over the phone interpreting. And that the future of translation relies, not on automation, but on using technology to make these services more widely available while guaranteeing a smooth client experience.