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Language interpreting can have many faces: there’s the glamour of big conferences (à la Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter), but also the harsh reality of refugee children becoming intermediaries for their adult relatives with the police. Furthermore, there’s much controversy around La Malinche, who acted as an interpreter between the Mexica and the conquistadors—a situation revisited in the fictional Story of Your Life and the film Arrival, where a linguist is tasked with deciphering the first known alien language after extraterrestrial spaceships land on Earth.
All this, and much more, is interpretation. Sometimes it takes place in highly professional contexts, as in international organizations. However, in most cases, interpreting happens in informal situations by acting on improvisational skills—like one does when introducing in-laws who speak different languages.
Sessions at international organizations, corporate events, and festivals may not have much in common in terms of content and audience, but in most cases, there is one figure who is always present: the interpreter. For these events, simultaneous interpreting is often preferred: we work in soundproof booths where our voices are carried to the audience’s ears. This can be combined with other forms of interpreting, depending on the needs of the users.
These are often very complex events, so it’s advisable to plan ahead and take into account the different communicative situations that may arise. E.g., plenary sessions, conversations with exhibitors or private negotiation rounds.
While some communicative situations are similar, as is the case with trade fairs or exhibitions, smaller events tend to require less planning. Often, the interaction between interpreters and the audience is quite direct, allowing for very dynamic communication.
These events are infinitely diverse; ranging from visits and talks in the fields of science, culture, and business; to software implementation or classroom training—just to name a few.
Perhaps the most direct contact with users is in escort interpreting—whether in political contexts, such as government delegates visiting another country; business contexts, such as visiting partners or collaborators; or many other situations. In these cases, interpreters are usually assigned to a specific person whom they assist in communicating with others.
This type of interpreting is often an addition to a separate modality: for example, a person visiting another country for a congress may take advantage of the trip to also visit partner companies, clients, etc.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that no two interpreting assignments are the same. That’s why I usually prefer an open and direct dialogue with clients, so they can tell me in detail what they are looking for. I undertake to provide them with a comprehensive proposal that covers all their needs in terms of language mediation.
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