The Interpreter's Challenge
You have to have a very quick mind and you have to have this peculiar ability to speak whilst you’re listening.
David Bellos is Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, where he is also a professor of French and comparative literature. He has won many awards for his translations of Georges Perec, Ismail Kadare, and others, including the Man Booker International Translator’s Award. He also received the Prix Goncourt for George Perec: A Life in Words.
The skills of an oral translator - what we today call an interpreter - are very special and it’s not enough to know the two languages. You have to know what the subject is really rather well. You have to have a very quick mind and you have to have this peculiar ability to speak whilst you’re listening.
Obviously some people who are well trained to an international career know how to speak in chunks and to leave little gaps for the interpreter to catch up. It was once my great privilege to interpret for Prince Charles. He, of course, basically from birth has been trained to speak in that way with gap, but most of the time with most people it’s really very difficult because speech flows. It doesn’t have gaps that correspond to the gaps in the other language and the interpreter has to pay 100% attention to what’s being said and at the same time be able to speak without that affecting or interrupting his ability to listen.
That is a skill that not many people have, even people who are very, very good at two or three or four languages and finding people like that is quite difficult and today there are real problems of recruitment and staffing for the big international organizations that employ and need consecutive and simultaneous interpreters.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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