What is Conference Interpreting
Interpreting is the transposition of an oral speech delivered in one language into another language. The most common types are conference interpreting, liaison interpreting and community/judicial interpreting.
Conference Interpreting is performed in multilingual meetings and has three modalities: simultaneous, consecutive and whispered.
Types of Conference Interpreting
The interpreters work in booths and simultaneously translate the speeches being made in the conference room to the participants who wear listening devices. This service is provided in teams of at least two interpreters per booth, i.e., for each language combination, two interpreters take turns every 20 to 30 minutes (working as a simultaneous interpreter alone for more than an hour is unprofessional!).
It applies to the following situations: conferences, congresses, business events, formal meetings, training sessions, live broadcasts, etc.
The interpreter is positioned relatively far from the participants (but close enough to see and hear the speakers) and, using a mobile device with a microphone (bidule), simultaneously translates the speeches being made to the participants who are wearing headphones. As with booth interpretation, this service is provided by a team of two interpreters who alternate every 20 to 30 minutes.
It is used for events with only two working languages and it is not possible to set up a booth, or for site visits.
History of Interpretation
The origins of interpreting go back to the dawn of humankind. Ever since peoples of different languages came into contact with one another, the need arose for mediators to facilitate communication.
The earliest known reference to an interpreter is found in an Egyptian hieroglyph dating back to the third millennium BCE and there are records of interpreters throughout the Ancient World. Although their work was indispensable, interpreters were often mistrusted because they were usually slaves, prisoners of war or inhabitants of border areas and spoke to the enemy in a language only they could understand.
The interpreter’s status began to improve after the Middle Ages and, above all, with the Portuguese Discoveries and the consequent flourishing of trade relations between Europe, the Orient and the New World.
Conference interpreting as we know it today, in its consecutive form, began with the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 since some of the American representatives did not speak French, the diplomatic language of the time, fluently enough for the armistice negotiations.
Almost three decades later, with the end of the Second World War, the Nuremberg Trials forced the simultaneous use of four languages: English, French, Russian and German. Consecutive interpretation was unthinkable, as it would have lengthened the sessions immensely, so IBM provided equipment that was the embryo of what was to become simultaneous interpreting.
Ever since, simultaneous interpreting has since taken off in major international institutions, such as the UN and the European Union, and in the world of business and culture. Today, conference interpreters are recognized as highly qualified professionals who contribute to communication between speakers of different languages and thus to Peace for the World.
Training for conference interpreters
A conference interpreter needs a thorough linguistic background (one or two active languages and as many passive languages as possible) and psychophysiological skills (simultaneous and consecutive interpreting ability, articulate expression, good diction, self-control and endurance under stress, teamwork skills, etc.), in addition to a sound and varied general knowledge resulting from higher education and a multicultural and multilingual life experience.
To be a professional conference interpreter, being fluent in two or more languages is not enough. One must learn to interpret simultaneously; master note-taking techniques in consecutive interpreting; acquire vocabulary in different specialised areas; perfect voice placement and expression skills; etc. Overall, it takes a few years of intensive training and practice to become a professional interpreter.
European and international institutions recruit interpreters based on their proven interpreting skills and not just on the possession of a specific academic degree. However, a specialised postgraduate qualification in conference interpreting is important for proper interpreter training. In Portugal, the only specific training in this area that has the endorsement of the DG Interpretation of the European Commission and the European Parliament is the Specialisation Course in Conference Interpreting at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto. This course involves the careful selection of trainees and its teaching staff comprises professional interpreters accredited with the European institutions.