ATIA Blog: Common Misconceptions about Interpretation

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Becoming a community interpreter is one of the most accessible ways to get into the industry and start your professional career as an interpreter. Many professionals in specialized fields such as court or medical interpreting started out in community and even continue to do community interpreting as well! That being said, it doesn’t mean that just because someone is multilingual or bilingual they can start interpreting for community organizations or groups and be successful. And it certainly does not mean they will have the skills required for work in hospitals or courts either! In this article, we will explore some of the common misconceptions about Interpretation, among new interpreters and clients alike!

Myth: Bilingualism means you can interpret well. While having a second language is obviously an essential aspect of being an interpreter as you will be conveying the meaning of verbal words and body cues from one language to another (either consecutively or simultaneously), it doesn’t follow that that is the only requirement for you to interpret well. In fact, fluency in both your mother tongue and the target language beyond the conversational level are absolutely essential as are the knowledge, vocabulary required and cultural understandings necessary to accurately convey someone’s communications. The relay of information across languages and cultures is a mastered skill that takes time, training, expertise and experience. It also requires that interpreters continuously improve their knowledge with regards to new words, colloquialisms (especially regionally) and update their necessary technology.

Myth: The interpreter can answer questions for you or the person you are communicating with. While the interpreter is never necessarily neutral (as some people claim!), that doesn’t mean that they are participating in a direct way in the conversation. The interpreter is responsible for providing understanding and facilitating conversation between two or more people – not for participating in that conversation by interjecting contributions or answering questions.

Myth: Simultaneous interpretation is always possible. While in most cases, this is possible because of the simplicity and redundancy of human language, it should be noted that in some circumstances (especially where a lot of various and complex technical jargon is used over a long period of time) simultaneity could simply be unrealistic.

Myth: Translators can just do the same job as interpreters, right? While tangentially related in terms of languages and conveying messages, please note that translation and interpretation are completely different fields with different areas of training

Myth: It is safe for any bilingual person to interpret in medical and court settings. The answer to this is simply no. In any setting, you should be using the services of a qualified language professional but in the settings of a medical environment or emergency, or a court room, it is often someone’s health, liberty or life at stake. Incorrect interpretations can send ambulances to the wrong address or offer the incorrect medical dosages. They affect someone’s defense or legal case. It is essential to realize how high the stakes are and don’t take unnecessary risks with your life or the lives of others.

Myth: Telephone or video interpreters are just as good as in-person. Don’t let fancy advertising and clever marketing fool you. There is no adequate replacement for in-person interpretation. So much of language is non-verbal, contextual and relies heavily on the interpreter being in the room so as not to miss any of these incredibly important subtle or gestural conveyors of information.

Myth: Any interpreter will do for any setting. Interpreters should be chosen based on their areas of specialization, expertise and experience – particularly when it comes to specific industries. Of course, most people think of medical or legal jargon which it is important to have knowledge of, but some interpreters are also working in special industries such as natural resources, engineering, and the like which may require a technical vocabulary as well.