The history of conference interpretation

Nowadays, conference interpretation encompasses two different techniques: consecutive and simultaneous interpretation. However, the need for interpretation was present throughout history and is linked to the first conquests. Interpreters are already mentioned in Egyptian, Greek and Latin sources: the conquerors did not bother to learn the language of the peoples they defeated and often used slaves as interpreters to communicate with them, even though they could not be fully trusted, which is why information was often inaccurate and misunderstood.

With the advent of the XX century, a new professional figure was born: the conference interpreter.

Consecutive interpretation was the first to develop, which is quite logical if one thinks that simultaneous interpretation requires complex technological equipment. During the Paris Peace Conference after World War I, consecutive interpreters were employed to make it possibile for people speaking different languages to get the same information. As a result of this multilateral conference, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the League of Nations (LN) were established, which meant an even greater need for interpreters. Conference interpreters took notes and delivered the speech in another language, but this technique caused the meetings to be excessively long, making it difficult for both participants and interpreters to stay focused; furthermore, cultural nuances often got lost.

Colonel Léon Dostert, a French-born American who acted as interpreter for General Eisenhower, was entrusted with the task to develop a technique for simultaneous interpretation and was responsible for the progress achieved in this field. During the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, which were held to prosecute Nazi leaders, an interpretation service in four languages (English, French, Russian and German) was provided: for each language, a team of six interpreters, twelve translators and nine stenographers was employed, while the whole service was coordinated by Colonel Dostert and Commander Alfred Steer. The interpreters sat right next to the accused, in order to be able to translate everything they said: the first team interpreted for 45 minutes, while the other sat in an adjacent room listening to and keeping up with the proceedings. Unfortunately, simultaneous interpretation was still a new technique and few professionals were actually trained to perform it, especially in such a specific setting like a court: nevertheless, it was a success.

As for the equipment required for simultaneous interpretation, in 1926 IBM received a patent for the technology it designed thanks to the involvement of its founder, Thomas Watson Sr., who managed to further develop Edward Filene and Alan Gordon Finlay’s revolutionary idea to use telephone equipment.

Simultaneous interpretation has obviously evolved, becoming what we know today: the interpreter sits in a soundproof boot (which needs to comply with specific International Standards) and sometimes employs portable transmitters. Aside from the progress achieved through technology, simultaneous interpretation is still based on the original concept, since it is aimed at providing the accurate and timely translation of a certain speech.

Post-graduate degree in Legal Translation

Last week, I wrote about the two post-graduate degrees I have recently started attending, but I focused on the one in Medical and Pharmacological Translation. Today, instead, I am going to talk about the one in Legal Translation.

First of all, the course is held jointly by a lawyer and a translator who have been working together for some time in the translation industry. This way, attendees can profit both from theoretical knowledge in the law field and from a more practical and linguistic approach to texts that need to be translated. The course focuses on English to Italian translation, but what one learns can be applied – mutatis mutandis – to other language pairs, as well.

When translating a text dealing with legal matters, it is of paramount importance to be aware of the great difference existing between distinct legal systems: the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia follow common law (as well as some former English colonies and countries influenced by the Anglo-Saxon tradition), whereas continental Europe follows civil law. These two legal traditions mainly differ because of the source of law they favour (case law and legislative decisions respectively). In addition, some mixed legal systems developed across the world. Different legal systems imply different legal institutions, which lack an equivalent in other countries and, consequently, in other languages.

Legal translators need to possess at least basic knowledge of comparative law, which is why I decided to attend this Post-graduate Degree in Legal Translation: this course is also going to provide basic principles of many branches of law (civil law, criminal law, corporate law…).

As you probably know if you have visited my website, I attained a Master’s Degree in Conference Interpreting: I graduated with a glossary thesis about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). While examining different documents to build my glossary, I soon realised the frequent lack of an exact Italian equivalent for English terms referring to particular institutions and procedures. In addition, law is an abstract subject: across the whole world, the human body is the same and a heart is always a heart, even though different languages use different words to indicate it. On the contrary, legal terminology is based on institutions, offices, laws and statutes which are not the same in every country and which cannot be “physically seen”: criminal conducts, for instance, are identified through several elements which make them unlawful, but these elements and law principles are created by men and are, therefore, abstract.

All this must be added to the common issues faced by translators and interpreters. They are part of the reason why I chose this post-graduate course. Another reason is that I am deeply interested in the subject of law and I like translating documents pertaining to it. Last but not least, having basic knowledge of legal matters can only make one’s life easier!

Post-graduate degree in Medical and Pharmocological Translation

Working in today’s translation industry often requires specialising in at least one field. Generally speaking, it is possible to distinguish between literary and technical translation, which deals with scientific and technical subjects: these two categories present significative differences and require different approaches and skills.

In order to translate a highly technical text, it is necessary to possess at least basic notions of the topic it deals with: this is why translators and interpreters accurately prepare for every new assignment, gathering general and more specific information in addition to the correct terminology. This preparation becomes less time-consuming when the professional is used to working in a certain field, since he or she just needs to update his or her knowledge to keep up with the latest developments.

Experience plays an important role, but one can also choose to specialise in a certain field before starting to translate texts pertaining to it. That’s what I chose to do: I have recently enrolled in two Post-graduate degrees, one in Medical and Pharmacological Translation, the other in Legal Translation. These two courses – organised by CTI – Communication Trend Italia (an Italian language service provider) – are being held once a week in Milan: lessons will take place from February to July and at the end of the courses, attendants are required to deliver a thesis (their translation of a highly technical text provided by CTI) and to pass an oral exam to test their knowledge and discuss their translation.

In today’s post, I am going to focus on the Post-graduate course of Medical and Pharmacological Translation: after attending the first two lessons, I can already say I am very happy with my choice. Students receive both theoretical and practical preparation: this way, they can gain medical knowledge and apply it to the translation of real texts, also learning the particular characteristics of medical texts and terminology.

I have always been very interested in medicine, which is the reason I have decided to grab this chance to expand my knowledge in this field: I will be studying biology, genetics, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and much more. Thanks to this specialisation, I will be able to deliver high-quality translations and interpretation services: knowledge of the topic, familiarity with medical terminology and with the style of medical texts, the ability to peruse the web and distinguish reliable sources from unreliable ones are only some of the skills I will be able to offer my clients in this specific field.

This course is useful and really interesting and I am looking forward to attending more lessons and to hone my skills, thus adding another small brick in my education and in my experience as an interpreter and translator. Wish me luck!

BIT 2018

If you follow my Facebook page, you already know that yesterday I took part in BIT 2018.

BIT is the International Travel Exhibition organised every year in Milan. This year it could be accessed both by the general public (on the first day) and by industry professionals, tour operators and buyers (for the entirety of its duration). Reading the description of this exhibition, it is clear that its purpose is to promote “the meeting of decision makers, industry experts and carefully selected and profiled buyers from geographic areas with the highest rate of economic growth and from all sectors of the chain”. Furthermore, the event also featured conferences and seminars aimed at keeping the audience up to date with the latest industry trends.

I love travelling and I am really interested in the tourism industry, so I decided to grab the chance to visit this exhibition. In a professional capacity, I could gather information about new destinations, offers and packages: after all, an interpreter and translator needs to constantly update his or her knowledge, especially if he or she wants to work in a specific field. In addition, I could find new ideas for my next travels and journeys, which is certainly a plus.

In my opinion, exhibitions are also a good way to make new contacts and do a little bit of networking. BIT 2018 was no exception: talking with industry professionals was really inspiring and it gave me food for thought.

The exhibition was divided in two pavillions: the ground floor was dedicated to Italian regions, whereas the upper floor hosted international destinations. Food tourism was also featured, with the possibility to taste different products and recipes, both from Italy and foreign countries. A lot of stands also displayed the “I love wedding” sign to show their participation in a free promotional programme aiming at finding the perfect place to organise one’s wedding and honeymoon. Moreover, BIT 2018 featured an area dedicated to recuiting in the tourism industry, thus providing a chance to find competent staff and, at the same time, promote business: the possibility to forward online applications and to schedule interviews was a great way to make this exhibition even more appealing.

All in all, I must say I am very happy with my decision to visit the exhibition: I could gather new material, meet new people and − let’s be honest − start dreaming about my next holidays! The only downside? Now I can’t wait to take off and go somewhere I have never been before!

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The information about BIT 2018 was taken from http://bit.fieramilano.it/the-exhibition/?lang=en.

Music and languages

While I was still studying at university, I heard that those who show a particular aptitude for languages usually have an ear for music too. As I’ve been singing in a choir since I was six years old and I’ve always been good at learning new languages, I was intrigued and I decided to gather some information about this connection.

The connection basically lies in the fact that music imitates sounds, which can also enhance one’s phonetic ability: musicians develop a habit to distinguish, memorise and repeat sounds and this holds particularly true for singers. Having an ear for languages means being able to listen and reproduce a wide range of sounds: if the language you’re learning presents a wider range than your own native language does, you will certainly encounter more pronunciation difficulties.

According to Susanne Reiterer, who works at the University of Vienna, musicians –singers especially – are better than your average bloke at learning foreign languages: the brain regions in charge of reproducing sounds are in fact more developed in musicians.

However, musical aptitude is just one of many factors as far as learning languages is concerned: Susanne Reiterer and her team have identified some 20 others, which can be classified as biological, social, linguistic and psychological factors. All in all, 70% of us are neither particularly good nor bad at learning new languages, whereas 15% possess a particular talent and the remaining 15% find it very difficult. Reiterer also established that there is no age limit to start learning foreign languages.

Even though natural talent plays an important role in learning new languages, as for everything else, it is not enough: study, exercise and hard work are crucial to achieve progress. This means that musical aptitude is not enough and is also not essential for the purpose of learning new foreign languages: it may just be an advantage.

The benefits of learning languages

Everybody can benefit greatly from his or her knowledge of at least one foreign language: benefits concern both your working and personal life and can also extend to your health.

First of all, knowing one or more foreign languages is always a great asset when applying for a job and carries considerable weight with employers. Companies often need to establish and maintain relationships with foreign clients and stakeholders: employees are needed who can understand, speak and write the language used for communication between the company itself and these other parties. Even though English is most frequently required, the knowledge of other foreign languages is held in high regard as well, since being able to communicate with its stakeholders in their own language is very important for a company and shows great consideration on its part.

Knowing one or more foreign languages can represent a great asset to your personal life as well. Travelling becomes considerably easier if you know the local language or at least a language which allows you to communicate with local people; moreover, meeting new people and keeping in touch becomes quite simple. Knowing a foreign language also means having access to the culture expressed by that language and to the possibility of fully understanding it.

Learning to think and express yourself in different language systems improves your problem-solving attitude as well: getting in touch with different cultures means realising that others may think and act differently, hold different opinions and cherish different values. Nothing is set in stone and understanding different ways of thinking may help you find new approaches. Being able to switch between different linguistic and cultural systems can also improve your multitasking skills.

However, learning foreign languages may also have a positive impact on your health. According to several studies conducted in this field, speaking more than one language can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia: tests were conducted both on monolingual and bilingual individuals and – even though both categories showed the same level of cognitive impairment – the latter seemed to be diagnosed with the disease about four years later. Furthermore, bilingual people’s brain seems to work better and longer after the first signs of Alzheimer’s occur. This seems to be due to the fact that bilingual people exercise the executive control system more, since they need to keep two language systems separate: their brain, in fact, provides them with multiple choices for every word, establishing the need for them to constantly switch between two different languages. This exercise is thought responsible for bilingual individuals’ ability to cope better with Alzheimer’s. Even though this research was tailored specifically on bilingual individuals, the same benefits seem to be enjoyed by those who start learning a second language later in life as well. (*)

Finally, there’s another reason to learn one or more foreign languages: it is a lot of fun! It is an eye-opening experience and even though it requires hard work and constant exercise, it is extremely rewarding. What are you waiting for?

(*) Further information can be find in the article used to write this entry (https://www.livescience.com/12917-learning-language-bilingual-protects-alzheimers.html)

The importance of breathing for interpreters

When thinking about interpreters, people usually envision strange and invisibile individuals who make it possible for their audience to understand foreign speakers. Sometimes, people don’t even contemplate the real person behind the voice they hear.

However, there are instances when interpreters are actually visible. For example, consecutive interpretation requires these professionals to interact with their audience: sometimes, they stand on a stage right next to the speaker they’re translating and in front of their public, which can generate performance anxiety. Most interpreters long for the privacy of their booth, where they can translate relatively undisturbed and supported by their boothmate: they know they are being listened to, but they take comfort in the fact that their voice is not associated with a physical person. On the contrary, some other interpreters start feeling anxious as soon as they step inside the booth: simultaneous interpretation requires constant focus and the ability of performing different tasks at the same time in order to keep up with the speaker.

All this to say that interpreters need to manage their anxiety and this is where proper breathing comes into play. When judging the quality of an interpreter’s performance, people take several elements into account, such as the pitch, tone and volume of his or her voice and his or her intonation. These parameters can be influenced through breathing techniques, which resemble those taught to singers.

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing involves the contraction of the diaphragm, a muscle located between the thoracical and abdominal cavity. This kind of breathing is extremely useful to relax, but it also provides an individual’s bloodstream with a greater amount of oxygen: an interpreter can employ this technique to modulate his or her voice and to avoid getting out of breath while speaking. This way, both the interpreter and the audience can enjoy a great experience: the interpreter can carry out his or her job with reduced stress levels, whereas the audience can fully profit from the expertise of the professional delivering the translation.

I’ve been singing in a choir since I was six years old, so I was taught deep breathing when I was just a child and it now comes as a second nature to me. I have first-hand experience with this breathing technique while working as an interpreter and I can vouch for its effectiveness as far as voice modulation is concerned. Luckily, I’ve never felt particularly anxious before starting an assignment: my nature is not that of an anxious person and my enthusiasm probably ovverrides everything else. However, some of my colleagues, following teachers’ and experts’ suggestions, have tried employing this technique and this resulted in a clear improvement of their performance and in a great reduction of their stress levels.

For this reason, I strongly suggest interpreters and other professionals who work with their voice to gather some information about deep breathing and to try some exercises. It may be that I’m in love with my job, but I’m firmly convinced that working should be a pleasant experience, at least if one likes one’s job: reducing anxiety also means improving one’s working and personal life, which is why I think diaphragmatic breathing is worth a try. Should it work for interpreting assignments, nothing prevents you from trying it in other circumstances too!

 

Why an interpreter and translator?

While still in high school, I decided I would become a conference interpreter and translator. That choice was primarily due to my great passion for foreign languages and for my own language, but also to my wish to put to good use everything I had learnt in high school.

When I started attending university, one of my teachers told us that we should see our career as an empy bag to fill every day with something new and that metaphor shaped the way I see not only my career, but also my life. I embraced the concept of lifelong learning, according to which life is a long path offering those who are willing to grab it the chance to learn more and more with each passing day. The reason this concept appeals to me is probably that I think perfection is a great but unattainable goal, which means always striving to get as close as possibile to it: this gives me a reason to constantly challenge and improve myself because, in the end, life is a learning curve.

Being an interpreter and translator means being informed about the topics you need to translate and the industries you work for. This is what I love of my chosen profession: I can satisfy my thirst for knowledge and – at the same time – make my knowledge available to my clients, facilitating communication between them and a specific target.

This is probably the reason why I’m deeply in love with my job and why I approach every new project with genuine enthusiasm: in every assignment, I see a chance to further my knowledge and my expertise, while simultaneously helping my clients achieve their goals.

Furthermore, I am interested in a variety of subjects, such as law, medicine, art, philosphy, Italian and foreign literature, history, chemistry and biology, marketing, business in general, technology, food, fashion, design, music and so on. Being an interpreter and translator means having the possibility of pursuing my interest in all these topics not only for my own pleasure, but also to meet my clients’ needs.

Translating in itself is a fascinating job because it entails a comparison between different languages and cultures: the translator’s goal is to preserve the original meaning while making a specific text available to a different readership, which implies an in-depht analysis of that readership. Translating can’t be limited to simply transposing single words and sentences from a source language into a target language: translating means rendering the meaning of a source text into a different language and culture, which entails the knowledge of the languages and cultures in question, but also of the principles of communication, of the topic which is being dealt with and of relevant technologies.

Interpreting basically means the same thing, even though the approach and the techniques employed are different: first of all, interpretation happens orally and simultaneously, which means the interpreter has no time to elaborate what is being said by the speaker. An interpreter needs to process the speech immediately, providing a consistent translation to the audience, while at the same time paying attention to his or her tone of voice, pitch, pronunciation and accent.

Translating and interpreting are difficult but rewarding activities: I have always liked difficult things because I think they are the most gratifying and this is something else I love about my job.

When I think about the path which led me to choose this profession, I can’t be anything but happy: perhaps I’m too young to say I made the right choice, but it is how I feel and I am one of those people who think that being content with yourself, being positive and in love with your job and life in general reflect on your relationship with others, be they clients, friends or family.