The Miracle of Simultaneous Interpretation

The Miracle of Simultaneous Interpretation

by Translation Guy on November 20, 2014

Computers are now so ingrained in the fabric of our lives that we often take them for granted. How complex and wonderful they are! So too with simultaneous interpretation. It is something that is done every day around the world, but when you stop to think about it and marvel at it, it is hard not to find a new appreciation for the art and science of simultaneous interpretation, and the brains behind it.

First, what is simultaneous interpretation? It is a method that allows fluid communication between people who do not share the same language. The first party talks in one language. At the same time an interpreter, who is usually sitting in a soundproof booth with headphones and a microphone, listens to what this person is saying and simultaneously speaks the equivalent into the microphone using the target language. A second party is wearing headphones and listens to what the interpreter says, thus allowing communication to take place between people who could not usually communicate. Nowadays you often see simultaneous communication at meetings of the United Nations, European Union and other high-level multinational bodies.

It is not enough to be fluent in more than one language. Simultaneous interpretation requires intense concentration as well as lots of practice and skill to do correctly.

Simultaneous interpretation was an invention of the 20th century, but it was the Nuremberg Trials that helped show the world community the power and efficacy of the method. With simultaneous interpretation, the trials were able to unfold fairly quickly using four working languages.

Interestingly, the art and science of simultaneous interpreting is not dependent on one region of the brain, but on several regions of the brain and their ability to work together at the same time. Considering what happens in the brain as well as interpretation itself, you could say that simultaneous interpreters are master multitaskers. And that deserves a little appreciation.

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